Buon Ma Thuot (Buôn Ma Thuột) is the heart of Dak Lak (Đắk Lắk) province and Central Highlands (Tây Nguyên) of Vietnam. Buon Ma Thuot was built over 1 century ago, when the French people were still in Vietnam and built the ruling fortress in this area.
Before becoming a city, this land was a very big village with over 50 Long Houses (Nhà Dài – a unique house of ethnic groups in Highlands), each of which is home to 30-40 people. The entire village was led by the chief Ama Thuot (Ama Thuột) who is very reputed and powerful. Therefore, the name of village, Buon Ma Thuot, was named after the chief. The word “Buon” means village in Vietnamese, so “Buon Ma Thuot” means the village of chief Ama Thuot.
In Vietnam, Buon Ma Thuot is very famous for coffee (origin of the tastiest coffee of Vietnam), big flocks of elephant, unique houses of ethnic groups, as well as majestic nature of Central Highlands.
Best times to visit Buon Ma Thuot
Central Highlands has 2 seasons: rain (May to November) and dry (the rest time of year). In rainy season, roads are very difficult to travel because many roads are still earthern. It is more ideal to travel in the first months of dry season, when the weather is still cool and not too hot.
Additionally, you should also consider travelling in the time of festivals: In December when rainy season just finished, Buon Ma Thuot generously offers their visitors with many major festivals. This is also the most beautiful time when Da Quy flowers (hoa dã quỳ) at its fullest bloom and paint a bright yellow wherever you set your eyes on. Elephant race festival (a major festival in Highlands) is held annually in March in Buon Don village.
How to get to Buon Ma Thuot
The distance between Buon Ma Thuot and Sai Gon is 330km (205 miles), and from Hanoi is 1400km (875 miles), you can get to “the heart of Highlands” by bus or plane.
From Ho Chi Minh city, it takes 8 hours if you go by bus of one of the following:
– Mai Linh bus at Mien Dong bus station (292 Dinh Bo Linh – Binh Thanh district – Ho Chi Minh City), tel: +8220.127.116.11.39
– Kumho Samco at Mien Dong bus station, tel +818.104.22.168
– Tay Nguyen bus at Mien Dong bus station, tel +84922.214.171.124
From Hanoi, it will take almost 2 days to get to Buon Ma Thuot. So consider your time budget and travel plan.
Taxi in Buon Ma Thuot
Mai Linh Taxi: +845.003.819.819
Ban Me taxi: +845.003.979.979
Ban Me Xanh: +845.006.272.727
Quyet Tien: +845.003.813.813
Tay Nguyen: +845.003.838.838
Dak Lak: +845.003.81.81.81
Hotels and Motels in Buon Ma Thuot
Buon Ma Thuot is a big city and the center of Highlands, so there’re hotels of various kinds of quality and rates:
1. Gia Dinh motels at 01 – Hung Vuong street, tel: +84500. 3812.148. Friendly owner, rates under $10/day.
2. Thao Nguyen motel at 116 – Dinh Tien Hoang street, tel: +84500.3855.992. Near center, clean room, friendly and enthusiastic owner, rates about $7.5/day.
3. Motel at 87 Nguyen Duc Canh street, tel: +84500.3814.103, rates about $8/day.
4. Cat Phu hotel at 113 Hai Ba Trung, tel +84500.3854.972. The hotel recieves many good reviews on travel forum of Vietnam, rates about $10/day.
5. Ly Thuong Kiet street is packed with hotels and motels, low rate from $6/day.
Attractions in Buon Ma Thuot
1. The exiled Buon Ma Thuot (Nhà đày Buôn Ma Thuột), a historical site, is prison built by the French in 1930 to detain patriots during the Vietnam War. However, unlike regular prison, prisoners here had to build the exiled house to detain themselves. Barbarian ways of torturing and miserable life of prisoners are also presented.
The site is located at 18 Tan Thuat street – Tu An ward – Buon Ma Thuot.
2. Trung Nguyen coffee village, a famous destination in Central Highlands, is a group of unique structures built according to architecture of ethnic groups in Central Highlands.
The village is divided into 3 areas: Coffee – where visitors can taste various products of Trung Nguyen coffee (the most famous brand of Vietnam’s coffee); Food – which serves over 50 specialties of Vietnam’s 3 regions; and Supermarket or Souvenir.
3. Dak Lak ethnic museum was built in 2008 based on Long House (Nhà Dài) architecture of E De ethnic group. The museum is exhibiting thousands of antiquities and daily items of ethnic groups in Central Highlands.
4. Sac Tu Khai Doan pagoda (chùa Sắc Tứ Khải Đoan) was built in 1951 by Nam Phuong Queen, mother of Bao Dai King. Now, Khai Doan is the biggest pagoda in Dak Lak province.
5. Ako D’hong village (buôn Akô D’hông) is a big village of E De, M’nong ethnic groups, about 2km from the city. Ako D’hong now preserves many unique customs of Highlands area and becomes an attractive destination for tourists.
6. Don village (Bản Đôn), in Buon Don district, is a very famous with Vietnamese. 40km (25miles) from Buon Ma Thuot, the village has long been famous for the tradition of hunting and taming elephant. Ban Don’s elephant hunters used to praised throughout South Asia region.
7. Group of 3 waterfalls Gia Long – Dray Nur – Dray Sap, 25km (15miles) from Buon Ma Thuot. These are 3 majestic waterfalls of Serepok river to visit when travelling Buon Ma Thuot.
8. Lak lake (hồ Lăk) – Jun village (buôn Jun). Lak lake is the largest lake of Dak Lak, and 2nd largest of Vietnam (under Ba Be lake). Beside of the lake is Jun village, a famous village of M’nong ethnic. Around the village is historic structures as palace of Bao Dai king (the last king of Vietnam), long houses of M’nong ethnic, etc.
Specialties of Buon Ma Thuot
1. Bun Do (Bún đỏ – red noodle) is a popular dish in Buon Ma Thuot and Highlands (it looks like Bun Rieu in Northern Vietnam), made from crab, fried fish, baked rolled pork, boiled egg, vegetables and few others.
You can try this dish at Bun Do Mrs. Thu, junction of Phan Dinh Phung – Le Hong Phong streets.
2. Banh Khot (bánh khọt), a popular snack in Central, is made from rice flour, a bit of leaf chives and onion. The rice flour is put into round frames then fry up for few minutes.
You can eat Banh Khot at the end of Y Jut street (close to Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street).
3. Com Tam (cơm tấm – broken rice) is famous specialty of Southern Vietnam. However, you can also this dish at Buon Ma Thuot. The tastiest restaurant is 94 Phan Boi Chau street.
4. Tap Tang vegetable (rau tập tàng). When looking into menu of most restaurants in Buon Ma Thuot, you will see this dish: Tap tang with crab, tap tang with shrimp,… This is a wild vegetable growing in all round year, soup from Tap Tang vegetable is very tasty.
5. Wet cake is a very tasty dish that i would love in Buon Ma Thuot. The cake is made from baked pork, vegetable and few others, all of them is rolled by a wet rice paper. Wet cake is very popular in Central Vietnam and maybe you enjoyed this dish at somewhere, however there’s a small difference at Buon Ma Thuot: instead of eating available cakes, you will have to skillfully make a wet cake yourself, quite interesting!
You can try this dish at 43 Tran Nhat Duat street.
- Bò nhúng me is a strange and unique dish of Buon Ma Thuot. Raw beef will be flash boiled in hot tamarind soup. This dish will be very tasty if eaten with bread. You can visit the restaurant at 158 Le Thanh Tong street to enjoy this specialty.
- Bánh canh cá thu is a popular noodle dish of Central and Southern (similar Bun in Northern). However, Banh Canh in Buon Ma Thuot is eaten with Mackerel, instead of beef or pork like in other places. Check out the restaurant 55 Hai Ba Trung street.
- Bánh bột lọc Đạt Lý is a tapioca starch little cake with shrimp and pork inside, then steamed for few minutes. In Buon Ma Thuot, it is sold a lot in Dat Ly market, which explains the name.
- Venison is a very famous specialty of Highlands, especially Dak Lak. Now, this meat is very difficult to find in other regions. Venison can be cook into many dishes (7 dishes of venison): baked, dried, fried, etc.
You can enjoy this Highlands’s specialty at many restaurants in Buon Ma Thuot city. You can visit Y Jut street where there’re many tasty and cheap restaurants. Both locals and travelers usually pick this street to indulge in these gorgeous treats.
Itinerary for trips to Buon Ma Thuot
3 days is a recommended amount of time for enjoying the full of Buon Ma Thuot.
For 3 days
Day 1: Buon Ma Thuot – Don village – Buon Ma Thuot (80km or 50miles)
– Morning. Buon Ma Thuot to Don village (40km). Visiting Don village: hundreds-year house, tomb house of E De people, listening to stories about hunting and taming elephant from elders and riding elephant to stroll around village.
– Noon. Lunch in Dong village
– Afternoon. Get back to Buon Ma Thuot and visit Dak Lak Ethnic Museum.
– Evening. Stroll around the city and enjoy Buon Ma Thuot coffee.
Day 2: Buon Ma Thuot – The group of 3 waterfalls – Buon Ma Thuot
– Morning. Leave for the group of 3 waterfalls: Gia Long – Draynur – Dray Sap (40km or 25miles). Remember to bring foods for lunch.
– Noon. Have lunch at 1 of 3 waterfalls.
– Afternoon. Back to Buon Ma Thuot and visit Ako D’hong village and the Sac Tu Khai Doan pagoda.
Day 3: Buon Ma Thuot – Lak lake – Jun village
– Morning. Get to Lak lake from the city (60km or 40miles), visit Bao Dai king’s palace and Jun village.
– Noon. Lunch in Jun Village.
– Mid afternoon. Back to city
For 2 days
Day 1: Buon Ma Thuot – The group of 3 waterfalls – Don Village – Buon Ma Thuot
– Morning. Go to the group of waterfalls at 7am and 11am back to the city for lunch.
– Early afternoon. Go to Don village: Visiting hundreds-year house, tomb house of E De people, listening to stories hunting and tamping elephant from elders and riding elephant to stroll around village.
– Evening. Back to city for diner, then stroll around and enjoy coffee.
Day 2: Travelling inside Buon Ma Thuot.
– Morning. Visit Dalak Ethnic Museum, then Ako D’hong village
– Noon. Have lunch at the village.
– Early Afternoon. Keep going to Exiled House and Lac Giao temple (đình Lạc Giao). Then visit Trung Nguyen coffee village.
– Late afternoon. Back to Hotel to pack up.