Pham Thuy Dung
Back when I didn’t know much about Buon Don, I heard some people complain: “There’s nothing in Buon Don. All you see is mountains, forests, rivers and streams.” Other people said: “Buon Don is now too urbanized. Minority groups don’t really live there anymore”. Yet when I visited, Buon Don was the most memorable highlight of my journey to discover this great region of red basalt soil.
If you like to travel with a guide, you can tour some of Buon Don’s landmarks, including the Tourism Complex of Hanging Bridges, the Ban Don – Anh Duong Eco-Tourism Complex, Yok Don National Park, Bay Nhanh – Thanh Ha Waterfall, and Troh Bu Garden. I preferred to set out alone and explore the pristine and peaceful wilderness. Buon Don’s beauty only shows through when you slow down, relax your mind, and look and listen to the natural beauty and rich cultural identity of the Central Highlands, hidden behind simple daily activities.
In November, the weather in the Western Central Highlands becomes cool and dreamy, making it perfect for a trip into the forest. In this season, rainfall has decreased and the sun is not too harsh. You can tour Buon Don for the whole day without feeling tired. Start your interesting journey by exploring the diverse landscapes of Yok Don National Park. Buon Don and Ea Sup in Dak Lak province (with Cu Jut in Dak Nong province) are three districts that own a special-use forest called a dipterocarp forest. The dipterocarp forest is sparse and deciduous in the dry season, with a simple canopy structure, mainly comprised of trees in the Dipterocarpaceae family. You can take a leisurely walk or cycle deep into the forest under the cool shade of the trees or conquer Yok Don Peak if you feel like trekking. Or try being a ranger for a day to experience the interesting job of protecting the forest. People who love natural beauty will be thrilled by this place, whereas those who prefer an artificial and manicured look will be somewhat disappointed as Buon Don remains very simple. For me, simplicity is beauty, and this wilderness is valuable.
After the light morning rain, the sun casts its warm rays on colorful wild flowers. In the dry season, the leaves begin to fall and Yok Don National Park is covered in a poetic golden red color. Who says there’s no fall in the Central Highlands?
When talking about Buon Don, we cannot forget the Serepok River. The Serepok is the natural border between Dak Lak and Dak Nong. In Daklak, a section of the river is called Dak Krong. It flows through Krong Ana, Buon Don, and Ea Sup districts of this province. The Serepok is the soul and a symbol of the beauty of Buon Don. It is the only river in Vietnam that flows toward the West. The Serepok has many smaller river branches and streams, containing the essence and stories of human life. The river’s flow not only yields hydropower but also contributes to the diversity of the region’s ecosystem. The Serepok is beautiful as it has many waterfalls like those of Dray Sap, Trinh Nu, Dray H’linh, Dray Nu, Gia Long, and Bay Nhanh. The Bay Nhanh (7 branches) Waterfall is a popular destination for visitors because of its distinct appearance: as the waterfall meets a large boulder, it divides into seven small streams that flow through rocks.
If you travel along the Serepok by boat, you will find Ea No islet and have the chance to listen to the love story of M’nong and a female chief of the Ede people. On the journey down the Serepok, visitors can experience the thrilling feeling of crossing the river on a small bridge. They can also visit Lak Lake and Buddha Waterfall, and relax, swim, and fish in the streams of Dak Lau, Dak Te, and Dak Ken.
Buon Don District is home to minority peoples including the Ede, Gia Rai, and M’nong, creating a unique and diverse culture. People eager to explore the local culture can choose to eat and live with locals to get a feel of their true customs. When wandering through this vast land, you may come across white coffee blossoms or be attracted by the traditional clothing of people carrying bamboo shoots up the hills. Stepping into a stilted Ede longhouse with a history spanning hundreds of years, you will get to live in a space created by people whose culture is very different from that of the Kinh people. These peaceful houses always open their doors to welcome you. It is common to see a young woman weaving or knitting by the porch or an elderly person leaning by the door to relax. They will laugh heartily when meeting acquaintances and give a kind smile to strangers.
Once you have found a place to stay among the locals, you will be immersed in their ordinary life in the most authentic way. You will enjoy their rice wine; get carried away by the traditional melody of an Eacray or Gut folk song; and get lost in an epic tale told by a white-haired village chief. You can join games like walking on stilts, smashing earth pots while blindfolded, or swinging on a swing or a wooden seesaw as your laughter rings out over the distant forest. You will want to bring home some souvenirs like Amakong cigarettes, local wine, or brightly colored pieces of brocade. And you will certainly remember the cuisine with dishes like rice cooked in bamboo pipes, juicy pork, aromatic venison, cassia tree worm larva, Ban Don roasted chicken, sun-dried bamboo shoots, hot pots of wild vegetables with meat and dried shrimp, or fish from the Serepok.
Leaving the great wilderness of Buon Don, the legendary land of red basalt soil, visitors will appreciate the true wild beauty of the Central Highlands. This beauty will draw them back more than once.