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Introducing Buon Ma Thuot

The Ede name translates as ‘Thuot’s father’s village’, but Buon Ma Thuot has outgrown its rustic origins without acquiring any real charm. An affluent modern town, pronounced ‘boon me tote’ and also spelled as Ban Me Thuot, it is inundated by traffic from three highways and powdered with orange-brown dust. Its only saving grace is coffee: the region grows some of the best in Vietnam, plenty of which is sold and drunk in town. Buon Ma Thuot plays host to an annual Coffee Festival in March that sees gallons of the black nectar drunk and elephant races held in nearby Don village.

Most travellers stop in Buon Ma Thuot en route to the attractions around it: Yok Don National Park, a couple of striking waterfalls and heaps of minority villages. The province is home to 44 ethnic groups, including some who have migrated here from the north. Among indigenous hill tribes, the dominant groups are the Ede, Jarai, M’nong and Lao. However the government’s policy of assimilation has been effective: nearly all of these groups now speak Vietnamese fluently.

Before WWII, this was a centre for big-game hunting, attracting Emperor Bao Dai, but the animals have all but disappeared. Towards the end of the American War, Buon Ma Thuot was a strategic but poorly defended South Vietnamese base. It fell to the North in a one-day surprise attack in March 1975, pushing the South into a retreat from which it never recovered.

The rainy season around Buon Ma Thuot lasts from May to October, though downpours are usually short. Because of its lower elevation, Buon Ma Thuot is warmer and more humid than Dalat. It is also very windy.