Do visit Central Highlands in Vietnam. Do stop in the small and big towns, the lazy ones and the busy ones, they are all so welcoming, friendly and free from the mainstream tourism. But somehow it feels easy to blend in, to be a part of an everyday regular life and affairs, wander the streets and markets, eat and sip coffee with the locals not being considerd an attraction (ok, maybe sometimes, but it is with all the love and beautiful curiosity :)).
Buon Ma Thuot in Dak Lak Province is a city of 400.000 people yet you can relax and find your peace here. I am a crazy fan of Vietnam so I could easily stay here for a week or two and enjoy every minute but 1 or 2 days seems to be enough to absorb the atmosphere, drive around and have some good treats.
Not many people know that Vietnam is the 2nd biggest exporter of coffee in the World (just after Brasil) most of it’s production being strong, high in caffeine robusta. Central Highlands, Dak Lak Province especially are the epicenter of the coffee world and you just can’t travel this area without stopping in the local cafes for a cup of a pitch black, dense liquid that, when mixed with sweet, condensed milk is better than anything you’ve ever tasted! On top of that a cup of this pleasure will cost you around 0,5$! Jup, that’s how amazing it is here.
Sinh to mang cau – or a soursop smoothie. Tingling your tongue with a soury-sweet taste, refreshing, cold, one of my favourites. Plus che thai – mix of fruits and jellies with shaved ice and coconut milk. Prepare to pay around 25 to 35.000 vnd for such set.
After a couple of weeks of noodles and meat diet I craved vegetables thus decided to explore “Com chay” (“Vegetarian rice”) places during those couple of days in the Central Highlands. Buon Ma Thuot welcomed us with two amazing spots, where you can get com dia (rice plate which means you get heaps of rice and any food that you pick up from usually wide selection) and both were great value for money.
‘Tu Tam Chay’had a very good choice of tofu, seitan and veggie based foods. I usually avoid the first two mentioned but still was able to pick up enough to fill my belly – baked eggplant, young jackfruit salad, pumpkin, bitter melon, bamboo shots, crunchy blanched grean beans, carrots and a bowl of vegn canh chua, the sour-sweet soup, to top it all off. I left the place crazily satisfied and the best thing is that my male, meat-eating companion felt the same way too. He liket the food so much that he happily followed me to another com chay place on the next day. ‘Com Chay Thanh Lac Trai’ was another great choice, overwhelming with the vegan choices that left us with servings so big, we barely finished our meals.
Com Chay Tu Tam Chay, 103 Quang Trung. Buon Ma Thuot; 20.000 vnd each.
Com Chay Trnah Lac Trai, 304-306 Hoang Dieu, Buon Ma Thuot; 30.000 vnd each
If you get hungry for some meat or eggs there is another popular rice plate called com tam and you can get it all around Vietnam though it’s more common in it’s Sounthern parts. You will find it easily following your nose as the most popular condiment is freshly prepared, mouth-watering grilled pork. It’s usually served with an egg and some basic veggies plus a bowl of hot broth. Our two plates costed 60.000 vnd, which makes it a pretty good deal as for a meat based dinner.
Nice place to hang around on the sunny afternoon in the city is the wandering around the Etnographic Museum’s park and people watching – they do sports, walk their dogs and just chill enjoying the sun. Surprisingly relaxed place with good vibe and some trees that just ask to be climbed!
Want an idea for a half-day trip? Head to Dray Nur Waterfalls which are approx. 40 min bike drive from the city. The entrance is 30.000 vnd t (plus a small fee for parking your bike) and the walk between the two falls is around 15 min. You can sunbath and relax at the rocks, take tones of selfies like a proper tourist or just walk around and pick up trash if saving the world is your thing. The place is not overcrowded and you can have a nice, lazy time there.
PS. Good hotel reco – Bazan Hotel (http://bazanhotel.com/). Great value for money, clean, bright, new and with helpful, english speaking staff.