On our last day in Buon Ma Thuot, we headed towards Yok Don National Park in order to see an ethnic minority village and a cemetery nearby. We didn’t even consider visiting the nearby Ban Don– a typical tourist trap, discouraged by most independent blogs. What repulsed me most about that ‘tourist village’ were the elephant rides offered there. The national park, on the other hand was a tempting alternative. Unfortunately, as only guided tours were available (requiring advance booking), we gave it a miss, too.
GETTING TO THE AUTHENTIC VILLAGE
We caught the characteristic green and pink public bus to Ban Don from the Ethnographic Museum and got off at the national park’s main entrance. We found Yang Len- an authentic village of the Mnong minority- just by following the schematic map found on one of the blogs. The village could not be found via Google Maps. Luckily, it was very easy to spot it: we just had to carry on in the direction of Ban Don until we saw some graves on our right.
The cemetery was very overgrown so many graves were inaccessible. The reason of the neglect stemmed from the local funerary traditions. All graves must be abandoned in a special ceremony a couple of years after the funeral.
Many of the graves belonged to Mnong people who used to specialise in catching and taming elephants. The tombs of the elephant tamers were adorned with painted wooden elephant tusks. Some of the graves even had teeth of animals hanging from the strings (the remainder of the sacrifice made during the tomb abandoning ceremony).
The most beautiful tombs were surrounded with wooden statues. I simply fell in love with that magical place.
THE AUTHENTIC MNONG VILLAGE
The Yang Len village – full of wooden, stilted houses- was on the other side of the road from the cemetery. Its inhabitants seemed much more reserved than the ethnic Vietnamese so- to be perfectly honest- we didn’t feel completely at ease there.
At first, we found a path leading to Serepok river and took some photos there. Then, we had a walk through the village. We noticed a few women wearing lovely, colourful, woven skirts. At that point we didn’t know yet those were traditional Lao skirts of the ethnic Laotians. We didn’t stay in the village very long since it started drizzling, forcing us to retreat.
A TRIP TO LAK LAKE
We came back to Buon Ma Thuot around lunchtime where we took an impromptu decision to take a bus to Lak Lake. We spotted a bus to Dak Lak standing at the bus stop just as we were getting off from our bus. We ran to catch it and confirmed with the ticket seller that we’d be able to return on the same day. The last bus back to Buon Ma Thuot was at 6 pm so we were confident we could make it.
After a one and a half hour ride through a picturesque landscape of paddy fields and mountains in the distance, we reached the final stop. We walked pass the local market and followed Google Maps to get to the Buon Jun village.
There were plenty of stilted, long houses standing along the Y Jut road leading to the lake. Cows and chicken sought shelter underneath them. There was a single Western tourist taking photos of the village, which encouraged me to follow suit.
There wasn’t much more to do apart from soaking in the scenery so after around half an hour in the village we just retraced our steps and went back to Buon Ma Thuot. The minority villages were indisputably pretty but staying there for a night would be too monotonous in my opinion.
The Central Highlands had it all: good weather, beautiful landscapes and welcoming people so we decided to check another town in the region – Kon Tum.
How to get to Buon Ma Thuot?
There are sleeper buses to Nha Trang (4-5h), Pleiku (4h), Kon Tum (5h), Da Lat (6h), HCMC (8h) and Da Nang (11h). Bear in mind that the bus station is located 4 km out of the city centre- try to get a bus with the pick-up/ drop-off included.
There is also an airport in Buon Ma Thuot. However, since it is not a major hub, don’t expect the internal flights to be cheap.
How to get around?
Ban Don/ Yok Don/Yang Len village and cemetery
Public bus no. 15 to Ban Don is easy to recognise as its the only one painted pink and green. It stops at the bus stop directly west of the Ethnographic Museum or at the roundabout with the Victory Monument. That particular bus runs very often- much more frequent than half an hour.
Get off at the Yok Don National Park HQ for the cemetery and authentic Yang Len village. After getting off just carry on further in the direction of Ban Don until you see the cemetery on your right and the village on your left. You could also visit a tourist village of Ban Don, which is the last stop on that route.
Public bus no 12 to Dan Lak stops at the above mentioned bus stops but runs in the opposite direction. It takes 1.5h to reach Lak Lake. Get off at the last stop and follow the Y Jut road which will take you to Buon Jut village.
PRICES [in Vietnamese dong as of July 2018]
170 000 a large double room (A/C, hot water, window) in a hotel
150 000 sleeper bus Buon Ma Thuot- Kon Tum
140 000 sleeper bus Nha Trang- Buon Ma Thuot
30 000 entrance to the Ethnographic Museum
24 000 Grab xe om (motorbike taxi) from the town to the bus station
20 000 breakfast at com chay (vegan eatery)
25-35 000 public bus to Dak Lak
20 000 public bus to Ban Don or to Dray Sap
15 000 fresh coconut
10 000 pineapple
8- 10 000 coffee at a local cafe
5 000 steam sweet bun
3 000 banana fritter