About The Journey - Not The Destination

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
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Trip End Feb 28, 2013


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Where I stayed
Thanh Cong Hotel Buon Ma Thuot
Read my review - 3/5 stars
Thanh Binh Hotel Buon Ma Thuot
Read my review - 2/5 stars
What I did
Yok Don National park
Ban Don Tourist Centre

Flag of Vietnam  , Ðắc Lắk,
Friday, April 20, 2012

 
4/21 Dalat to Buon Ma Thuot
200 km by bus; 7:30am- 2pm
Thanh Binh Hotel 150000VD ($7.20)

We decided to continue north staying in the central highlands to the town of Buon Ma Thout (BMT) and travel in the day time. Le Phuong had never gone our route before because she never wanted to go through such a poor area. She called the bus station and reserved seats on the Mai Linh bus. It is the same company as the reliable and honest taxi company with the same name. She said it was safer than the others and hotel pick-up would be free. The medium size bus was old and we had seats near the back. The spacing of the seats was tight and we were cramped. Two strikes!

The scenery out the window was great from there. We wound up and down mountains and valleys along a narrow two lane road for hours. Butterflies flittered everywhere. They were the size of a Monarchs but with white wings and reminded me of snowflakes.

Our first stop was brief and quickly followed by another. We had a flat! We had pulled up at a repair shack on the road. It did not take long before we were on our way again. We lost about an hour though and still the driver wanted to take a leisurely lunch break. The cafeteria style food was not exciting but we didn't mind relaxing in the cool mountain air.

A half hour before BMT, the white billowy clouds in the blue sky were replaced by heavy rain clouds. We rolled into the BMT bus station during a cloud burst. The parking lot became flooded in minutes with three inches of water. I thought we should all wait in the bus until the worst was over but our bus assistant was hot to get the luggage off. He began pulling luggage out of the stowage and lined it up under the very short overhang of a building. It was getting drenched. I ran out to rescue ours and brought it inside the now crowded open sided restaurant.

 
While we waited for the downpour to subside, I ventured out across the shallow lake which, minutes earlier, was a parking lot. I got to the set of offices selling tickets. We wanted to get our tickets to Kontum in two days. The Mai Linh bus wouldn't stop in Kontum and I was directed to another bus company’s window across the aisle. I asked for two tickets for the 24th and they promptly delivered two tickets. But they were for today, the 21st! They thought I wanted tickets for the bus leaving in 10 minutes. With some struggle and help from others around who knew a little English, the ticket lady finally understood but gave me a big "Noooooo!" Two English words that all Vietnamese seem to know are "Hello", delivered in a flat unaccented American English when they answer their cell phones, and “no”. The “Hello” always fools me into thinking they might not be Vietnamese at all but then I look over and the dialog continues in rapid tonal Vietnamese. The “no” I find odd too. They seldom say 'no’ as in “no we don’t have bananas” but rather a emphatic sounding “NOOOOOOOOOO!”, like I just asked them if they minded if I light their hair on fire. It is not that typical but it happens often enough to seem funny. I concluded they can’t sell tickets that far in advance and left.

The rain got lighter and we took a taxi to a strip of hotels recommended in our guide book. Along the way we drove past 'Metro’, a slightly smaller version of Costco, ‘Coop-Mart’ and KFC. Wow! This is a big city by Vietnam highlands standards.

 
I kept an eye on our bags while Michelle ran into a nice sounding hotel option and was quoted 380000 VDong ($18). She still gets confused with those big numbers and initially thought it was way beyond our budget! She were not going to pay 380000 anything! We settled in an ‘okay’ room across the street for nicer sounding 200000 VND ($10). Then we discovered our air con didn't work and they had put a 5 gallon bucket in the shower because the shower didn't work right either. We complained. They didn’t try to fix the problems and instead reduced the price of the room to 150000 dong ($7.20). The room clean and the weather not super hot out so we decided to stay one night and move in the morning.

We walked in search of a restaurant recommended on Travel Fish. The instructions were cryptic but, with a little determination, we found it. They had gorgeous looking rotisserie chicken rotating on the barbeque out front. We were like dogs salivating in front of a butcher shop. They would not sell us the chicken. They referred us inside the simple restaurant where the food was not appetizing. We went back out and appealed for the appetizing chicken again. No dice. We walked away with our tails between our legs.

Lucky we discovered Nem Nướng, Vietnamese grilled meat skewers served with piles of vegetables, rice paper, and a dipping sauce, at a simple eatery two door from our hotel  You hand roll your choice of ingredients, dip, and eat. Nem nướng is now one of our favorite Vietnamese dishes and, with all those veggies, its gotta be good for you too. Like a good taco stand, or like a good gyro stand, it is the sauce that makes it. I had a local beer. Bill for the two of us; 70 or 80000 VND ($3.40/$3:90). We ate at the equally tasty Nem Nướng next door the next night!
 

4/22 Buon Ma Thuot
Thanh Cong Hotel (350000 Dong / $16.80 including breakfast)


Self-Guide Moto Tour Around BMT, 100km
After moving to the hotel across the road, we rented a motorcycle. We planned two stops and it would turn out that we would not actually make it to either place!

35km north to Ya Liao is a 13th century Cham Tower
13km from BMT is Buon Tur a minority Village of Rhade, 
And if we have time, circle south west and drive by Drai Sap Waterfall

 
BMT is modernizing but still has a small city feel, traffic is busy but not crazy or dangerous. After gassing up, we drove northwest toward Yak Don National Park which was our well known landmark that is supposed to be 5km before Ya Liao. We quickly were in farm country stopping whenever we passed things unusual or interesting.

 
Durians, Cashews, Curtains on the Outside
There are fewer concrete and many more wooden houses in this area of Vietnam. Most have a large paved front yard to dry whatever crops are in season. We noticed some kidney shape brown piles being raked and spread to dry. Are these beans or shells? Last thing we expected were cashews. We learned a lot about cashew during our Central America cycle trip. Cashews are native to the Americas. 
First we found the cashews drying, then a bit further down the road, cashew trees. Not in a huge plantation but a small cluster of trees here and there. Then there were the guys with massive loads of durian.The motorcycle driver even carried one of those big boys between his legs. Then we passed a few large concrete houses with curtains on the windows – on the outside of the house! Minority ladies were walking to or from the fields with basket and hand tool! It would be great to be able to talk with them. As it was, we could only smile, nod and waive.

Yok Don National Park
The road widened and we got to a big town with a bunch of new large concrete buildings. This town is incongruously placed in the middle of nowhere it seemed. It was a bit like a ghost town with few people or happenings.

We zipped over to the entrance of Yok Don National Park, Vietnam’s largest protected area. A caretaker went by but other than that, the place was deserted. The mixed forest inside the Park looks identical to the mixed forest outside the Park. We found the office. The young man there didn’t know English but was able to communicate that the English speaker would return eventually. We told him we’d stop back later.
 

We figured the Cham tower was near so started asking for Ya Liao town. Very few knew it and invariably, we’d be told to keep going up the road. After going over a small forested pass and by a small scenic reservoir we found a town that was on our map. We were way north of our destination! We had missed a turn and had to double back.

We got back to where we thought we went wrong and stumbled upon a young gal who spoke very good English! She didn’t recognize the town name but was sure the Cham tower was just 1.5km back toward Ban Don where the road splits. “You don’t need to turn, it is right there”, she said. We got there but still unable to find the tower. We didn’t know what kind of tower to expect, big or small. Now why are we looking so hard for this tower?, we asked ourselves.

 
Stumbling On Serepok River
We took a dirt side road into the hills. Little settlement where here and there and eventually we’d get to a dead end and find another dirt road to explore. We arrived at a larger groupings of homes, many on stilts, then a quaint village where shops lined both sides of the road. Then it got more congested and we saw tourists on elephants. We had stumbled into Ban Don Tourist area. The one place we were trying to avoid. But now we were there and we took a look around. We paid a dollar to cross the bamboo suspension bridges to a small scenic island. The series of bridges were sturdy but still swayed a lot as we crossed.

It was getting late in the afternoon and cloud cover came. We figured the afternoon rains were on the way. Now as we made our way back toward BMT, villagers were coming out of the wood work. There not fools. They had stayed out of the midday sun. 
 
 
Now it was overcast and not as hot, they were out and about taking care of chores or visiting each other on the large raised verandas of their long houses. Kids came out to play.

We could see BMT in the distance had gotten hit by the rain. The edge of the storm caught us and gave us a light drizzle for 10 minutes. We parked and waited for it to pass.

It was a long day already and we decided to call it a day without see the tower or getting to either of our destinations. We stopped over at the bus station and bought our tickets for KonTum the next morning.

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