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Kontum is 50km (31 miles) N of Pleiku; 245km (152 miles) N of Buon Ma Thuot; 198km (123 miles) W of Quy Nhon

The town of Pleiku, capital of Gia Lai Province, is easily recognizable to those who lived through the Vietnam War era: The American Seventh Cavalry, an air brigade and the unit featured in the film Apocalypse Now as the Wagner-blaring helicopter squadron that rains terror in its path, touched down south of Pleiku near famed Camp X-Ray in the La Drang Valley on November 14, 1965, for what would be the first open combat between American and North Vietnamese regulars after full American deployment at Danang. The bloody battle pitted 450 U.S. ground forces against nearly 2,000 North Vietnamese regulars, and the 48-hour fight caused many casualties before a tentative U.S. victory. It's not a famous battle of scale, but of legend, because it was where warriors on both sides really cut their teeth and sized each other up for what would be 8 more years of war. The clash was also important because it made the war look "winnable" to Americans, but it didn't actually prove to be a model in the war, in which the hit-and-run North Vietnamese enemy was rarely in sight, and in which engaged pitch battles were only of their choosing. The area is hallowed ground to the veterans of both sides who fought here, and hosts many returnees.

Most visitors give Pleiku a pass and move on to the quieter town of Kontum, which played its own important part in the Vietnam War and has a number of interesting sights outside of the city.

Kontum, and the hills surrounding the provincial city, were home to some of the heaviest fighting at the war's end in 1972, and again after the "Vietnamization" of fighting, when the last holdout units of South Vietnamese soldiers were pummeled into submission along rocky ridges north of town. A motorbike or car ride north of Kontum brings you to the likes of Charlie Hill and Dak To, now denuded peaks, and a short ride up the now-paved Ho Chi Minh Trail takes you among some great mountain scenery and ethnic villages. Good tours can be arranged out of Kontum. The city itself has just basic services and, apart from the few interesting in-town sights, is as dull as -- though less busy than -- Pleiku. Do take a walk out along the Dakbla River.

Kontum is the last jumping-off point before many travelers hop on the newly built Ho Chi Minh Highway -- where the Ho Chi Minh Trail once ran. The road, also known as Hwy. 14, connects Kontum with Danang and Hoi An along the coast. The route is popular for travelers riding along with Easy Riders on motorbike tours out of Dalat.

The area around Kontum is home to a number of ethnic minorities: Large populations of Bannar people (famed for their high-peaked roof houses) live near the city center, and there are Sedang and Bo villages here, too. Accommodations and dining options are spartan, but the interesting sights are worth the journey.