Ming in Dak Lak, Vietnam

On the bus No.15 heading to Đôn Village from Buôn Mê Thuột City, I accidentally spotted Yok Đôn National Park. The sign pricked my curiosity and sense of adventure. I told my mum, who was my travel mate: “We’ve got to check this place out”.

After visiting Đôn Village, we headed back to the national park, which is about 5km from the village. Greeted by a receptionist, we were more surprised to know we were among the first domestic tourists they had seen in months.

“Not so many Vietnamese visit this place. They often go in groups to more popular spots. Trekking is even rare”, said the receptionist.

After paying VNĐ60,000 (US$2.58) each as the entrance fee, we started our walk through the jungle.

There are several ways to discover this gem, including walking, cycling and via motorbike. We chose to walk since it offered us the freedom and intimacy with nature that we love. We were also joined by a special friend, a black dog. He followed us from the entrance, then became our tour guide as if it was his job.

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Man’s best friend: We trekked through the jungle with our special guide,

We were also fortunate to meet a park ranger who provided us with interesting information about this special natural park.

The forest is made up of oil-family trees called khộp (dipterocarp). Their most striking feature is that they shed their leaves in dry season to save energy because the soil is not rich in nutrition, said the park ranger.  This makes Yok Đôn different from other national parks.

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The trees shed their leaves in dry season to save energy because the soil is not rich in nutrition.

He also said that as it was the dry season when we visited, the jungle vegetation had started to change their colour with leaves turning from green to red. Once December or January comes, the whole jungle will wear a warm golden coat. When the wet monsoon starts in May, the forest will be green again, he added.

Photo 2 - The jungle fruit

Nature’s bounty: A jungle fruit

We also learned that Yok Đôn National Park is one of the most bio-diverse forests in Việt Nam, according to the park ranger. Sprawling over 115,000ha, it is home to a number of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, including many endangered species. However, they are easier to spot at night when there are no people around.

Yok Đôn is also well-known for elephant riding, which is one of the main tourism activities in the West Highlands. However, the national park has ended this practice to be more animal-friendly.  I have never been a fan of elephant riding or any animal entertainment, so I was thrilled to learn this decision had been made.

Tranquil moments in Lắk Lake

Đắk Lắk was perfect for my adventurous soul and nature fascination.

Despite having a great time in the lovely yet touristy Đà Lạt, I wanted a break from busy places to get more into nature. A quick Google search suggested visiting Lắk Lake, where I could enjoy nature and experience local customs, like riding traditional wooden boats.

Photo 4 - The tranquil Lak Lake

Peace: The tranquil Lắk Lake.

Lắk Lake is the second largest natural lake in Việt Nam, after Ba Bể Lake in Bắc Cạn. Like Yok Đôn National Park, Lắk Lake, which is some 60km from Buôn Mê Thuột City, is easily approached by bus No.12 and a kilometre from the bus stop.

Tucked away in a village, Lắk Lake is a hidden treasure in a serene and peaceful setting flanked by rice fields and views to mountains. The shimmering surface of the lake sparkled under the sun as strong winds ripped through it. When the winds stopped, the lake looked like a mirror with a still surface, reflecting its untouched surroundings.

The view looked like paintings in my story books from primary school. Traditional long houses and local people in the village just added to the view of a genuinely peaceful place. Intriguingly, although the lake is highly recommended in travel pages, it is still wild and unspoiled, which was a pleasant surprise.

I would have been more fulfilled if I had been able to paddle out the wooden boat, but I discovered this area in a different way. If Đà Lạt is a stunning princess, Đắk Lắk was more like a young highlands lady that kept inspiring us with her simple and pure beauty. I was more than pleased to have been there and it would suit anyone looking for a lesser known place to experience an authentic Việt Nam.

(This article of mine was honoured to be published on VietnamNews. Check here for the original post)

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