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Health & safety

Health

Lam Dong hospital in Da Lat is your best bet in the Central Highlands for medical care. That said, for anything serious, get to Saigon as quickly as possible. Da Lat, Buon Ma Thuot and Pleiku all have airports with regular flights (though not daily in all cases) to Saigon.

Police

In the more popular Central Highlands destinations, you should not encounter too many issues with the local authorities. If you're planning on heading to remote areas of Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku or Kon Tum, ask around about the need for a permit or at least police "permission" -- this is especially the case if you're headed out to the minority areas right by the Cambodian frontier. In both Binh Phuoc and Dak Nong, we were advised that some areas were off-limits. In Dak Nong we were pretty much advised that anywhere outside the provincial capital was a no-go. The authorities will not really say why you can't head to these places -- perhaps a combination of paranoia about their border areas as well as a sensitivity to the downtrodden state of tribespeople being exposed to the outside world.

Telecommunications & internet

All the provincial capitals have internet cafes, with affordable and reasonably reliable access. Kon Tum had the fewest cafes when we passed through, while Gia Nghia is loaded with them -- perhaps a reflection on how little there is to actually do there.

Trekking

Trekking in the Central Highlands when compared to somewhere like northern Thailand is very undeveloped -- especially in the more remote, little-visited provinces like Kon Tum and Pleiku. Per-person costs tend to be high and the frequency of tours low. 

Da Lat is the most popular centre in the Highlands and the only place where you can pretty much guarantee to have trips running every day. These tend to be less "treks" and more "tours" -- mainly taking in the sights and scenery surrounding Da Lat, with the longer trips heading out to Cat Tien National Park. Many people opt to pick up a trip with the Easy Riders, an informal motorcycle tour group, from here.

Buon Ma Thuot is the second most popular centre in the Highlands and the trips here tend to be done by pre-organised groups and are focused on city tours, some villages in the immediate surrounds and Yok Don National Park.

Out of Pleiku you can visit Banhar and Jarai minority villages, including a day-long trek that takes you through four Banhar villages. We found the city tour over-hyped and the veteran tours would really only be of interest to those with an active interest in the war. Tours into the surrounds take in waterfalls, elephant rides and folk-shows, but we'd suggest Buon Ma Thuot being a better base for this type of trip.

Kon Tum offers the best potential as a true trekking destination, with a selection of possibilities including multi-day trips involving sleeping rough and visiting very remote villages. These are the real deal, but there's a catch -- it's expensive. Solo travellers can expect to have to pay US$100 to $200 to get going. However, the per-person price for groups drops, so try to rustle up more people to lower the cost. You'd be well advised to find like-minded travellers on Vietnam's coast and then head to Kon Tum together, as the chances of just showing up in Kon Tum and joining a group about to go trekking are as good as finding a hamburger with the works there.

How long in the Highlands?

Da Lat is the most popular province, followed by Buon Ma Thuot, Kon Tum and Pleiku. Very, very, very few people visit Binh Phuoc and Dak Nong. Most travellers, especially those on the Open Tour system, visit just Da Lat, but some opt for all four of the main destinations -- Da Lat, Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku and Kon Tum. 

If you're planning on just visiting Da Lat, two to three days should be plenty of time to take in all the province has to offer. Add another day if you want to overnight in Cat Tien National Park. If you're not planning on doing any trips out of the other centres, then one to two nights in Buon Ma Thuot and Kon Tum and a night in Pleiku should be sufficient for most. Of course if you're planning on doing trips out of each, then you'll need to add more time accordingly. With two weeks in the Highlands you could take in much of what it has to offer. Anything less than a week to take in all four provincial capitals would be too rushed.