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Discover the Central Highlands in a different way

Thinking of the Central Highlands might bring to mind beautiful countryside, imposing waterfalls and tourist attractions like Bien Ho, Buon Don and Lak Lake, and many secrets of nature and life for visitors to discover.

One place worth seeing is Don Village, which is 40km from Buon Ma Thuot, the capital of Daklak. Located between the two branches of the Serepok River, Buon Don is home to the M’Nong, J’rai, Ede and other ethnic minorities. For two centuries the village has been renowned throughout Southeast Asia as a land of elephant hunters and trainers.

Hidden in the immense Yok Don jungle, Buon Don was marked on the map by the French as “the kingdom of elephants in Vietnam.” Nowadays visitors can ride elephants through the forest and hear interesting stories told by experienced elephant men. Ban Me Tourist Company has hired 10 elephants and their owners for this purpose and charges VND 500,000 per person for a day’s riding.

An excursion to the village’s nha mo (grave house) is another way to learn about the local culture in Buon Don. If you’ve ever read an article about nha mo you may imagine such a place to be beautiful and full of statues. On the contrary, nha mo looks gloomy and mysterious. There are several trails leading to the one in
Buon Don. Many of the old graves are overgrown from neglect since the bo ma (grave-leaving) ceremony observed across the Central Highlands. While next to the new graves, meanwhile, lie the belongings of the deceased like water bottles, hammocks, pots, gui (bamboo baskets), and even statues, some of them decidedly weatherworn.

Another world of Buon Don is ben nuoc, the places next to the river where the villagers go to fetch water, bathe or do their washing. A few years ago you could still see many topless young women bathing in the river. However, with the increase of visitors to Buon Don, many M’Nong women have become shy and no longer like to show their breasts in public.

In addition to the countryside, visitors can enjoy Tay Nguyen specialties such as ruou can, a type of wine made from rice, corn or glutinous rice, com lam (rice cook in bamboo pipes) and smoked deer.

To prepare com lam, soak rice in water with a certain leaf, then pour it into a young bamboo pipe and broil over a fire. When the pipe turns soft, the rice is well done.

Ruou can can be found in any village in the Central Highlands. Compared to regular rice wine, ruou can is quite mild, with an alcohol content of 20% or so. Dark reddish brown in color, the liquor has a sweet flavor and a slightly spicy scent.

To make ruou can, the Ede, Bana and K’ho peoples use rice, glutinous rice, cassava or corn.  The ingredients mixed with a type of leaf used as yeast are kept in a terra-cotta jar known as a che and fermented for a month. Usually the jars are buried deep in the earth for as long as possible until the liquid turns dense and yellow like honey. The only exception is wine made of cassava, which turns sour if kept too long.

But the most striking difference between ruou can and ordinary rice wine is the way in which ruou can is drunk. Rather than pour the liquor into cups, people insert long curved reeds, known as can, into the jar.

Another major difference between the drinking cultures of the highlands and lowlands is that ruou can should always be drunk as a group, while plain rice wine is usually more of a solitary affair. After the first few rounds of strong wine are drunk, the jar is filled with fresh water until it is much weaker. Then it becomes even more communal as only one straw is used.

Ruou can can be served with ca dang, a type of wild eggplant, broiled veal, or grilled chicken with chilli salt.

A destination of strange customs, habits and abundant inspirational resources for ethnologists, Tay Nguyen invites everybody to come and explore.

(Source: The Nhandan)

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