Buon Ma Thuot
Despite its quiet appearance, Buon Ma Thuot is very quickly developing. However, most of this development is from internal investment rather than the tourism industry. There are very few tourist sites, but the people are friendly, the coffee is great, and a stop here is well worth it to get off the beaten track and see Vietnamese city life that does not revolve around tourism. It is also an excellent base of operations to visit Yok Don National Park, Ban Don Village, and Lak Lake.
There are connections with Danang and Hanoi (via Danang) three times a week, daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City.
Buon Ma Thuot Airport is 10km from the city.
There is a bus service to Buon Ma Thuot from Danang and Ho Chi Minh City (departs from Mien Dong Bus Station in Ho Chi Minh City). Buon Ma Thuot Bus Station is 3km east of the center. Several buses travel daily to Pleiku and Danang (buses will stop in Pleiku), Qui Nhon (11 hours), Nha Trang (6 hours), and Ho Chi Minh City (18 hours).
Mai Linh Express now operate their hunter green Mercedes Sprinters out of Buon Ma Thuot, which cut down travel times considerably, even with short breaks at mealtimes. For example, the journey to Nha Trang is 90,000vnd four times daily and takes approximately 3.5 hours.
Your usual selection of taxis operate here, including Mai Linh. The city is also eminently bikeable due to its compact size and flat terrain.
Despite what the guidebooks say, Buon Ma Thuot has a very solid selection of good eats. Fast development and not much tourist infrastructure mean that the guidebooks are behind the times and sorely misleading. A wander just northwest of the main roundabout after around 6PM will turn up a truly great selection of street stalls and small restaurants, offering up very tasty standards such as hủ tiếu, phở, bún, cơm, and nem. Check Ly Thuong Kiet nearby for a selection of roll-your-own spring roll joints.
A very tasty cơm hến, the Hue speciality, is available at a simple-looking place across the street from the Co-op Mart that also advertises Bún bò Huế. Walk past the shabby looking front room into a spectacular little back home, complete with garden, birds, and an internal waterfall.
Of course, KFC is available in the Co-op Mart building, if you really need it.
Coffee, coffee, coffee. Buon Ma Thuot is the capital of coffee in Vietnam, a country that is second only to Brazil in coffee exports. Because of this, cafes are on every street corner, and most are spectacular. Many offer several different varieties of bean and roast. Standouts include Emerald's Cafe in Tan Loi and, just east of town, Trung Nguyen's flagship coffee gardens (a huge pleasure garden complete with man-made mountains and waterfall, lined with coffee trees and boasting both traditional Viet and Ede designed buildings). However, it's very difficult to find a bad cup of coffee.
Between Lak and Buon Ma Thuot, a local bus runs every half hour or so. There are several Mai Linh buses a day to Dalat (coming from BMT), taking about 5 hours with the last bus leaving in the early afternoon. Buy your ticket (80,000 dong) at the Mai Linh office rather than Daklak Tourist who will ask a much higher price.
If you want to stay overnight in Lak, Mr Duc (tel 0905 371633) from Café Duc Mai can arrange homestays in Jun longhouses for US$5, half the price asked by Daklak Tourist. He can also arrange other activities, such as elephant rides and boat trips on the lake, for a much lower price than Daklak Tourist. The café serves an excellent set meal (US$3) for dinner.
To get to the café, call ahead to get picked up or consider taking a moto (VND 10,000) once you arrive in Lak as it's next to the Jun village and a bit hard to find from the main road. On foot, walk along the main road to the 3-way intersection at the market, then follow the alley going past the market all the way to the end. Turn left, where the road makes a right turn curving around some rice paddies. Follow this road until you see Café Duc Mai on the left side, 50m in front of the Jun village entrance.