Buon Ma Thuot lies
about 190 km inland from Nha Trang and around 200km north
of Dalat. A large town in a coffee plantation area, it’s the
provincial capital of Dak Lak province but its main interest
for visitors are the natural surroundings and the thirty or
so ethnic groups in the area. Dak Lak is warmer and more humid
than Dalat, with a rainy season from April to November.
The town itself
is nondescript apart from the Kha Doan Pagoda, an unusual
combination of the features of an Ede long house with a roof
designed in accordance with Hue imperial architecture. It
was built to commemorate the wife of Emperor Khai Dinh – her
son was Emperor Bao Dai, the last of the dynasty.
of Buon Ma Thuot’s attractions lie well away from the town.
They include the excellent Gia Long and Dray Nur waterfalls,
both little visited. Gia Long is adjacent to ancient forest
– Emperor Bao Dai used to hunt there.
The forest is spectacular
– enormous trees, vines, and a profusion of insects. Nearby
is a natural swimming pool, an almost rectangular basin with
a sandy bottom.
On the other bank
are the remains of a bridge and lake built by Bao Dai, now
being slowly strangled by the lush vegetation.
Dray Nur is a complete
contrast. Set in dry, arid land, its waters thunder over black
volcanic rock. Its comparatively barren surroundings enhance
the impact of the falls – standing at the bottom among the
swirling mist, the noise is deafening.
Serene Lak Lake
offers travel in a dugout canoe across the lake to ride working
elephants and meet their mahouts through ethnic villages,
some with homestay facilities.
About thirteen miles
from the town there is a settlement of Ede people who live
in distinctive longhouses on stilts. It's a good starting
point for a hike through Nam Kha Forest.
Further away to
the northwest is Yok Don, Vietnam’s largest national park.
Several ethnic groups live within it, notably the M’nong people
who traditionally specialised in hunting and domesticating
the wild elephants that roamed in the area.
However, the effects
of US bombing and defoliation, together with loss of habitat
from agricultural encroachment have drastically reduced their
numbers. The journey to Yok Don is quite taxing, but the forests
are striking and there are many species of flora and fauna,
some very rare.
there are still plenty left, both wild and domesticated. Elephant
riding in Yok Don is the real McCoy rather than the gentler
tourist version at Lak Lake. During the dry season, two-day
safari-style forays into the deep forest can be arranged.
Homestays are possible, and there’s a few bedrooms available
in the park’s headquarters – either way, don’t expect anything
other than the most basic accommodation.