Stray New Zealander Keys continues to make us all jealous as she travels on Stray’s very first Vietnam trip… We got into Buon Ma Thuot by early afternoon, where the whole group would stay in a traditional house – an experience exclusive to Stray.
We could tell that this village was quite unique based on the layout. Families live together under the same roof, without partitions, in a long, single room known as a longhouse. These were built on concrete pillars and you had to walk up some steps, or sometimes just up a wooden pole with steps carved out, to go inside. Our lodgings were really comfortable with good mattresses and mosquito nets. We dropped our gear off at the longhouse and then headed out to do some activities.
We decided on a village tour – the village on the other side of the lake that is. As Buon Ma Thuot is situated on a shallow lake, we had two options for getting to the other side: three of us opted for an elephant ride and the rest went by boat. One of the great things about being on an elephant is you get an amazing insight into the world around you without imposing or making your presence known. You have a bird’s eye view, and as the locals and wildlife are used to elephants being around they just carry on doing ‘their thing,’ which creates awesome opportunities for photos and travel memories alike.
When we were crossing the lake, I had the initial impression our elephant was going to get us wet, but he just strolled through the water across the muddy bottom, trunk raised. In the end, my sandals got a bit splashed but that was all. It is humbling to ride on top of such a majestic animal, so massive and yet incredibly gentle. Their trunks are able to pluck a single petal from a flower and yet strong enough to rip trees out of the ground.
The village on the other side was smaller than Buon Ma Thuot and also had longhouse architecture. We were invited inside one of the local’s houses, where about 10 family members, of all ages, were sitting around chatting. We also wandered around observing the wildlife and typical village activities such as tending to crops and stock.
We then caught a boat back to the other side of the lake. It wasn’t really a boat but rather a dugout made from a single trunk. which was propelled along by a long pole, a bit like punting on the River Avon (Christchurch, NZ), yet within an incredibly different backdrop.
Once back in Buon Ma Thuot we headed to the local restaurant and chilled out for the rest of the afternoon over a few rounds of Saigon Green (beer). Later, we watched the stunning sunset before having a chance to make spring rolls, which are a Vietnamese speciality.
These were just part of the dinner which was included with our homestay; we also had a lovely curry, some steamed bamboo, pork kebabs, and the omnipresent rice, which in Vietnam tends to be slightly sticky. This is particularly helpful for the chopstick challenged traveller like myself. Actually, there has been cutlery in most places I have eaten; however, I’ve set myself the challenge of eating like the locals so that includes chopsticks.
After this scrumptious dinner, we tried the local rice wine, which was excellent and quite potent I might add. We mixed this with some fresh fruit juice, which made for some great cocktails and we spent the night dancing and hanging out with the local family and other travellers.
We slept soundly, possibly aided by the local brew, however, the next morning was awoken to the sounds of the village: pigs and chickens greeting the morning underneath the longhouse and the sound of a motorbike starting off in the distance. It was worth getting up early to catch the morning mist over the water. The fishing nets rose eerily out of the lake and the animals scurrying around on the bank made for cute photo subjects.
After a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and eggs, not to mention the legendary Vietnamese coffee, we hit the road ready for another great day.