The chilled-out gateway to the stunning 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 awe-inspiring natural wonders – its many hidden waterfalls and Yok Don, the country’s largest nature reserve. Home to more than 40 ethnic minorities, Buon Ma Thuot also showcases the region’s rich cultural tapestry.
When you stop by this city of about 300,000, you'll 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 jumping on a motorbike to explore the surrounding rubber plantations. Then head up into some of Vietnam’s most beautiful mountain passes before turning towards the sands of Nha Trang or setting a course for the big smoke, Ho Chi Minh City.
Things to do
Bean a long time
Dak Lak province is the engine room of Vietnam’s coffee empire, with rich, red soil perfect for coffee cultivation. The bean is inseparable from the culture, so it’s well worth delving into the traditions in order to better understand life here. The local people take their coffee seriously, as you can see at the annual Coffee Festival in March and throughout the year at the Trung Nguyen Coffee Village opens in new window.
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 catching a ride with the Easy Riders, a company famous for its war-veteran tour guides, who make for a really fun trip. Alternatively, you'll find other tour companies 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 fattening up their animals in preparation for the festivities.
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.
Distance to city centre 8km
Taxi There are taxis available outside arrivals; go for a reliable brand like Mai Linh. The trip into the city centre takes around 15 minutes and costs about VND 130,000.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 – travelling through the hills at this time is not recommended due to the heavy rains.
The area is an especially exciting place to visit at the time of the annual Elephant Face Festival, which takes place during the third month according to the lunar calendar – around March – with local mahouts hard at work fattening up their elephants.Back to top
The usual selection of taxis run here, including ever-reliable Mai Linh brand. 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 guide (make sure to agree on a price beforehand) or organise something through a local tour company.Back to top