Viet Nam News
BUÔN MA THUỘT — I arrived in Buôn Ma Thuột, the capital of the Central Highlands province of Đắk Lắk and fondly referred to as the “Queen of Coffee”, after an eight-hour bus ride.
What really stuck with me after the trip was just how friendly and open the people were. Whether it was the motorbike taxi driver who enthusiastically spoke about his homeland and the interesting places I should visit, or the kind, loquacious hotel owner couple who shared their story and allowed me to stay past the checkout time.
Traffic jams were conspicuous by their absence, and locals were just pleasant to be around with.
“I think the people here are honest and natural compared to those in other cities," said Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Hân, a tourist from Hà Nội who was visiting Buôn Ma Thuột for the first time.
“Things here are not too commercial and have managed to retain their authenticity.”
The second thing that struck me was the coffee, especially since I have been drinking coffee my whole life. The first time I took a sip of Buôn Ma Thuột coffee, its strong, bitter taste made me flinch. But then I found its aroma enticing and its rich aftertaste lingering.
Its red basaltic soil makes Đắk Lắk an ideal place for growing coffee, and it accounts for a lion’s share of the country’s production.
Not surprisingly, coffee is a big part of the city’s culture and locals are proud of their high-quality brews. Everywhere I went I would see a coffee shop filled with people enjoying their morning cuppa before work.
A number of the city’s attractions are also linked to coffee.
"The city is living with the coffee,” Marian Takac, a Slovakia tourist, said.
“I can now see why it’s called the coffee capital of Việt Nam."
Buôn Ma Thuột is not all that interesting for tourists, was the locals’refrain, but I thought they were selling themselves short since there seemed to be so many interesting places to visit and things to do that one could easily spend a week there without feeling bored.
Trung Nguyên Coffee Village is a popular tourist attraction. It belongs to the Trung Nguyên Corporation and visitors can drink coffee in cafes with traditional Central Highlands architecture, take pictures of a miniature waterfall and see Central Highlands cultural artefacts.
Another attraction is the World Coffee Museum, which has numerous coffee-related artefacts from around the world: like vintage coffee containers and cups, equipment and merchandise and traditional harvest tools of the Central Highlands.
Over the years many eco-tourism sites have emerged, such as KoTam Eco Tourism area. These offer visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the rich culture of the Central Highlands, see the greenery and waterfalls and lakes, wear traditional outfits, listen to traditional musical performances, and sample traditional foods and drinks like roasted jungle fowl, cơm lam (sticky rice grilled in bamboo shoots served with sesame) and rượu cần (fermented rice wine in earthen jugs, drank through long bamboo tubes).
Speaking of cuisine, bún đỏ (red rice noodles) is an absolute must-try. Mostly served in the afternoon and evening at street stalls around the city, the dish’s most unique characteristic is the noodle, which is dyed a distinctive red colour from the broth made with grounded cashew.
Topped with crab roe, minced meat and fried onion, it is a tasty and filling dinner for around VNĐ30,000 (US$1.3).
To truly experience the traditional ethnic ambience of Buôn Ma Thuột, one must pay a visit to Buôn Akõ Dhông (Upstream village), which many locals think has been best able to maintain the area’s traditional roots.
A 20-minute motorbike ride from the city brings me to a place with a curious sight: modern houses situated next to traditional Central Highlands long houses, some turning their longhouses into restaurants and cafes.
One café I went into was filled with traditional local items such as gongs and jugs.
Majestic natural beauty
"The city is fun but if you really want to experience the best that Buôn Ma Thuột has to offer, you have to check out Đray Nur and Đray Sap falls," a motorbike taxi drive told me.
Interested, I immediately booked a one-day tour to Đray Nur Waterfalls the next day.
After an hour’s bus drive we arrived at the fall. I still remember the feeling of excitement I had as we descended flights of rocky stairs amid the growing roar of the cascading water, and the moment the majestic waterfall came into view was breathtaking.
It was a gigantic stream of white rushing down, hitting rocks, splashing water everywhere, and creating a veil of mist.
There was also a crystal clear pond, reflecting the green of the layers of moss covering a nearby cliff.
Đray Nur Waterfalls, or "wife waterfall" in the language of the local Ê Đê ethnic group, is one of the most famous waterfalls in the Central Highlands.
Seeing other excited tourists, foreign and Vietnamese alike, reacting in awe also added to the experience.
A mother of two remarked about the incredible view and size of the falls, saying how she really enjoyed getting closer to the falls than at any other place she had been to.
On our way back to the city, the bus stopped by some coffee bushes. They had bright, delicate flowers with a pleasant fragrance and our entire group was taken aback: no one had associated coffee with flowers.
After my week-long trip I took a flight back to HCM City. I felt a bit sad I had to leave quiet, peaceful Buôn Ma Thuột and return to chaotic HCM City.
Its people, culture and natural beauty left a strong impression on me. — VNS