As you arrive in Pleiku, you won’t need much time to notice that a lot of people look different. Although you won’t see anyone in traditional attire in that city, their features are different. This is because there is a strong presence of indigenous groups, even more in the mountains… but for today we’ll stay within a 30 km circle in the outskirts of Pleiku, starting as if you were going to the airport, but making your way towards Biển Hồ lake, Biển Hồ town and walk back down towards Pleiku with a stop at the very distinct Pleichu church.
It all started with a very long stretch along the AH17, which was not boring at all there are buildings all the ways, with shops selling food, bric a brac, birds, petrol, New Year’s decoration (Happy Year of the Pig), and then you turn into a more village like area where people live in small houses with a plot of land, a few farm animals, sometimes they run artisan businesses… and they are not used to seeing foreigners… As I walked by , I could read on their faces “What is she doing here?” Is she lost?” Sometimes they were just looking, other times they were shouting hello from their scooters and if they knew any English, we were exchanging a few words.
What really puzzled me was to find graveyards scattered about on the side of the road, sometimes in fields, sometimes in a more structured way. Some of them looked abandoned, the grass was growing between the graves. Were theses patches still being used? No idea.
And then, you reach the lake. Apparently, there is more going on during the weekend but as we were Monday, I was not bothered by visitors, just a scooter with two women on it. One of them had to step down as they reached a very worrying bridge so that the other one could get across safely.
After this, it was time to go to the village of Biển Hồ where everybody was going about their business in a very calm way, some food and drink on the side of the main roads under the curious gazes of the locals and a very boring long walk towards Pleichu with a stop for coffee in a very friendly cafe where two lovely midlle-aged ladies invited me to join their tables. We communicated as we could, the coffee tasted wonderful and I was set for the last couple of kilometres towards the church.
First of all I had to walk through a small market and then, there it was, Plei Chuet Montagnard Church , built in 2005, as empty as any other catholic churches around the world on a Monday afternoon. Although it is a catholic church, its architecture is inspired by the designs and decorations of the Jrai people, and a lot of designs inspired by nature. It is seen as a big communal house and it would be very interesting to see how Mass is conducted on Sundays. The priest live on the grounds in a separate building and all around the central square there are some small huts which were empty but are they used as offering places? Candle burning ? Do some statues go there for special celebrations? All this will remain a mystery.