LAKES AND COFFEE
I left my grandparent’s and headed for my first solo exploration to Buon Ma Thuot (sometimes referred to as Ban Me Tuot), a small village located in the central highlands just above Da Lat and the capital of the Dak Lak province. The high quality coffee produced in this area puts it on the map and allowed for the province’s economic growth so I came seeking the kinds of coffee it had to offer and views of the serene Lak Lake nearby.
As you can imagine, there’s not a huge demand for travel between Tuy Hoa (where my grandparents reside) and BMT, so in terms of public transport local minibuses were pretty much the only option. Local buses are generally crowded to the brim with people and parcels (for delivery between the towns), but the experience was definitely worthwhile and the trip dirt cheap (50kVND). Vietnamese locals don’t tend to appreciate personal space so if you’re planning a trip on the local buses be prepared to have this Western comfort violated during the ride. The journey took roughly four hours including one shocking toilet break (don’t drink too much tea before you leave!). The journey was much more pleasant than I had expected and reached a peak when the bus finally emptied giving me a window seat providing me with a good view of the scenic mountainous journey.
BMT bus station is around 5km from the actual city and I was dropped off to a group of overly keen motorbike taxis leaving me feeling disorientated and stressed, I needed a few moments so I sought the ticket office to collect my thoughts and decide what to do. I decided to approach a parked taxi and asked to go Thanh Binh hotel located just off the main high street. The taxi quoted 80kVND which I accepted though knowing this was excessive for the 10 minute journey – sometimes you just lose the will to barter.
After checking in I went to the restaurant next door they were serving nem nuong, one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes – it’s a do it yourself rice paper rolling set where you’re given roast, pickled and steam pork with a variety of different veggies to pack your rolls with! After I headed around the town in search of some famous BMT coffee and ended up at a quiet and cutely decorated place called Acoustic Cafe. The coffee was delicious it had a unusual nutty flavour with lots of depth compared to the weak stuff I had gotten used to in Saigon and so I decided to stay and finish two cups!
I found the town surprisingly quiet, perhaps it was an off peak period but there wasn’t a whole lot going on and I only bumped into 2-3 tourists. In the evenings I struggled for anything to do, I saw that the main roads came slightly more alive with locals selling random goods such as shoes, T-shirts and jewellery along the street but there was little on offer for tourists.
It became significantly busier and I spotted more tourists \when I left the town to visit the nearby Lak lake, I boarded a local bus on Ly Hong Phong street and the journey too roughly 2 hours. After missing my stop and getting a local to give me a ride back to the right area I went to a tourist information centre where I met a tour guide I could just about understand (my Vietnamese is terrible…).
In Vietnam as you move from South to North the language changes quite considerably almost like you’ve gone to a whole different country – think Birmingham accent vs. Liverpool accents and chuck in a whole bunch of region specific words. With my parents being from the South the Vietnamese spoken in the middle is probably the most difficult to understand, I settled for partial understanding of my tour guide as we went on our day’s crash course of the Lak lake area.
Activities included a ride in a dug out canoe across the peaceful lake to visit one of the H’mong villages across the huge 100 acre lake – fortunately my tour guide spoke H’mong so we managed to go pretty deep into the village allowing me to see how this minority ethnicity group lived.
Traditional H’mong houses are built on stilts, traditional versions made mud with straw roofs, the more modern stilt houses were built of wood which apparently less ideal however there is a lack of the more traditional resource. The most interesting element of their living culture was how closely integrated they lived with their animals – a mixture of pigs, chickens and ducks lived under the houses unchained and roaming free and my tour guide explained that each animal knew which of the many homes was theirs and always came back at night. The only downside to the walking tour was the feaces as it was of course everywhere – which meant for a well fertilised land for the village however for me? Well it just made me deeply regret the choice of flip flops that day.