Curious about visiting Yok Don National Park in central Vietnam? Here’s a little guide on what to expect and how to plan!
My trip to Yok Don was very, very random! I’d just gotten back for about 2 1/2 weeks of travel with Alyshia, where we went to Hoi An for 3 days, experienced the Vietage, Vietnam’s first luxury train, ate the best food at Anantara Quy Nhon, and then managed to do a lot for a rainy day in Hue. I was ready to get back into a routine in Saigon, swearing off any big trips for at least a month, when my friend, Eunsol, asked me if I wanted to go for two nights to Yok Don.
So I said yes. Ha! Literally a few days after she asked, I was headed back at Tan Son Nhat for a little outdoors adventure! Here’s all we got up to iun our short trip and some tips to help you plan for your own:
About Yok Don National Park
Yok Don National Park is in Đắk Lắk province and borders Cambodia. It was established in 1992 and covers almost 600km² of lowland forest. Today it’s the second largest national park after Phong Nha.
Apparently the name comes from the M’Nong, an ethnic minority tribe that lives in Đắk Lắk, Đắk Nông, Lâm Đồng, and Bình Phước in Vietnam as well as Mondulkiri in Cambodia. In their language, yok is mountain and don is island.
The biggest draw to Yok Don National Park is the fact that you can see elephants. Until maybe 2018, there was elephant riding but it was thankfully outlawed and now the elephants live happily with their mahouts in the park. A big thing to do is, with a guide, follow one or two at a distance to simply observe them enjoying their day.
Where to Stay in Yok Don
There are really only two options if you want to stay in Yok Don – camping or staying in one of their rooms. If you want to stay somewhere nicer, I’d look in Buon Ma Thuot or Lak Tented Camp which are both an hour+ away. Check this page for booking a room in the park.
We stayed in the rooms, and I’d say it’s fine for two nights. It’s definitely not my number one choice for accommodation, but the owner is really friendly and it really is right there. Definitely be aware that there are quite a few insect friends who will want to come hangout at night, so 100% use that mosquito net.
How to Get to Yok Don & Around
The best way to get to Yok Don is to fly into Buon Ma Thuot Airport. Then take a taxi the hour or so drive to the park entrance. You can usually negotiate on a rate if you don’t want to just do the meter. I’m sure if you wanted to, you could also figure out renting a motorbike in Buon Ma Thuot and biking over yourself!
As for getting around the park, you don’t necessarily need anything. Any activity we booked where we needed transport, they were able to figure it out. If you’re worried about safety, I recommend bringing your own helmet as they most likely won’t have extras.
Other Tips for Yok Don Natonal Park
When to Visit
Yok Don has two seasons: dry from November to April and wet from May to October. If you want to see it a lot more lush, come around October or early November, but I still thought it was beautiful in April.
What to Pack
This is one of the places where you’re better off just having a backpack and no suitcase. If you’re doing any trekking where you come into contact with the minority tribes, then I recommend longer pants and shirts. However, we were fine in what we wore! They recommend longer pants and shirts when trekking with elephants just because of the errant branches and shrubbery. But you’d be fine in shorts and T-shirt too.
What to Do in Yok Don
There’s a lot to do in Yok Don, especially if you enjoy being outdoors! We wound up really only having one full day to explore the park, but I’d say that’s enough if you don’t mind fitting in a lot! Here’s what we managed:
Ride along the Serepok River
A nice way to start the day (after breakfast) is to hop on one of the boats and cruise along the river. Take in the forest landscapes and see if you can spot the different animals!
Bike Ride to the Buddha Waterfall
Our next activity involved cycling over to the Buddha Waterfall within the park. I’d say it took maybe 20-30 minutes/ They have bikes there; not the best ones but manageable. The ride is easy and flat and you can just wear sandals. The falls themselves aren’t anything impressive, but you can dip your feet in and relax a bit.
After lunch our big activity was to go for a little elephant trekking! Like I said above, riding elephants was thankfully outlawed in Yok Don in 2018. Today the elephant experiences are all overseen by Animal Asia and only involve observing them at a distance so they can roam about in peace. This is considered Vietnam’s first ethical elephant experience, and I hope it does well to encourage any remnants of elephant riding to end! My friend told me that, unfortunately, there is still some elephant riding in Đắk Lắk.
After a motorbike ride to the starting point of the trek, we walk in a few kilometers with our guide, Quynh, to meet Bun Kham and Y Khun, two elephant besties that have probably dealt with some shit in their lifetimes. Their mahouts, Y Muh Bun Bya and Y Mức Kdoh, were there to keep an eye on them.
We came while Bun Kham and Y Khun were eating, so we followed them while Quynh told us more about the two elephants’ personalities as well as the conservation efforts that are ongoing in the park. You can read all about each of the four domesticated elephants on their site, it’s pretty cute!
There are other activities in Yok Don you can do if you want more adventure! Ones we didn’t do were the birdwatching, trekking and camping (both full day and overnight), full-day fishing, and the traditional cooking class.
What to Eat in Yok Don
Since we didn’t have a motorbike to go outside of the park, we just ate there!
A classic breakfast for the countryside — some hở and cà phê sữa đá! I swear the coffee just gets stronger and stronger the more remote you are in this country.
Between our bike ride and our elephant trek, we came back for this feast of a lunch. I seriously love eating in the Vietnamese countryside because the food is so fresh and delicious! If you’re curious those bamboo sticks held some sticky rice!
Our dinner was unique in that the owner, Hbyly Bdap’s birthday so she invited us to her birthday dinner! Such a feast and perfect way to end the day!
What to Do in Buon Ma Thuot
Since we booked our flights for later in the evening but our friend had to catch her bus around 11AM, we went back into Buon Ma Thuot earlier in the morning on our last day and wound up having a day to kill there.
Surprisingly, there’s a bunch of cool little spots around the city! It’s a big enough city that Grab works and you’ll see plenty of taxis about.
World Coffee Museum
The first big thing to do is to check out the World Coffee Museum. If you have stuff with you, they have lockers for storage. It goes into the history of coffee and has a lot of interesting exhibits in an even cooler building.
I wanted to do a little work, so we found this trendy little cafe called Soul Roastery in town. Highly recommend — the coffee drinks are delicious and the atmosphere is so nice.
We went next door to Soul Roastery to Lạ Garden for lunch. It has both a western and Vietnamese menu, so there’s plenty to choose from. We both got burgers which I thought were pretty good!
Amour Bistro & Cafe
Our last stop was to Amour Bistro & Cafe which had a fun design. Kind of gave me some mediterranean vibes if that makes sense? You can get regular food here if you want, but I just got a peach iced tea!
And that’s all I’ve got on Yok Don National Park and nearby Buon Ma Thuot! Have you been? Anything else you’d like to know? Ask away below!
for more on vietnam
There are so many incredible places to visit in Vietnam! When planning your trip, I’d split it up between north, central and south Vietnam. In the north, you’ll want to start with Hanoi and explore areas like Sapa where you can trek and visit with minority tribes like the Red Dzao, Ninh Binh, Ha Long Bay, Mu Cang Chai, and Ha Giang.
In central Vietnam, the main city is Da Nang with its Marble Mountains and the must-visits are Hoi An where you’ve got to get some clothes tailor made, historical Hue where I’ve been twice, Phong Nha with its many caves, and Da Lat in the Central Highlands.
Hop on the Vietage and head to Quy Nhon down on the south central coast before using Ho Chi Minh City as your main base. In Saigon alone, each district has a treasure trove of cool places to visit and delicious spots to eat at, like Cho Lon in District 5 or the main tourist spots in District 1. For mainland escapes, hop over to Con Dao or Phu Quoc. Or head down to the Mekong Delta, one of my favorite regions! Most people do a day trip, but I recommend spending more time and going to places like Vinh Long, Can Tho, Sa Dec, or Chau Doc. Another spot that’s a fun escape is Mui Ne and Phan Thiet, especially if you stay at Victoria Phan Thiet or Anantara Mui Ne!
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