About Yok Don National Park
Yok Don National Park is Vietnam’s second-largest national park and offers the country’s first ethical elephant experience. The national park was established in 1992 and is a home to rich wildlife with around 90 species of mammals, 300 birds, and 50 reptiles. It’s one of the rare places where you can still find wild elephants, wild water buffaloes, and gaurs. Though it’s unlikely you’ll encounter them as they roam freely deep in the forest.
The park borders a large part of protected forests in Cambodia, which means the wildlife is often moving over the borders.
Yok Don National Park is the first park in Vietnam that started a new model of ethical elephant tourism without any abuse. They started this model in 2018 in cooperation with Animals Asia. You can join the elephant watching experience, where your only interaction is observing them in their natural habitat.
By joining any of the many tours/experiences the park offers, you’re helping them save elephants still used for riding in the Dak Lak area.
How to get to Yok Don National Park
Yok Don National Park is a 30 minutes drive away from Buon Ma Thuot City in the Dak Lak province in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. You can fly into BMT’s domestic airport from HCMC in about 1 hour. Considering 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 ride. We drove with our bike from Nha Trang in around 4 hours, and the roads were fine all the way there.
If you have time and will, we recommend driving there as the scenery is lovely and there are some fabulous curvy roads that we enjoyed quite a lot.
You can catch the local pink and green bus from Buon Ma Thuot to Yok Don National Park for about $1, drive there with a motorbike, or book a taxi.
Check out Yok Don National Park’s website for ALL the information on getting there.
What you can do at Yok Don National Park
Being the second-largest national park in Vietnam, the Yok Don National Park offers many activities to its visitors.
Elephant experience tour
The elephant experience tour is the highlight of most visits to Yok Don National Park. You can observe the elephants being free, which is unfortunately very rare in most of Southeast Asia. Yok Don National Park started this new model of elephant tourism, which isn’t harming them at all!
New model for elephant tourism in Yok Don National Park
It’s an “observe, not disturb” model. You’re not allowed to do any of the activities usually permitted in all the so-called sanctuaries, and that’s riding, touching, feeding, or bathing the elephants. It’s very similar to a safari experience, except these poor elephants are just now learning how to be wild again. This is an excellent example of what others should adopt, not only in Vietnam but also in other parts of Southeast Asia.
How the tour looks like
After a short motorbike ride to the entrance of the forest, you’ll do a short trek to find the elephants. Along the way, you’ll learn quite a lot about elephants and flora and fauna of this area. Depending on the tour you book, you’ll spend a few hours or a full day following the elephants around the forest. This time we did a shorter tour.
Make sure to dress appropriately as you’re going to the forest. We recommend long clothes.
Read more about this in our blog Vietnam’s First Ethical Elephant Experience.
Sunset boat ride on Srepok river
We highly recommend the sunset boat ride on the Srepok River. The river is a natural separation between the national park and the community. On the boat ride, you can get more insight into the local life. We saw kids swimming and having fun in the river, and many people were fishing.
If you’re lucky, you can witness a lot of wildlife as well. We saw many different kinds of birds, and we also got a chance to meet their only male elephant. He was right on the edge of the river, closely observing his surroundings. As he previously wasn’t in the mood for visitors, he wasn’t part of our elephant experience tour, but we still had the luck to see him this way. AND a snake, we saw a snake! It casually swam across the river right in front of our boat. 🙈 However, the most magical moment was seeing a flock of birds flying over the river during that golden sunset light.
Yok Don National Park is the perfect place for birdwatching as it’s home to more than 300 bird species. We saw a few birdwatchers hiding in the bushes with gigantic camera lenses poking out of their hiding place.
BIRDWATCHER’S TIP: The best conditions for birdwatching are during the dry season, as visibility is better when the leaves from the trees fall entirely off.
Trekking and camping
You can go trekking in the park’s unique ecosystem and even sleep overnight on one of the tours. There are a few different itineraries so that you can pick the best for you. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do any trekking that time!
On the way to see the elephants, we saw how nice of a path is going through the park and only later learned that you could rent a bike from the park and cycle to some cool spots yourself. They supposedly have 200km of trails and tracks available.
Yok Don National park offers a cooking class in a village nearby. You can learn how to make some traditional Ede food. They provide you with an English guide that helps translate everything.
Best time to visit Yok Don National Park
The best time to visit Yok Don National Park is in the wet season, from May to October, when it’s lush and green.
You can, of course, visit Yok Don National Park in the dry season from November to April and see how dry it is. The landscape is still beautiful, just less lush. However, be prepared for hot and humid weather.
The conclusion is: whichever month you choose, you’ll have a great time!
We visited when it was completely dry, far from being lush and green, but we still enjoyed our time. It was interesting to see such a different landscape in Vietnam. The forest is a special kind of deciduous dipterocarp forest, more like a savanna, not a tropical forest, which you mostly find in Vietnam.
Where to stay at Yok Don National Park
You can stay at Yok Don National Park’s lodge for 350.000 VND ($15) per night, including breakfast. The rooms are basic, but they have everything you need.
Plus, they have a super friendly cat and a dog there. We instantly became best friends. 😁
What are the prices at Yok Don National Park?
The prices at Yok Don National Park are pretty affordable.
Here’s a price list of some of the main activities:
- ½ day elephant experience – $35
- Full day elephant experience – $60 (including lunch)
- Boat ride = $20 (1 hour)
- Camping one and a half-day – $55 (food is not included in the tour)
- ½ day trekking in the national park – $22 (1 or 2 visitors – 4 hours)
- Full-day trekking in the national park – $30 (1 or 2 visitors – 7 and a half hours)
- Birdwatching – $25 (3 hours)
- Cooking class in a traditional village – $20 per person
- Bike renting – $5 (day)