Vietnam 'coffee capital' has much more brewing

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PHOTO: LINH SAN
Dray Sap Waterfall is some 30 kilometers from Buon Ma Thuot town in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak

It is not often that one begins a tour with the tour guide warning it is going to be a long miserable trip.

But this is what we were told as we set out to travel more than 300 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City to the capital town of the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, Buon Ma Thuot.

Thankfully, his warning turned out to be a bit of an exaggeration. Yes, there were a few times that the bus shook a fair bit on short road sections with bad surfaces, but for the most part, it moved quite smoothly.

It took us some eight hours to reach the town that is located at 500 meters above the sea level.

Our first destination was the Dray Nur Waterfall, 25 kilometers or so from the town's center.

With a height of over 30 meters and a width of 150 meters, Dray Nur looked like a giant white wall. Its size made us feel puny as we approached it, and if one chose to focus on the sheer power it carried, and the high-pitched crying sound it emitted, it acquired an intimidating dimension.

But if one were to focus on its beauty and the marvel it really is, it would brush our ordinary worries aside with an exhilarating feeling that we can only hope stays with us for a long time.

But the powerful cascade is not Dray Nur's only attraction. Behind the waterfall is a cave with an area of nearly 3,000 square meters. Donning lifejackets and going through the waterfall and watching it from the inside is an experience no adventure-lover should miss.

Not far from Dray Nur is the Dray Sap Waterfall in nearby Dak Nong Province. During the rainy season (from May to November), it is 12 meters high and 120 meters wide, but this reduces to  some eight meters and a width of 70-80 meters during the dry season.

Dray Nur is situated on the Krong Ana River, while Dray Sap is on the Krong No River. Both are tributaries of the Serepok River.

Legend has it that Serepok was divided into the two rivers after a couple drowned themselves cause their families refused to let them get married to each other. So, Dray Nur is also called the Vo (wife) Waterfall, and Dray Sap the Chong (husband) Waterfall.

The last in the waterfall system is Gia Long that is roughly three kilometers downstream Dray Nur and Dray Sap, 30 meters high and 100 meters wide. Each of the three waterfalls has their own attractions, and all of them are worth spending some time with.

"˜Indeed unique'

We visited the Dak Lak Museum on Y Ngong Street in the town's center. Also known as the Museum of Vietnam's Ethnic Minorities, it is the largest in the Central Highlands region.

The museum displays some 1,000 relics and images related to ethnic communities in the region, especially the E De people who were the first to inhabit Buon Ma Thuot and now have the town's second largest population after Kinh majority.

It was built in 1940 at the site of the former private residence of Vietnam's last emperor Bao Dai (1913-1977). With the architecture of the long traditional house of the E De people, the museum consists of three areas that showcase local history, biodiversity and ethnic culture. Guides are available in Vietnamese, French, English and even the E De language.

We watched video clips about Dak Lak people's patriotism and valor during the Vietnam War, learned about ethnic culture and saw specimens of local wildlife species.

But, what left the strongest impression on us was our encounter with an E De old man who performed some traditional song with his khèn (pan flute), emotionally and skillfully.

In response to the praise for his song from a young listener, the elder said proudly, stroking his pipe, "It's indeed very unique."

Gourmet brew

Since Buon Ma Thuot is always associated with coffee, we did not miss out on the Eakmat Coffee Research Institute, where we were introduced to all the processes of making coffee, from growing the plant to harvesting and processing.

It was far more interesting than we would have first thought, and we began discussing what we'd learnt and rained questions on our guide Hung.

We were then taken to visit a few orchards growing several fruits including avocado and durian. Not quite Tien Giang, maybe, but we certainly wished we had more time to hang around in such places, doing nothing but relish the fruits and sleep in hammocks.

Finally, we made our way to the Trung Nguyen Coffee Village, said to be the latest must-visit destination in Buon Ma Thuot.

The village is actually a complex that consists of six areas, including three houses 180-200 years old that were bought from the ancient town of Hoi An in the central province of Quang Nam.

There is also a food court showcasing dishes from every corner of the country; houses that are built like coffee leaves; green lawns and colorful flower beds.

But, the site's main attraction is the Coffee World Museum, where we could see silver and bronze coffee pots produced in 1700 and ancient mortars from Ethiopia used to grind coffee beans.

Displaying just half of over 10,000 items that it has acquired from the largest coffee museum in Germany, the museum has the potential not only to amaze its visitors, but draw them back for return visits. 

We ended our visit to the village by coffee from different countries including Italy, Japan, Turkey, and"¦ Vietnam. It was difficult for us to tell which one was the best, but it was still a treat, even if we might not have been great coffee connoisseurs.

Ako Dhong, known as a "village within the town," is another place worth visiting in Buon Ma Thuot, to admire the craftsmanship and traditions of ethnic minority communities; and listen to their music that is performed with traditional instruments every night. 

We rounded off our trip by walking through the Buon Ma Thuot Market, sampling local dishes and buying a few souvenirs.

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