Where is Dak Lak?
Dak Lak is the coffee capital of Vietnam, situated in the heart of the central highlands, about 350km away from Ho Chi Minh City and around 200 from Da Lat and Nha Trang.
Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer globally, just after Brazil and Dak Lak is where most of this coffee is grown.
How to get to Dak Lak
You can fly into Buon Ma Thuot’s domestic airport from HCMC in about 1 hour. Considering that there is no railway going to the area, the only real other options are an 8 hours ride in a sleeper bus, costing upwards of 250.000 VND ($10), or a motorbike. We came from Nha Trang in around 4 hours, and the roads were fine all the way there.
How to get around Dak Lak
There are taxis readily available in Buon Ma Thuot, but if you want to explore the waterfalls and head out to Lak Lake, renting a motorbike might be the best option for you as it gives you the most flexibility. Most places are spread out outside of the city, so we highly recommend driving by yourself.
What to do in Dak Lak
Before we came to Vietnam, we had no idea what the Dak Lak area has to offer. Only after doing a bit more research of the not so common tourist destinations have we found it. Here’s a list of the top things to do here. Keep in mind that they are ramping up the development of tourism here, and they will offer a lot more things in the near future.
Visit the Yok Don National Park
Head out north from Buon Ma Thuot for 30 minutes, and you will arrive at Yok Don National Park, the second largest one in Vietnam.
Here you can see the elephants in the wild, as they started a new model of elephant tourism just a few years back. By visiting the park, you’re also helping them save more elephants as they are still used for riding in Dak Lak.
You can also cycle, go on a boat ride or waterfall trek in Yok Don National Park. If you want to get involved in more activities, we recommend staying in their accommodation.
Admire the mighty Dray Nur and Dray Sap waterfalls
Also known as Twin Waterfalls, Dray Nur and Dray Sap are the most famous waterfalls of the Dak Lak area. They are about 30 km away from Buon Ma Thuot, and it will take you around 1 hour to get there.
Dray Nur is the bigger one and the more famous one. Some say it’s the most beautiful one in Central Highlands. You have several viewpoints from where you can admire the waterfall. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed, but you can get in the water to a certain point. This is also the place where you’ll see locals taking the cows in for a bath. 😀
About 100 meters away is the Dray Sap waterfall. You have to pass a big hanging bridge (which also offers a nice view of Dray Nur), and then you follow a nice forest path to Dray Sap. Dray Sap is much smaller and not so spectacular, but it can also be more peaceful.
When to visit Dray Nur and Dray Sap waterfalls?
Even though the waterfall is the most powerful in the rainy season, it doesn’t dry up, so it’s worth visiting all year long.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: For all the photographer friends, Dray Nur is the best for sunset and Dray Sap for sunrise. A drone is also a must.
General information for visiting Twin waterfalls
ENTRANCE FEE: 30 000 VND ($1,30)
MOTORBIKE PARKING FEE: 10 000 VND ($0,4)
FEE FOR BRINGING FOOD: 50 000 – 200 000 VND ($2,15 – $8,6)
DURATION: This depends on you, but we’d say to count on at least 2 hours. We spent even more here exploring the place and admiring the view from every single corner.
You might have noticed something weird in the prices, and that’s the fee for bringing food. Well, there’s a perfect explanation for that. Dray Nur and Dray Sap are popular spots for locals. Therefore, they love having picnics there, and they always leave a huge mess. So, that’s probably why there’s a fee for bringing food – somebody has to clean all that mess!
- It’s best to avoid the weekends if you don’t like crowds.
- Even though there are official working hours, we managed to get in earlier. You just pay the entrance fee while leaving.
- Gia Long is another waterfall you could visit. It’s about 3 km away, and you’ll see the sign for it while driving to Dray Nur. We didn’t visit this time, but it’s on our list for our next visit.
Learn about coffee in World Coffee Museum in Buon Ma Thuot
Dak Lak is Vietnam’s Kingdom of Coffee, so where else to learn more about it if not in its capital? The museum was opened in 2018 to become the Coffee Capital of the World. It now displays more than 10 000 objects related to coffee from all around the world (and many items from Germany). World Coffee Museum is a modern interactive museum where you don’t need a guide but can learn everything by scanning QR codes of everything exhibited on your phone.
The museum is also famous for its unique architectural style and many Instagrammable spots. That’s the reason why many young Vietnamese love coming here.
What’s the ticket price for the World Coffee Museum?
There are various types of tickets, including some special exhibitions they might have at different times. You can see all the ticket prices here, but the regular price for the museum is 75 000 VND ($3,2) for an adult.
Opening hours: 8:30 am to 5:30 pm every day
Explore the Lak Lake
Lak Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the Central Highlands. Lak area is known as home to primarily Hmong people who greatly depend on Lak Lake. Their crops like rice rely on it, and fishing is another significant source of food here.
Lak Lake is also known as a location that still offers shameful elephant rides. Please, do your research on this topic and try to understand what these elephants go through to do these rides. Instead, engage in one of Yok Don National Park’s tours and help them save these elephants.
Enjoy a glamping experience at Lak Tented Camp
Glamping at Lak Tented Camp is getting more popular, and we can see why as we tried it ourselves. To sum it up, the unique tented room with all the comfort of modern life (comfy bed, AC, toilet, and shower) combined with a stunning location on Lak Lake and memorable experiences make you fall in love with the Lak area.
Highlights: Cultural cycling tour, trekking to waterfall, Gong show by local Hmong.
Lak Tented Camp offers many unique tours, and we only got a chance to try some of them. On a cultural cycling tour, we got to know the area more and met locals who showed us their cacao farm and how to make pottery without a pottery wheel. We trekked to the beautiful Bim Bip waterfall, where we took a swim and had a picnic. One evening we also got the chance to enjoy the Gong show where local Hmong performed their traditional dances and sang songs.
Read more about our Lak Lake Glamping Experience at Lak Tented Camp.
Have a drink in a traditional Ede longhouse
Every local will suggest you visit Arul Coffee while in Buon Ma Thuot. Therefore, it’s a must! Arul cafe is loved by locals and tourists, as it’s one of the unique ones in the city.
The Arul cafe is a traditional Ede longhouse or ‘nha dai,’ a low-stilt wooden house that can be anything from 15 to 100 meters long. The house was built in the 1980s, and before transforming into a cafe shop, it was used as a personal residence. It is surrounded by lush greenery and exhibits many wooden folk statues. Such a unique cafe to visit!
The cafe is located on the main road that leads to Ako Dhong, the touristic village of Ede and Hmong ethnic tribes. Ako Dhong is the place where you can see some of the performances by local people.
TIP: Try to visit mid-day as the cafe is pretty crowded in the mornings and afternoons.
Address: 17-19, Trần Nhật Duật, Tân Lợi, Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột, Đắk Lắk
Hike the Elephant Rock
There are actually two elephant rocks in Yang Tao district (Lak district), the Mother one and the Father one. They are only about five kilometers away from each other, but the former is much bigger, and therefore more popular.
Mother Elephant Rock is the biggest monolith in Vietnam, and it got its name because of the shape that resembles a lying elephant. It’s surrounded by forests and mountains and has a beautiful view of the area and a cute little lake. You can also observe a bit of the local life from the top.
The rock is 200 meters long and 30 meters high. The climb up is not challenging, but keep in mind that it is steep, and the stone is very smooth. As a result, it can be very slippery, especially after the rain. It won’t take you long to climb the top, maybe around five minutes, and then you can walk till the end of it. That part is not steep anymore.
Best time to visit: Sunset time! The view is magical!
Duration: It depends on you. This is a spot that you can be done with very fast. We enjoyed the view and peacefulness, so we stayed for about 2 hours until the sun went down.
- A local house offers parking for a small fee, but we went further down the road and parked almost directly in front of the rock for free.
- Keep in mind that young Vietnamese LOVE this spot, and there’s a big chance it will be crowded. We were lucky, I guess.
Best time to visit Dak Lak
The best time to visit Dak Lak depends on what you want from it. The rainy season in Dak Lak lasts from May to October and the dry season from November to April.
The ideal time would be between December and March, the time when coffee flowers blossom.
However, the rainy season is good for trekking in Yok Don as the scenery will be lush green, and it’s great for visiting waterfalls as they’ll have their full flow then.
It’s also worth mentioning that April and May are the hottest months in Dak Lak, with an average maximum temperature of 33 °C. The coldest month is January, with an average maximum temperature of 26 °C. August is the wettest month.
Where to eat in Dak Lak
We mostly ate at a local vegetarian restaurant opposite a Buddhist temple (Chùa) close to our place. It’s called Quán Cơm Chay An Lạc, and they mainly serve a buffet in the morning and afternoons. So if you come at mid-day, you might not get anything.
Another vegetarian spot where we had an excellent vegetarian hotpot is Nhà Hàng Chay Hương Sen.
Check out Baker House Bakery & Coffee for some great coffee and cakes, as well as a few western dishes and snacks.
One evening we also checked out the Quang Trung street near Vincom Plaza, where there’s a bunch of street food and had some tasty flan cake. Close by is Quan Che 57, a place that our friends highly recommended to us, but it was closed so we didn’t get the chance to enjoy a tasty Che dessert.
Vegan or vegetarian?You HAVE to read this! You will be surprised.
Vegan and Vegetarian Guide to Vietnam.
Where to stay in Dak Lak
Buon Ma Thuot in Dak Lak didn’t experience the tourism boom yet, so that’s why you won’t find a wide range of accommodations. You can find a few hotels, but mostly, you will find guest houses. The hotels and guest houses are generally more expensive than elsewhere, especially considering what you get.
But don’t worry, we have two places that we can recommend for you.
You can stay at Đồi Sao Homestay. The hosts are great, the rooms are well equipped, and they’re situated in a pleasant and peaceful neighborhood.
Another place we stayed at is the Nam Anh Hotel. We had a lovely room that had everything we needed. The price was a bit higher than what you would pay for a similar room elsewhere but still reasonable.
Just a heads up, we also stayed one night at Nhà Nghỉ Thanh Ngọc, and while it is incredibly affordable, their beds are rock hard.
Now you hopefully know a lot more about Dak Lak. Would you visit?