Before heading to Buon Ma Thuot where we plan to extend our Vietnamese visa, we agreed to stop at Lak Lake for a few days. The Easy Riders in Dalat have shown us photos of the unique longhouses where some minority people of Vietnam live. We were curious so we booked a 2:30pm Mai Linh bus to the Lak Lake Resort for 80,000 dong each (US $4.57). Some Easy Riders would tell you that getting to Lak Lake is difficult so you would arrange a trip with them. However, it is possible by public transport.
You would also notice, when you start traveling the highlands of Vietnam, the presence of plastic bags hanging near the windows. It just means one thing: Be ready for an uncomfortable and dizzy ride. The road is winding and the bus a bit fast for me. I felt sick almost the entire 4 hour trip. Well, a local passenger felt the same way that we have to stop at least twice so she could have a breath of fresh air after vomiting at the side of the road. The plastic bags would be really handy if the bus cannot make a stop right away.
We arrived the Lak Lake Resort at around 6pm. Not worth the US $10 rate. The room is dark, dirty and stuffy. The toilet stinks with a lot of mosquitoes. It was too late to head to the longhouses so we had no choice but to stay there for the night.
While having a make-your-own spring roll on one of the street stalls, we met Tran, who works at the resort as a chambermaid. So the hotel got a chambermaid?! Doesn’t looks like it. We chat with her for a while then she showed us how to combine the ingredients and make the perfect spring roll.
The next morning, we checked out of the horrible place and hiked to Jun Village. I recommend the iced milk coffee beside the Dak Lak Tourist Office. One of the best ones we’ve had, although it was a bit overpriced, almost twice the usual price.
I was so happy to see 2 huge elephants walking along the road. Regardless of their humongous size, you can barely hear the elephants walking past because of their padded feet. We followed the elephants for a while before going to the Bao Dai Villa.
The Bao Dai Villa is located on a hill, overlooking the Lien Son town. I am not sure whether the place is available for tourists to stay overnight. It looked deserted and the restaurant doesn’t seem to be serving anything as well.
I wasn’t so happy with how some of the locals run their business around Lak Lake. They charge tourists more than the usual price and the worst thing is, they are not even discreet about it. We went to a restaurant with no name on the main street. It was a bit filthy. Used table napkins and some toothpicks scattered on the floor. We thought they were closing down for the day and clearing the tables thus the trash on the floor but 3 guys went in with us so we figured why not try the food there. We ordered what everyone else was having; a plate of rice with marinated pork, vegetables and hard-boiled egg. I noticed our portions were not as much as those guys. We even got the lousy vegetable parts. Oh well, I thought, they must have ordered more than the usual serving. Surprisingly, we were charged 30,000 dong (US $1.71) for each plate while the guys paid only 15,000 dong (US $.85) each! We tried to ask the woman operating the business but she don’t speak English. I know it’s just a small amount of money but it’s not a good feeling to be cheated that way. Lesson learned. Next time, I would just pay the amount everyone else paid whether the vendor argue with me or not. We did just that on the bus to Danang. More of that on future blog post.
Finally, the reason we were in Dak Lak, an experience to live on a native long house. Mr Duc of Duc Mai Cafe have several native long houses he rents out to tourists for US $5 per person. He had someone fetch us at Lak Lake Resort free of charge.
I would say the long house is the most spacious guest house we have stayed in. At least 10 people can stay comfortably. That day, no one else stayed at the long house so we had the huge space all to ourselves. The place is clean and well-ventilated. The opposite of where we stayed the previous night. The amenities are basic; there are no beds just mattresses, mosquito nets are provided and a small bathroom at the back of the long house.
Dinner at Duc Mai Cafe was special. They were serving traditional M’nong set dinner. We had barbecued pork, stir fried vegetables, soup, pork with tofu, and spring roll. A must-try for 40,000 dong (US $2.28) each person. It was the first time I ate a banana with a seed! At first I thought one of my orthodontic brackets fell off, but when I spit it out, it was a black seed from the banana.
The next day, after a well rested sleep at the long house, we hiked around the village. Vast, green rice fields surround the area. We met some M’nong people. They weren’t the usual Vietnamese one would meet. They have dark skin, curly hair, thick lips and big eyes. They were very curious of tourists and were not shy to communicate with you so they can practice their English as well. I like the freshness of their being. They were friendly not because they want to sell something but instead they communicate with you so they may absorb something from you that they think would enrich them. They lead simple lives and I really admire that. I understood how tourists are always asked to be responsible with how they act or talk to people in remote villages. They have a certain innocence in them that is difficult to see in people today. Oftentimes, outside people doesn’t help in preserving that.
Back in the village, we saw an elephant munching a banana trunk across our long house. Hold on a second.. did I say banana trunk? Yes, the elephant was eating a banana trunk for lunch. It was amazing to watch it crush the banana trunk like how a human munch on a garlic bread stick.
It was a good decision to make a stop at Dak Lak despite the uncomfortable bus ride and the cheating food vendor. It was an experience to meet some minority people of Vietnam; felt their sincerity and friendship and understanding briefly how they have lived for years.