Photos: Quoc Nguyen, Quang Ngoc
In the sunny and breezy days of March, the Central Highlands come alive with the rich hues and scents of the high mountains and thick forests growing out of red basaltic soil. You should visit this region when spring is in the air to immerse yourself in the seasonal festivities; let the wind carry your spirit through blossoming trees; and experience the generosity of this land and its native people.
After the wild sunflower season ends and the winter chill eases, the Central Highlands enter the dry season with other, equally beautiful flowers: the Pơ lang (red silk cotton trees). Together with the well-known K’nia (wild almond) trees, dubbed ‘single’ trees, the fiery red Pơ lang flowers light both the landscape and highlanders’ spirits. Legend has it that two local lovers tied scarlet ribbons around each other’s wrists as a vow of faithfulness. When the gods kept the man in Heaven to manage the weather, the woman wished to transform into a strong tree to wait for him, with flowers as mesmerizing as the red ribbon on her wrist. She lay down, and a Pơ lang tree sprouted from where she lay.
Each spring, when the sun shines gently, the fiery flowers blossom all over the Highlands, their red hues eternally passionate, as in the song Em la hoa Pơ lang (I’m a Pơ lang flower) by songwriter Duc Minh:
Oh Central Highlands, wildflowers are abundant in the forests,
Which is the most beautiful of them all?
Oh Central Highlands, do you miss the village, miss the girl,
Miss the loveliest Pơ lang flower of the Highlands forests?”
Pơ lang trees also signal the beginning of a new cropping season. It is said that villagers would plant a young Pơ lang tree next to the cây nêu (Lunar New Year pole) during their spring festivals. If that tree grew well, it meant an abundant farming season was approaching.
During this loveliest season, the Central Highlands also charms visitors with a festive atmosphere imbued with traditional cultural practices. In March, people of Rhade ethnicity often celebrate rain worship rituals to pray for a year of peaceful weather and bountiful harvests. Their offerings to Yang, King God of the Heavens, include glutinous rice, bamboo-tube rice, and straw liquor. The Sedang people, renowned for their musical instruments, use spring festivals to tell stories about their unique heritage via traditional singing, dances, and gong-playing. The Jarai and Bahnar people celebrate their own Parental Thanksgiving. People who are married and live independently will choose an auspicious day to bring gifts, such as cattle, pigs, or chickens, back home to thank their parents for raising them, and to show appreciation to their paternal and maternal families. It would be remiss not to mention the large-scale Buon Ma Thuot Coffee Festival, which promotes and honors the region’s famous coffee specialties. Under the soaring roofs of the area’s communal houses, amidst the intoxicating scent of straw liquor and flickering firelight, the region’s mesmerizing cultural colors are on full display. In March, the Central Highlands are not just “a season for bees to gather honey” but also a Season of Happiness.