Yok Don National Park, the largest of Vietnam’s nature reserves, has been gradually expanded and today encompasses 115,000 hectares of mainly dry deciduous forest. The park runs all the way up to the border with Cambodia, with the beautiful Srepok River flowing through it.
Declared a national park in 1992, Yok Don is home to more than to 858 species of trees, 200 bird species, many reptiles, insects and 93 types of animal – unfortunately 32 of them are on the Red List. Large herds of gaurs, wild bulls, Eld’s deer and elephants once roamed Dak Lak province but deforestation, hunting and illegal wildlife trade has all but wiped them out.
Elephant hunting and taming was an important tradition in the province, and the Mnong here in Buon Don district are famed for their skills. According to the Ethnographic Museum in Buon Ma Thuot, in the early 20th century 30 wild elephants were tamed in Dak Lak every year. As of 2009, it’s estimated that only 200 wild elephants remain in the province.
Today you’ll have to be extremely, extremely lucky to see wildlife on a trek in Yok Don so don’t get your hopes up. In fact, we hope the remaining animals stay deep in the interior far away from the humans that have done a pretty thorough job of hunting them to near extinction. Trekking in Yok Don is about stretching your legs and taking a walk in the woods. You have to start off early if want any chance of seeing a beast. We were told it’s possible to still see monkeys.
Best time to visit
The best time to go trekking is dry season from October to April, the optimal time is at the beginning, from October to December, when temperatures are pleasant. Then it begins to get very hot until the rains break. It’s still possible to trek in rainy season but expect lots of mud and high waters that will cut off routes, making for shorter (though not easier) distances. Whether you choose a day hike or an overnight trek, a park guide is mandatory since the Cambodian border bisects the park.
It’s a difficult task to balance modern conservation with the needs of the local people, whose way of life has included hunting, fishing and living off the jungle for centuries. If more people visit the park, it shows locals in a small way that there is an alternate, sustainable economy from tourism. When we stopped by the person on site spoke excellent English and there was a great binder with all the activities, description and prices. The park is definitely worth checking out.
The education centre/entrance to Yok Don National Park is 40 kilometres northwest of Buon Ma Thuot. Drive out of the city west on Phan Boi Chau, which turns into Nguyen Thi Dinh/TL1.
You can’t miss the enormous billboard. Alternatively, you can take the pink local bus from Buon Ma Thuot (stop is near the post office) to Buon Don. Bus runs from 06:00-16:00, every 30 minutes, costs 20,000 dong. We were told the centre has no set opening hours as there’s always a ranger on site.
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