A chilled-out gateway to the awe-inspiring Central Highlands
The capital of Dak Lak province, Buon Ma Thuot is buried deep in Vietnam’s lush green Central Highlands, where it serves as the point of entry to the region’s colourful natural wonders such as its many hidden waterfalls as well as Yok Don, the country’s largest nature reserve. Home to more than 40 ethnic minorities, Buon Ma Thuot is also a showcase for the region’s rich cultural tapestry.
Stop by this city of about 300,000 to experience Vietnamese life as it’s lived well off the beaten track. Sit street-side while sipping thick, dark coffee made from beans harvested at nearby farms before exploring the surrounding rubber plantations by motorbike. Then head up into some of Vietnam’s most beautiful mountain passes before returning to the sands of Nha Trang or setting a course for the big smoke, Ho Chi Minh City.
Things to do
Bean a long time
Buon Ma Thuot is the engine room of Vietnam’s coffee empire. The city’s rich, red, soil is perfect for coffee cultivation. The bean is inseparable from the culture, so much so that it’s well worth delving into the traditions in order to better understand local life. Residents take java seriously, as you can see at the Ede peoples’ M’Jor Coffee ceremony in March and daily at the coffee village on the northern outskirts of town.
Many striking waterfalls are located within easy reach of Buon Ma Thuot. The best is found in Dray Sap, about 12km from the city. Visit the falls astride a motorbike by pre-booking with Easy Riders opens in new window, a company famous for its war-veteran tour guides, who make for a really fun trip. Alternatively, Vietnam Highland Travel opens in new window is located in town.
Head for the hills
Dak Lak Province is home to a wide array of hill tribes. Stay with Hmong families in their impressive wooden longhouses at Lak Lake and dance to the traditional, UNESCO-recognised, gongs of the Central Highlands. Drink freshly pressed sugar cane juice, hear tales of the elephant catcher king at Ban Don and explore remote hamlets with your tour guide.
Pack a trunk
If you visit Buon Ma Thuot in the spring, don’t miss the Elephant Race Festival, which is held on the banks of the Serepok River near Ban Don. It generally takes place during the third month according to the lunar calendar but preparations begin weeks before, with elephant owners actively fattening up their animals.
Put it in park
Travel 40km west of Buon Ma Thuot for the chance to explore Yok Don National Park, Vietnam’s largest wildlife reserve. Here, just a stone’s throw from Cambodia, you can camp, kayak, trek, spot wildlife, feast on durian and breathe in the fresh, clean air, Central Highlands-style.
Travel time 20 minutes
Taxi Approx VND 50,000 (USD $2.50)Back to top
When to go
Buon Ma Thuot has a tropical monsoon climate, experiencing two distinct seasons. It’s hot and dry from mid-January to late August. The wettest months are October and November, which means that traveling through the hills at this time is not recommended due to the heavy rains.
Around the time of the annual elephant race festival, which takes place during the third month according to the lunar calendar – around March – Buon Ma Thuot is an especially exciting place to visit, with the local mahouts hard at work fattening up their elephants.Back to top
The usual selection of taxis run here, including ever-reliable Mai Linh. The city is relatively flat and the weather can be mild so cycling is a viable option. For trips to the surrounding countryside, hire a motorbike and a guide. There are tour companies, which means you can either book ahead or simply arrange everything once you touch down.Back to top