Experiencing an outlandish Gia Lai district

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An oddly hot area in the Central Highlands, which otherwise has cool climate all year round, is home to cheerful people, lively landscapes, and distinctly tasty food

A child riding cows across the Ba River in Krong Pa District, the Central Highland province of Gia Lai / PHOTOS COURTESY OF TUOI TRE

Krong Pa is not just the most remote district in Gia Lai Province, it is also the most outlandish.

Located some 150 kilometers from the province's capital town of Pleiku, the area has Vietnam's lowest rainfall, around 1,600mm per year, and most of it is received over three summer months.

In fact, anyone who visits the district after September will find himself or herself scorched by the heat, even though it is cool elsewhere with endless rains. Many streams like the Ia Mlah Stream that passes through Phu Tuc Town, seem to have run dry.

But, not everything wears the countenance of a desert in Krong Pa, which is separated from Pleiku by the Chu Se and To Na mountain passes.

In Chu Ngoc Commune, even at this time of the year, there are lots of trees and paddy fields colored green or yellow. Among the vast fields are small bamboo huts, and with a blue sky high above, the view is picturesque, to say the least.

Mlao, a resident, said they grow a kind of rice that can withstand the heat well. Farmers create holes in dry and cracking soil and put in the seeds, and when it begins to rain during the summer, the grains will germinate and grow, she said.

In Krong Pa, where the Jrai ethnic minority accounts for most of the population, visitors often see children with papooses carrying miscellaneous bottles on their back.

They are transporting water from underground arteries, and the Ba River running through the district, which is a long tradition of the Jrai people. Although most of local communes now receive tap water and have access to wells, people still believe that "stream water is sweeter."

Another common sight is young women and men bathing in the springs.

Then, if visitors walk along the Ba River's bank, chances are that they will come across tanned kids riding cows across the river, laughing and having fun.

In fact, every sight in Krong Pa is worth bringing out the camera for. The cheerfulness and liveliness in this remote place is infectious, and it is a good idea to carry some of it back on film.

Distinct flavors

When in Krong Pa, you have to do what the Krong Pa residents do eat bo mot nang (dried beef).

The dish was originally a kind of dry provision the Jrai people made from beef leftovers after festivals, but it has now become a local specialty that most visitors buy as souvenirs to take back to their families and friends.

Bo mot nang is best grilled, and eaten with muoi ot kien vang a dip made with weaver ant nests, salt and red chili. The nest's relatively sour and cloying taste, in combination with the saltiness and spiciness, is a perfect match for the beef.

Nguyen Van Muoi, owner of a bo mot nang shop in Phu Tuc Town, said the best bo mot nang is made with meat from a cow's thighs. It is seasoned and dried for five-six hours so that both sides are equally dry, but the inside is still fresh.

Krong Pa's beef is famous for being slightly tough and sweet, a distinct quality attributed to the fact that the cows are allowed to roam free in the meadows and under the scorching sun, instead of being tethered, like most of other places.

Another Krong Pa specialty is ca chot a species of fish native to the Ba River, well-known for its firm and tough flesh. The best way to enjoy the fish is also to grill it and have it with the ant nest dip.

For a visit to Krong Pa, it is highly recommended to camp at the foot of To Na mountain pass, from where the Ba River is visible, enjoying local specialties with ruou can the traditional wine made in the Central Highlands that is not distilled.

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