the Central Highlands in a different way
of the Central Highlands might bring to mind beautiful
countryside, imposing waterfalls and tourist attractions like
Bien Ho, Buon Don and Lak Lake, and many secrets of nature
and life for visitors to discover.
place worth seeing is Don Village, which is 40km from Buon
Ma Thuot, the capital of Daklak. Located between the two branches
of the Serepok River, Buon Don is home to the M’Nong, J’rai,
Ede and other ethnic minorities. For two centuries the village
has been renowned throughout Southeast Asia as a land of elephant
hunters and trainers.
Hidden in the immense Yok Don jungle, Buon Don was marked
on the map by the French as “the kingdom of elephants in Vietnam.”
Nowadays visitors can ride elephants through the forest and
hear interesting stories told by experienced elephant men.
Ban Me Tourist Company has hired 10 elephants and their owners
for this purpose and charges VND 500,000 per person for a
An excursion to the village’s nha mo (grave house)
is another way to learn about the local culture in Buon Don.
If you’ve ever read an article about nha mo you may imagine
such a place to be beautiful and full of statues. On the contrary,
nha mo looks gloomy and mysterious. There are several
trails leading to the one in
Don. Many of the old graves are overgrown from neglect since
the bo ma (grave-leaving) ceremony observed across
the Central Highlands. While next to the new graves, meanwhile,
lie the belongings of the deceased like water bottles, hammocks,
pots, gui (bamboo baskets), and even statues, some
of them decidedly weatherworn.
Another world of Buon Don is ben nuoc, the places
next to the river where the villagers go to fetch water, bathe
or do their washing. A few years ago you could still see many
topless young women bathing in the river. However, with the
increase of visitors to Buon Don, many M’Nong women have become
shy and no longer like to show their breasts in public.
In addition to the countryside, visitors can enjoy Tay Nguyen
specialties such as ruou can, a type of wine made
from rice, corn or glutinous rice, com lam (rice
cook in bamboo pipes) and smoked deer.
To prepare com lam, soak rice in water with a certain
leaf, then pour it into a young bamboo pipe and broil over
a fire. When the pipe turns soft, the rice is well done.
Ruou can can be found in any village in the Central
Highlands. Compared to regular rice wine, ruou can
is quite mild, with an alcohol content of 20% or so. Dark
reddish brown in color, the liquor has a sweet flavor and
a slightly spicy scent.
make ruou can, the Ede, Bana and K’ho peoples use
rice, glutinous rice, cassava or corn. The ingredients
mixed with a type of leaf used as yeast are kept in a terra-cotta
jar known as a che and fermented for a month. Usually the
jars are buried deep in the earth for as long as possible
until the liquid turns dense and yellow like honey. The only
exception is wine made of cassava, which turns sour if kept
But the most striking difference between ruou can
and ordinary rice wine is the way in which ruou can
is drunk. Rather than pour the liquor into cups, people insert
long curved reeds, known as can, into the jar.
Another major difference between the drinking cultures of
the highlands and lowlands is that ruou can should
always be drunk as a group, while plain rice wine is usually
more of a solitary affair. After the first few rounds of strong
wine are drunk, the jar is filled with fresh water until it
is much weaker. Then it becomes even more communal as only
one straw is used.
Ruou can can be served with ca dang, a type
of wild eggplant, broiled veal, or grilled chicken with chilli
A destination of strange customs, habits and abundant inspirational
resources for ethnologists, Tay Nguyen invites everybody to
come and explore.