Whizzing through winding country roads at break-neck speed, dodging local buses and mopeds, I wondered whether I would make it to the central highlands of Vietnam in one piece. Compared to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi (where my main concern was whether I would reach the other side of the road without a moped running over my foot) this was an extreme road trip; exhilarating and terrifying all in one glorious, slightly shabby 4X4.
But isn’t that why we love to travel to far distant lands? Who wants to walk across a controlled crossing anyway, and goddammit who needs rules of the road? It’s every man for himself on the Vietnamese highways. After a while the sight of a tiny moped loaded with hundreds of eggs or perhaps a large cow seems perfectly normal, and you begin to enjoy the general chaotic nature of the system.
If you’ve got a supportive bra and a stomach of steel (car-sick bods need not apply) then the journey from the built up party-town of Nha Trang to Buon Ma Thuot, is one not to be missed. Not many tourists venture this far off the trail, but if you have the time and the inclination, you will get to see a different side of Vietnam; a million miles away from the crowded hot-spots of Ha Long Bay and Hanoi. The scenery is astounding and the hilly landscape is the perfect terrain for a variety of produce, most notably- coffee.
The plantations span hundreds of kilometres and there are many small stalls along the roads offering fresh local produce, including bright yellow bananas and bulging sacks of rice. In terms of food choice, the highlands are a world away from the noisy crowded pavements of the city, with a multitude of street vendors on every corner. There is however the occasional ‘pop up’ cafe on side of the road, offering anything from noodles to (veggies look away now) stir-fried dog. We gave the latter a miss.
In terms of accommodation, the options are reasonably scarce, as mass tourism has yet to reach this rural area, but there are hotels in the town of Buon Ma Thuot. Alternatively you can chose to stay in simple lake houses in the picturesque Dak Lak province, nestled between rolling green valleys. Vietnam is made up of around 54 (government recognised) ethnic groups, including the Ede and M’nong who reside in the villages of Dak Lak. The small amount of tourist accommodation and activities are run by locals which adds to the authentic feel to your journey, however, many do not speak English so a local guide may come in handy.
Here you can experience an elephant ride without the crowds, sauntering amongst rice paddies and log huts, or just spend some time with the gentle giants and treat them to a banana – or ten. If you prefer to be a little closer to the ground then there are many locals who will take you out for a ride out into Lak Lake in a dug out boat made from a hollowed out tree trunk. The vibrant rice paddies and slow pace of highland life felt a million miles away from the busy, grey, steamy streets of Hanoi.
Vietnam really does (in my humble opinion) hold something for everyone, and if you have the time to travel to the central highlands, then I thoroughly recommend the bumpy trail. With the option to take an internal flight from Nha Trang to Buon Ma Thuot, you can escape the hairy car journey – but don’t miss out on the chance to experience the beauty and rustic charm of rural Vietnam.
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