The capital city of Dak Lak has a few names: Buon Ma Thuot, Buon Me Thuot, or Ban Me Thuot. This city is the largest in the central highlands of Vietnam and is famed for its all-year-round cool weather and great coffee. People from 43 minority groups (in 54 Vietnamese minority groups totally) call this city home. Despite its quiet ambiance, Buon Ma Thuot boasts a perfect blend of wild nature and culture.
The picturesque scenery of central highland Vietnam
The Ede, Bahnar, and Jrai are the three largest ethnic minority groups in the province of Dak Lak, Gia Lai, and Kon Tum. They suffered a battering during the wars with the French and Americans and are frequently involved in land conflicts with the King, or ethnic Vietnamese. But after all, these people have entwined themselves tightly to their traditional lifestyle that still exudes authenticity in modern life.
If you are a first-time visitor to the highland and have no idea where to start, start at Buon Ma Thuot. This blog gathers some essential pieces of information that you might want to know.
Buon Ma Thuot Airport is a small, clean airport. It’s easy to book a taxi from there to the city center. Visitors can take a flight from major cities to Buon Ma Thuot. The flight time is about 1 hour if you fly from Saigon or Da Nang, or 2 hours from Hanoi. There is no train to this city.
December to February is the best time to visit Buon Ma Thuot. The weather is nice and dry. This time is also the harvesting season of coffee, so it’s interesting to see a coffee farm and witness the busy farmers working. September to November has a cool temperature that is around 26°C. This time receives the fewest visitors while summer is the peak season for domestic visitors, therefore, accommodation is more expensive than usual.
A man is fishing on the bank of Dray Sap Waterfall
Forty kilometers from the city center, Dray Sap waterfall is the most famous waterfall in Buon Ma Thuot. In E-de - the most used language in Buon Ma Thuot, Dray Sap means smoke referring to the steam cloud created when the water pours down to the ground that looks a lot like smoke. Seven kilometers from Dray Sap are the two beautiful Gia Long waterfall and Lụa waterfall. They are smaller and less spectacular than Dray Sap but more quiet and authentic without the crowd. If you want to spend more time with Mother of Nature, there are shades of trees at Gia Long waterfall and Lua waterfall where you can enjoy a picnic lunch.
Dak Lak Museum provides first and essential information about the highland
Located in a 9,000-meter square area, the Dak Lak museum is a must-visit in Buon Ma Thuot. Constructed under the project of Development of Vietnam Museum Heritage, this museum is a great source of knowledge about the highland. Its exhibition sections take you through the long history of Dak Lak and introduce you to the matriarchal society of the Ede, M’nong, and J’rai ethnic groups. Visitors will find in this place outstanding photography, displays of traditional clothing, musical instruments, ritual objects, and gong collections from ethnic groups living in this land.
Hours 8 am-5 pm Tue-Sun
Entrance Fee: VND 30,000
A typical long house of the Ede
When it comes to beautiful crafts, the vibrant clothes of the Hmong people of northern Vietnam are usually the first thought. But talking about impressive indigenous architecture, the central highlands get all the attention.
Drive just a couple of kilometers north of Buon Ma Thuot, Ede’s long houses are easy to see. The Ede society is matrilineal, so when a daughter gets married, her parents build another compartment to accommodate her and her husband. The longer the house, the richer the family. Like Thai stilt houses in northern Vietnam, Ede long houses have two stairways carved from logs, one for men and one for women. The female stairway is carved with a pair of breasts and often is on the right.
Taking a pleasant walk in the Yok Don National Park (Photo by Tang A Pau)
A one-hour drive from the city center, Yok Don National Park spreads over a vast area of 115,545 hectares of rainforests, mountains, swamps, and rivers. This park is home to some globally endangered species such as the Indochinese tiger, Indochinese leopard, Indian elephant, and gaur.
In the old time, Mnong people were famed for elephant hunting and taming. The decrease in the number of wild elephants has risen the conservation urgency. Yok Don National Park is the leader in this field. The park is now home to 8 elephants that are let freely roam in their natural habitat. Visitors can register a trek into the wood to follow the elephant’s track and observe them from a safe distance. The best time for trekking is from October to April when the weather is dry and pleasant.
Coffee in Buon Ma Thuot tastes better than in any other place in Vietnam
Known as the coffee capital of Vietnam, nothing is easier than having a cup of coffee in Buon Ma Thuot. The streets and small alleys are lined with cafes of different styles. You can choose ready-made coffee or on-the-spot processed coffee if you want to be something more authentic. Ordering a cup of coffee, you can see the waiter start roasting, grinding the beans, and processing your drink. You can have a big cup of coffee at a price that can shock everyone.
Enjoy a day as a farmer at one of the coffee farms in Buon Ma Thuot
Thanks to the topography, the basalt red rich soil, and the cool climate, Buon Ma Thuot has the best coffees in Vietnam with distinctive flavors that no other coffee can beat.
Visit a coffee farm if you want to learn everything about coffee and see what the life of a farmer is like. You will be taught to distinguish each type of coffee and take care of the plants. You will also learn the full processes of making coffee, from harvesting and natural drying to roasting, making coffee, and tasting different cups. It’s fantastic to know that the acidity in coffee beans can be adjusted in the roasting process to help enhance the flavor and there is a cup of coffee with durian flavor.
Best time to visit: November to February when the coffee is in its harvesting season.
Don't be surprised when a tractor passes your vehicle on the street.
Tractors play an important role in the life of Buon Ma Thuot. Here, you can see men driving tractors on the streets alongside cars and scooters. Farmers see tractors as a convenient means of transportation to carry their crops from their villages to the city. A tractor can also be transformed into a reaper binder or an agri-motor depending on the demand of the owners by replacing the head. It’s both a fun and adventurous experience trying to drive a tractor once you visit the city.
A musical performance of young students from a boarding school in Buon Ma Thuot
Attending a musical performance is a must when you are at Buon Ma Thuot. It seems music is in the soul of every son and daughter of Buon Ma Thuot. Nowhere in this country, you can find people singing with all their hearts like they do in this land. Music is in their blood and in the deep love they have for the place they call home. They sing about the blue sky, the sun, the strong wind, the tradition, the liberality, the wild, and the free way of life as they are so much proud of themselves.
Are you ready to get away from the busy cities to see a different lifestyle that doesn’t revolve around tourism?