Zigzagging Across Asia (Part 8)

This Destination is part of a longer, on-going journey zigzagging through Asia.


10-Aug-2019 (Sat)

Journey To

Getting from Pleiku to Buon Ma Thuot, I took the Rang Dong limousine. The driver called me an hour before reaching, to confirm the pickup address, but he only spoke Vietnamese. I didn’t quite understand, so I took it as he is reaching, so I went down early. Just before reaching, he called again.

The bus was one of the most comfortable buses I’ve taken in Vietnam, and their service was pretty good. So I was quite glad I chose them.

About an hour and a half into the journey, we came to the midway rest stop. As with all inter-city transport services, it was in the middle of nowhere. I always assumed this was so you only had one option for buying drinks/food and can’t wander off too far.

It is at the rest stop, that the driver collects the fee for the journey, as well as asking where your destination in Buon Ma Thuot is.

After about 20 mins at the rest stop, we continued on our journey. The route itself was fairly smooth. The roads were good, and the driver wasn’t as erratic as many other rides I’ve taken around Asia.

Coffee Tour Resort

About 2 hours later, we arrived in Buon Ma Thuot. Mine was the 3rd stop, and I was dropped off at the Coffee Tour Resort, which ended up being a confusing place. It was also part of a large cafe/restaurant, but they had seperate entrances. So trying to ask people was confusing, cos they kept directing me deeper into the cafe. It probably took me 30 mins to finally realise the entrance was next to the cafe, and I managed to check in.

It probably took me 30mins to finally realise the entrance was next to the cafe, and I managed to check in. It was still early and my room wasn’t read, so I headed back to the restaurant to have lunch and coffee while waiting for my room to be ready.

Lunch wasn’t as good as I expected. It gave me the impression that it was cooked by someone who only saw the dishes, for customers who also only have seen those dishes – neither have actually tasted what good food should taste like.

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Coffee Tour Resort
Lunch at the cafe/restaurant
Lunch at the cafe/restaurant
Lunch at the cafe/restaurant

Just after noon, my room was “ready”, and I was able to go to my room. There are 2 different buildings with rooms, one behind the main building, and another to the left of the main building. The one to the left definitely looked a lot nicer, with balconies. My room was the one at the back.

The room building to the left
Around the hotel
Around the hotel

I wasn’t actually too impressed with the room I got. It was small, and not well maintained. The stains on the walls and floors made me feel uneasy. My first thought had been that they probably rushed to get my room made, so didn’t have time to get the stains out. So I made a mental note to inform the front desk, and let it be.

Inside the room
Inside the room
The stains
The stains

About 2 hours later, I decided to take a quick walk around. I went to the front desk, and mentioned the stains, and their response was “Oh Ok, Sorry”. To me, I took it as they would look into it, so I left it to them, and headed out.

Cà phê Lâm Anh

About 2km down the same street, I decided to stop at a cafe with a nice decor and take a little break. It was really well decorated, with careful attention to detail. I later learnt that cafes like this, are actually quite expensive to start.

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Cà phê Lâm Anh
Cà phê Lâm Anh
Cà phê Lâm Anh
Cột cờ Quảng trường 10-3

While having coffee, I noticed some kites flying in the sky and I assumed there was a park close by. The kits were pretty big, and quite high up, so it didn’t feel like kids playing about. I decided to finish up my coffee, and find the source of the kites.

This led me to the large parade square of the city. Much like the squares in other cities of Vietnam, here too I saw many people walking around, hanging out with their friends, and flying kites in the evening. It really is a nice place to just take some time and do people watching.

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Cột cờ Quảng trường 10-3
Cột cờ Quảng trường 10-3
Công viên Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột

After about 30mins of watching people around the square, I continued on towards the city area, and came across another park, which had some really ingenious way of recycling used tires – making sculptures out of them.

In one side of the park, there was also an small, old-ish type fair but it was empty at the time I was there. I guessed it was too early still. Here too, there were quite a number of people having their evening walk around the footpaths.

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Công viên Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột
Công viên Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột
Công viên Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột
Công viên Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột

After just a quick walk around the park, I continued on down the same street. I took notice of the over-street decoration, and I realised how it summarised the province of Dak Lak quite well – the ethnic house design in the centre circle, the elephants next to it, and at the edges – coffee beans. It pretty much says it all. Although this connection only hit me when I was seeing this photo later.

Summary of Dak Lak in the over-street decoration
Book Coffee Street Buon Ma Thuot

This city really doesn’t stop amazing me. Within just a 100m from the park with recycled tires, I come across a little alley, that had been repurposed into a street of Books and Cafes. I just had to walk through it.

There was a fancier looking cafe in the centre of Book Street, called “Ama Coffee”. I decided to stop there, and have (of all things) a cold a drink of Cacao – which was awesome. I sat there for a bit, again people-watching. As the evening continued, more people starting walking through the street, talking photos among the murals, and decorations.

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Book Coffee Street Buon Ma Thuot
Book Coffee Street Buon Ma Thuot
Book Coffee Street Buon Ma Thuot
Book Coffee Street Buon Ma Thuot
Book Coffee Street Buon Ma Thuot
Buon Ma Thuot Victory Monument

Just around the corner from Book Coffee Street, was a Victory Monument, built into a roundabout in the middle of 3 major roads.

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Buon Ma Thuot Victory Monument
Buon Ma Thuot Victory Monument
Buon Ma Thuot Victory Monument

Once I hit the city centre, I started walking around the streets, and by the big market. Although the photos below makes it seem like I was in the dead of night, this was only at 6.30pm, on a Saturday. Although, this isn’t true of all the streets. The streets that had the food, beer and clubs were getting busier.

Walking around the city streets
Walking around the city streets
Beer 105

While walking around, I came across a tour office who’s website I had seen previously. Thought I’d drop in just to see what they had. The owner wasn’t around, so I decided to find somewhere to sit and drop him a mail. I found a little watering hole, and decided to get a drink and wait for a reply from him.

While waiting for a reply from him, I did notice the brand of my drink, and the cigarettes on the table. I started wondering if there was some subtext my brain was trying to convey to my conscious. This thought carried on to me trying to think what other decisions I may have made, that I wasn’t aware off what the real reason was.

This thought process was stopped short when I got a reply from the tour office’s owner, who said he’d be back in the office soon. So I finished my drink, and started heading back to his office.

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A revelation into my subconscious while waiting for an email
Sinh Tố Hiền

Met the tour office owner, and we walked to a fruit juice place that was still opened. This later became one of my favourite places to get a drink – with the Avocado smoothie being my favourite.

So we sat there for probably an hour, and he was telling me about the different places he could take me to visit during my stay.

I have always been against taking tours, but in this case, I made an exception for 2 reasons:

  1. The places to visit in Buon Ma Thuot were not easy to get to.
  2. They offered a personal tour on a bike.

I told him I’d have a think and get back to him, and took a cab back to the hotel.

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Meeting at what became my favourite fruit place
Layered conflicting emotions

Reaching back at Coffee Tour Resort, it was a little unsettling. The entire place was silent – empty of any staff or having much lighting. Since I wasn’t entirely sure of the layout as well, I did feel a little nervous walking past the greenery to the building with my room. I did manage to find my way back.

Back in the room, everything started to just go downhill. I wasn’t able to take a shower, because the bathroom just felt off – it was dark, and although not really small, I still had a feeling of claustrophobia. I turned on the air-conditioner (which was noisy and had a musty smell) turned on the TV, and laid on the hard mattress of the bed.

I couldn’t get any sleep, and I just felt completely unnerved. Couldn’t really tell why, and probably it wasn’t just one thing, but a combination of everything – Emptiness, Messiness, and Uncomfortable(ness) of the place and room.

I went through a conflict of emotions at this point, which went on for hours. I had never thought of myself as a “spoilt” person. I always assumed I was quite easy-going, and not too picky about things. Yet here I was, unhappy with my room – a fairly minor problem in comparison to the lives of many people around the world. This brought about a second layer of unhappiness – towards who I really am. I became unhappy, that I was unhappy.

I laid there, still trying to decide if I should accept who I was, or to fight it and be the person I thought I was. I spent the time looking at what other hotels were close by. This late at night though, I wasn’t sure I could even book any of them.


11-Aug-2019 (Sun)

A late night adventure

At 2am, my decision was made – accept who I am, and move. Considering the time, I wasn’t able to make any bookings on any website (since 2am counts as the next day, so booking “today”, would mean having to check in later that day). I would need to chance it, and go down to the hotel personally.

I just grabbed my phone, and took the walk through the quiet garden to the street – which was just as empty. I stood for about 5 minutes, hoping to find a cab going past. After that, I tried using the Grab app, to try and book both a car and a bike. After a few tries, I finally got assigned a bike.. which.. never actually moved from its start location.

I must have continued this way for about an hour, and there were doubts starting to creep in – maybe this is a sign I shouldn’t move? But I just couldn’t imagine going back in there. Why would I give up the chance to be happy, no matter how small, for something that I know won’t make me happy.

I decided to walk it.. the nearest nice hotel was about 3km away, and I know I could easily walk there. Just have to get over the initial fear of walking through unknown streets in the early hours.

Just 10 mins later, a taxi went past me. It had a passenger, and I could only hope that he would have to return back the same street after dropping him off. A few minutes later, he did. I did everything to make sure he could see me clearly flagging him.. and he stopped. After breathing out a huge sigh of relief, I told him where I needed to go and we were on our way.

When we reached the new hotel, it was big, and there was still security and a front desk person. I paid the driver, but told him to wait, because I would need a ride back, and couldn’t take the risk of waiting another hour for a passing taxi.

Went to the front desk, probably not looking my best, and asked if they had a room for the next few nights – and they DID! I told him to go ahead and book it, and that I’ll be back within the hour, to check in. In a shot, I was back in the taxi, heading back to Coffee Tour Resort. We got there pretty quickly, and I again asked the driver to wait. I was almost running back to my room now, and did the fastest packing method – stuffing everything into whichever part of my bags they’d fit. Within 5 minutes, I was back in the taxi with my bags, and heading to the new hotel.

When we reached, I felt safe to let the taxi driver go. I’m sure he must’ve been happy for the back-and-forth rides I needed too. I got to the front desk, and started checking-in. But of course, I haven’t really checked-out from Coffee Tour Resort, since there were no staff. I had to convince the guy to allow me to check-in with my driver’s licence first, paying in cash, and promised to come back with my passport later that day.

I finally got my key and went up to my room. Going in, I finally felt my whole body unclench. It was almost 5am at this point, and any conflicting thoughts I had about whether I was uptight or easy-going, was gone now.

I jumped in the shower, then climbed into bed, turned on the tv, and let sleep come to me – probably with a big smile on my face.

Muong Thanh Luxury Buon Ma Thuot Hotel

The next morning, I woke up quite early – considering what time I slept. I finally had time to really take in the room and the hotel, and took some photos.

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Muong Thanh Luxury Buon Ma Thuot Hotel
The view from the room

I didn’t really know what I wanted today. After the night I had, I was still pretty tired. Out of familiarity, I guess I just started walking back down towards the city centre.

Along the walk, I came across a little inflatable guy, who perfectly captured the mood I was feeling that day. I eventually ended up back at the same fruit juice parlour as the day before, and I had the avocado smoothie, and absolutely fell in love with in.

After this, was pretty much a blur. I must’ve felt really sleepy and tired, and spent the rest of the day just back at the hotel.

My mood of the day, captured perfectly

12-Aug-2019 (Mon)

Today is gonna be the first day of my tour, heading to the waterfalls and an ethnic village. I woke up pretty early, had breakfast at the hotel, then waited for the bike to pick me.

Dray Sap Waterfall (On Tour)

Getting to Dray Sap Waterfall from the city area, on a bike, wasn’t that far a ride, and it was a smooth journey all the way. Arriving at the entrance, it became apparent this wasn’t some hidden wonder, but a well maintained park.

The guide paid the entrance fee (not sure how much it was), and we went down a long flight of stairs to walk along the jungle path to the waterfall.

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Entrance to Dray Sap Waterfall
A restaurant at the entrance
A bright blue pond by the path
A bright blue pond by the path
Dray Sap Waterfall

We spent a few minutes across the lake from the waterfall. There were a few other people there, but all locals, who were just having a family day out. A few of them took photos of/with me.

From here, we continue on along the jungle path, heading upwards.

Along the path past the waterfall view
Along the path past the waterfall view

At the end of the path, we were along a road, the run alongside the river flowing to the waterfall. There was a construction project underway, for some accommodation. This somehow took away some of the “magic” from the place.

A view from the top
A view from the top
The river flowing towards the waterfalls

After a few minutes at the top, we went back the way we came, walked past the stairs we went down, and headed in the opposite direction – towards the next waterfall.

Looks like someone has slept among the roots
Dray Nur Waterfall (On Tour)

Getting to Dray Nur Waterfall, was about a 15 minute walk, including over a suspension bridge with a view of the waterfall. There are quite a few interesting natural structures to see, and there was also a makeshift cafe along the way, with some locals having a drink.

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Bridge to Dray Nur
View from bridge of Dray Nur
Getting closer to Dray Nur
An interesting root structure
Dray Nur waterfall

We got even closer, by going across a little wooden bridge and around some rocks. This brought us to a little pool at the base of the waterfall, and I could walk in a little of the way. Although this didn’t bring me right under the falling water, it brought me close enough to feel the spray off the waterfall. This was really refreshing after a long walk to get there.

Wooden bridge to get close to Dray Nur
A little access to the base of Dray Nur

After about 30 minutes of enjoying the cool spray from the waterfall, we headed back. Noticed a few more natural structures, and then the long walk back up the stairs to exit the nature park.

Liana (I think)
A long flight of stairs to the exit

At the top, we stopped to have a drink of sugarcane at the restaurant. The tour included entrance to a zoo that was just opposite. Although I did enter and walk this small zoo, I felt too sad to even try and take any photos.

I expected it to be a zoo of animals found natively in the region, but there were also more exotic animals – like lions. I felt really uncomfortable, because it wasn’t the most comfortable of places for them. I would urge you not to go in to see this, and hopefully they would close it with lack of interest.

The restaurant near the entrance for a drink
The sad zoo
A Local Village (On Tour)

We then got back on the bike, and took a short ride to what was described as a local village. There, we got to walk around, and the guide was telling me about the life of the people.

A local village
A local village
A local village
The Tour Choreography

I became very aware, during the walk around the local village, of how tours are actually well choreographed – the route, the pace, the script. It all syncs well together just like a musical. It always feels like a casual conversation, but looking back, I realised just how well-timed the words were, to point out to something that just happened to be there, that matched up to what was being said. It got me thinking even more, about the illusion that is presented to travellers, which also works because of our “want” to see it.

Read more in this post > >

Lunch, Coffee & Dinner

After walking around the traditional village, we went to have lunch – chicken rice. As always, this was in the middle of nowhere.

After lunch, we went to have coffee at a traditional-style ethnic village. That was the end of the tour, and we headed back after this.

I order room service for dinner, and spent the evening in my room.

Lunch – Chicken Rice (Com Ga)
Lunch – Chicken Rice (Com Ga)
Coffee at a “traditional” cafe
Room service dinner

13-Aug-2019 (Tue)

Núi Đá Voi | Elephant Rock (On Tour)

As the previous day, this morning I had breakfast, than sat at the outside cafe of the hotel, waiting for my tour guide to pick me up on his bike. It was going to be a long ride out today.

Our first stop was “Elephant Rock”, named because it resembles the back of an elephant, and you walk up along, what would be, the spine of an elephant.

There are some things that photos can never capture in this place – just how large it is, the steepness of the climb and the wind.

This rock is huge! You would be mere dots climbing up along the spine to the top. Certain parts were also pretty steep and narrow. You could see right down the sides, and I can imagine slipping down the sides all the way to the bottom, could be deadly. At the top, being the tallest structure around, it gets some really strong winds.

But as dangerous as I thought it was, you’d still see some locals who could do the trip up in complete ease, even one who was carrying his child.

The top was a lovely place to just sit and stare. I think I would’ve stayed much longer, if I hadn’t been with a guide.

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The way up Elephant Rock
The way up Elephant Rock
The view from the top
The view from the top
The view from the top
Marble Making Process (On Tour)

On the walk back from Elephant Rock to the bike, we passed by a shop that had people making marble items. It was interesting to see how skilled they were to be able to it all by hand.

The raw marble
Grinding down the rocks to rough shape
Polishing them off for final shape and finish
The finished marble spheres
More marble products
Hồ Lắk | Lak Lake (On Tour)

From here, we continue on riding toward Lak Lake – the second largest lake in Vietnam. Although am not sure if this is by size, or volume. It was unfortunate that I was travelling during the dry season, so the water level may have been lower than normal.

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The Elephants (On Tour)

It will be hard to visit Dak Lak in general, without understanding there are elephants here. In the Lak District, there are also captive elephants. You should be aware that this practice has now been banned, and the only elephants you see, are those that were captured years ago.

How elephants are domesticated is well-known and I am always against this cruel practice. Just like in other places, here you can either ride the elephant, or buy some fruits to feed them – I did neither. I think if you have a soul, you wouldn’t do it too. It was still disheartening to see some people still taking part in it though.

The elephants of Lak
The elephants of Lak
Traditional Lakeside Village (On Tour)

From where the elephants were, we took a slow walk to a traditional lakeside village closeby. We got to walk by some water buffalos on the road – which freaked me out. It is hard to imagine something that could kill me so easily, be domesticated.

At the end of the street, was the pier where you can take a boat to go out onto the lake, and also some food and souvenir shops. I also got to see a piece of wood being handcrafted into a sculpture.

Traditional Lakeside Village
Traditional Lakeside Village
Traditional Lakeside Village
A hand-made wood sculpture in the making
Dog-Eating Conversation (On Tour)

Some of the houses had chickens, pigs and dogs under the houses, laying in the shade to keep out of the afternoon sun. My guide and I got into the conversation of the dogs being no different than the other farm animals – and would be considered for eating as well. This is something that most people from other cultures find hard to accept. Since the people who eat dogs can’t see them the same way we do, we can be quick to think of them as heartless.

We are just looking at it from out frame of reference though. We have a purely emotional attachment to dogs and think them as part of the family. In the same way, we can also form emotional attachments to cows or chickens, but since we only get our meat from the supermarket, pre-butchered, we never have to face this emotional conflict.

For those who may argue about a dog’s intelligence or emotion, you need to know that pigs are in fact far smarter that dogs – emotionally, socially and in intelligence. They are the smartest domesticated animal, and ranks among elephants, chimps and dolphins. Yet most of us never have any problems with eating them – sometimes daily. As much as you think it’s sad for a dog to be butchered, a pig has to go through worse.

At the end of the day, acceptance it is all about your frame of reference. Your pet, may be the food of someone else’s pet (someone who keeps rabbits vs someone who keeps a snake).

I have a feeling that most who read this, is going to jump to the conclusion that I’m all for eating dogs. You’d be SO wrong. I love dogs. I’ve had 2 growing up (both adopted), and even volunteered in dog shelters. I hate the idea of eating dogs. I even hate the idea of having dogs as anything less than part of a family. If you are one of those who immedietly jumped to that conclusion, it just means you have not accepted that different people have different perspectives.

Random Sights & Lunch (On Tour)

We walked back to where the bike was parked, a shop that sold souvenirs, coffee and lunch. While waiting for lunch, I explored around the area on my own a little and found some pretty interesting things.

Lunch was fried noodles, which was a little bland for my taste – but that just could be cos I was hungry after all the walking.

Drum with buffalo hide
A simple hand pump for fuel
Dugout canoes on the lake
Souvenir & lunch shop
Souvenir & lunch shop
Table & chairs from a tree root
Table & chairs from a tree root
Fried noodles
Plantations (On Tour)

In between every location we travelled to, we got to stop at some farms along the road, to look at plantations in the region. This included Cacao, Coffee, Pepper and Durians.

Cacao
Cacao
Coffee
Coffee
Pepper
Zucchini (I think)
River Through Dried Up Lava (On Tour)

Out last stop of the day, was at a river that run through some dried up lava. I was a little surprised by this, because I never knew Vietnam had any volcanoes, even dormant or extinct ones.

After parking the bike, we got off and walked to the river, where we got to climb in and enjoy a nice cool splash around. This definitely felt good after all the walking in the hot sun.

River through dried up lava
River through dried up lava
River through dried up lava
River through dried up lava
The Ride Back

From here, it was just the long ride (about 60km), back to Buon Ma Thuot city. I remember wishing I had done this in a car, where I could’ve stretched out and taken a nap. Sitting on a bike for an hour was not the most comfortable, and I just spent my time looking at the road markers and counting them.

Once back at the hotel, I had a nice cold smoothie, even before heading up to my room. The rest of the night was just spent at the hotel, packing and preparing for the next destination.

A drink back at the hotel
~END~

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