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Introducing Pleiku

The rather forgettable capital of Gia Lai province, Pleiku (or Playcu) is better known as a strategic American and South Vietnamese base during the American War than for any postwar accomplishments. It makes an adequate pit stop, but there’s little to detain a traveller for more than a few hours. Torched by departing South Vietnamese soldiers in 1975, the city was rebuilt in the 1980s with help from the Soviet Union, which thoroughly explains its lack of appeal today.

In 2001 and 2004 Pleiku was the scene of hill-tribe protests against the government; the latter promptly responded by prohibiting foreigners from visiting the area. While these rules have gradually been relaxed and the province is safe for travel, you’ll need a permit to visit the minority villages around here. Venturing out without one is not recommended, unless you enjoy being questioned by the police.

When US troops departed in 1973 the South Vietnamese kept Pleiku as their main combat base in the area. They fled the advancing VC in 1975, and the civilian population of Pleiku and nearby Kon Tum fled with them. The stampede to the coastline along the only road, Hwy 7, became known as the ‘Convoy of Tears’ as they were relentlessly attacked by North Vietnamese forces en route; it’s estimated that only a quarter or a third of the 100,000 people survived.

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