Located at the southwest entrance of the Central Highlands on the M’Nong Plateau, Dak Nong is connected to Cambodia via two border crossings: Dak Peur in Dak Mil District and Bup’rang in Tuy Duc District.
The central hub of Dak Nong Province is Gia Nghia City, approximately 180 kilometers west of Da Lat tourist town, and 250 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City.
WHEN TO GO
The most enchanting time to visit Dak Nong is during the spring, starting from January when the rainy season ends, leaving behind clear skies and abundant waterfalls. From March to early April, the landscape comes alive with the vibrant blooms of coffee flowers, followed by cassia fistula flowers in May and June. While Dak Nong experiences summer rains, they are usually brief.
WHERE TO VISIT
Within a roughly 50-kilometer radius from the center of Gia Nghia, Dak Nong offers numerous destinations to explore. Some natural wonders are located quite far from the city, so it’s advisable for visitors to plan a tour spanning about three days or even longer.
Ta Dung National Park
Ta Dung National Park is in Dak Som Commune, about 45 kilometers southeast of Gia Nghia City along Highway 28. At the heart of the park lies Ta Dung Lake, an expansive body of water formed by hydroelectric dam activities, covering around 22,000 hectares and adorned with over 40 large and small islands and peninsulas.
Visiting Ta Dung, visitors will have a chance to embark on boat journeys, revel in the island landscapes that emerge amidst the lake’s expanse, inhale the fresh air, and immerse yourself in the untouched wilderness. Moreover, this locale boasts stunning granite waterfalls and is home to many rare and exotic flora and fauna species.
Discovered in 2017, the volcanic cave system in Dak Nong has over 50 caves with a combined length of nearly 10,000 meters, ranking among the longest volcanic cave systems in Southeast Asia and part of the UNESCO Dak Nong Global Geopark.
These caves date back over 140 million years, and still preserve traces and rare archaeological relics from the prehistoric period, providing insights into the living habits and living places of people who inhabited this region about 6,000 to 7,000 years ago.
Nam Kar volcanic range
The Nam Kar volcanic range is the result of three distinct volcanoes, comprising one primary cinder cone and two secondary cinder cones. The primary cinder cone stands at 60 meters in height and spans 220 meters in diameter, featuring a roughly 20-meter-deep crater from its summit, which exhibits an oval shape. This volcanic cone’s elevation reaches 660 meters above sea level, and consists mainly of slag, with each slag pellet measuring several centimeters in diameter.
Among the M’Nong people residing in this area, tales of mystery surround the formation of Nam Kar volcano. These stories carry a message, aimed at educating and reminding future generations not to harm the natural resources of the region.
The border road
Stretching over 140 kilometers, Dak Nong shares its border with Cambodia via two border crossings: Dak Peur in Dak Mil District, and Bup’rang in Tuy Duc District. When embarking on a journey along this road, you’ll experience winding terrain, flanked by lush pine forests on either side.
This route is ideal for caravan trips or camping expeditions, offering opportunities to explore the region’s diverse ecosystem and immersion in the rich local community culture. During your journey, you’ll find many waterfalls, some stunning and others more tranquil, along with rock formations. Additionally, visitors will come across several border markers indicating the Vietnam-Cambodia boundary.
Located around 40 kilometers from Gia Nghia City center, the Truc Lam Dao Nguyen Zen Monastery is Dak Nong’s biggest Truc Lam Buddhist center. Situated adjacent to the Nam Nung Nature Reserve, the monastery enjoys a consistently cool and fresh atmosphere, fostering a sense of peace and serenity.
The monastery is steeped in traditional cultural splendor and consists of different sections like the main hall, the monks’ quarters, a bell tower, a drum tower, the Guan Yin Bodhisattva shrine, a guest house, and other facilities. It also has a Dhammapada garden featuring the teachings of Lord Shakyamuni Buddha etched into stone.
Sound exhibition house
Located on Dak Nur Hill in Gia Nghia City, the Sound exhibition house is akin to a small-scale canvas that portrays an audio tapestry connected to the UNESCO Dak Nong Global Geopark.
Upon visiting, you will encounter distinct sounds from various local materials. Travelers can immerse themselves in the familiar tones of the lithophone, as well as sounds generated by breath, water, trees, fire, wind, and even the sounds produced by human beings. This venue is recognized as Vietnam’s sole audio exhibition house at the moment.
Phap Hoa Pagoda
Built in 1957, Phap Hoa Pagoda stands as the largest and most ancient temple in Dak Nong. Visitors can explore different sections, including the five-story main hall, the monk’s hall, the Guan Yin Bodhisattva station, the three-arched-entrance gate, and the Lumbini garden. Within the pagoda’s premises, visitors will also find Buddha statues, miniature landscapes, and greenery thoughtfully arranged to create a harmonious atmosphere.
Phap Hoa Pagoda serves as both a spiritual center for the local mountain town community in Dak Nong and a destination for tourists from both within and outside the province. Located in the heart of Gia Nghia City, the pagoda features a serene and peaceful ambiance.
Lieng Nung Waterfall in Dak Nia Commune, about 9 kilometers from Gia Nghia along Highway 28, features a 35-meter-high cliff extending over a vast cave dome, from which water cascades into Dak Nia Stream.
The cave’s ceiling is composed of hexagonal stone blocks neatly arranged, while the dome itself is adorned with vibrant vegetation. Surrounding the waterfall is an untamed natural landscape, complete with primeval forests.
Trinh Nu Waterfall, around 3 kilometers from Ea T’Ling Town in Cu Jut District, gently meanders, gracefully weaving between large basalt rocks that date back 2-5 million years.
Dak G’lun Waterfall can be found in Quang Tam Commune, Tuy Duc District, approximately 50 km from Gia Nghia City. Towering at nearly 60 meters in height, this water is enveloped by over 1,000 hectares of special-use forest, harboring a diverse ecosystem and ancient trees adorned with expansive canopies. Adjacent to the waterfall, visitors will discover spacious and flat areas perfect for overnight camping.
Dray Sap Tourist Area
The Dray Sap – Gia Long ecotourism area, known as the Dray Sap Tourist area, is in Dak Sor Commune, Krong No District, about 110 kilometers away from Gia Nghia City.
This area distinguishes itself by being nestled within a special-use forest that features a plethora of rapids, including Dray Sap Waterfall, Gia Long Waterfall (also known as Upper Dray Sap Falls), Trinh Nu waterfall, and Dray Nu Waterfall.
Accommodation options vary. There are traditional Ede longhouses featuring straw roofs that create an intimate and welcoming ambiance. There are also modern duplexes available for rent.
Visitors can explore the zoo, home to a diverse array of species such as deer, chamois, ostriches, bears, tigers, snakes and lions. Guests also have the opportunity to partake in camping, forest cycling, boating, or venturing into special-use forests during their visit.
Exhibition of traditional musical instruments
In N’Jrieng Village, Dak Nia Commune, a little over 9 kilometers from the center of Gia Nghia City, visitors encounter a collection of approximately 60 traditional musical instruments representing various ethnic groups from around the world. Each instrument has a unique sound, with many made from materials like stone and animal bone.
Among these nearly 60 ancient instruments, the Dak Kar stone instrument, dating back 3,000 years and belonging to the M’Nong people, holds a significance. It’s considered the “soul” instrument of the exhibition.
In the perspective of the M’Nong people, the stone instrument serves as a bridge connecting individuals with the spiritual realm. It is profoundly intertwined with the cultural and spiritual life of the indigenous ethnic communities in Dak Nong Province. The Dak Kar stone instrument has also been chosen as one of the symbols of the UNESCO Dak Nong Global Geopark
Ancient Ede Village
Located approximately 90 kilometers from Gia Nghia City in the direction of Dak Lak, Buor Village in Tam Thang Comune, Cu Jut District, was recognized as the oldest Ede Village in the Central Highlands by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in 1999.
Buor Village rests along the banks of the Serepok River. Throughout the centuries, the community has preserved time-honored traditions, such as brewing can (fermented rice wine), crafting traditional musical instruments, weaving everyday household items from bamboo, and creating brocade textiles.
Visitors can marvel at the charm of traditional stilt houses, handwoven brocade products that embody Ede culture, as well as partake in the community’s famous gong dance. Additionally, guests have the opportunity to engage in other rituals such as housewarming ceremonies, celebrations of new rice crops, and brotherhood ceremonies.
Dak Song wind power projects
Driving along Highway 14, approximately 40 kilometers from Gia Nghia City, visitors will reach Dak Song District. Continue to either Dak Hoa Commune or Nam Binh Commune to witness the wind power farm in the area.
This project is an investment of nearly VND1,700 billion ($69.7 million) and is the sixth wind power project in Dak Nong. The Asia Dak Song 1 wind power plant has a capacity of 50MW with 13 turbines.
Dak Song District is known as Dak Nong Province’s wind power hub, with six projects approved for investment and currently in construction. These projects have a total capacity of 430MW.
Nhan Co Church
Nhan Co Church is in Nhan Co Commune, Dak R’Lap District, within Dak Nong Province. This church is an architectural gem that becomes visible from a distance as you travel along Highway 14.
Initially established as a temporary church in May 2004, the construction of the present-day Nhan Co Church commenced in March 2014.
Nestled atop a gentle hill, Nhan Co Church boasts Gothic architecture adorned with a dark blue hue. Upon stepping inside, the cathedral’s charm deepens, revealing its symmetrical architectural lines and decorative details.
Dak R’Mang Market
When you visit Dak Nong, apart from immersing oneself in the cultural richness of indigenous communities, visitors can also soak up the lively ambiance of the markets on the M’Nong Plateau in Dak R’Mang Commune, Dak G’Long District.
This bustling market takes place every Sunday and offers a wide range of goods, including brocade, household items, medicinal herbs, tools for production, and specialty dishes such as thang co (bone soup) and corn wine.
Hill 722 – Dak Sak Historical Site
The Hill 722 – Dak Sak Historical Site, situated at an elevation of 722 meters above sea level and spanning nearly 4 hectares, is located in Village 4, Dak Sak Commune, Dak Mil District. This site holds historical significance, marking pivotal moments in the people of Dak Nong Province’s resistance against the U.S., with many battles taking place here.
Currently, a variety of relics and military equipment, including shoes, hats, bullet casings, and more, are preserved at the Hill 722 Historical Site. On October 24, 2012, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism recognized Hill 722 – Dak Sak as a national historical site.
Yok Don National Park
If one has the opportunity, they should consider visiting Yok Don National Park. Part of the park is in Dak Nong Province, to the south of the Serepok River, with the main entrance located in Buon Don District, Dak Lak Province. Visitors can relish trekking and be captivated by the natural wonders, notably the splendid Bay Nhanh Waterfall and the ecosystem of flora and fauna that surround it. Admission fees stand at VND40,000 ($1.60) for adults and VND20,000 (80 cents) for children.
WHAT TO EAT
Traditional dishes among the indigenous people showcase remarkable diversity, often featuring a blend of various ingredients that underscore community unity. Key components include bep (gnetum gnemon) leaves, rattan buds, bitter eggplant, bamboo shoots, fish, and wild animal meat.
Most dishes are prepared through boiling, grilling, or in soups, offering a combination of bitter and spicy flavors along with harmonious natural colors.
Bamboo-tube rice and grilled meat
Bamboo-tube rice is a beloved dish that consistently graces local festivals and celebratory events. The primary ingredient in this dish is sticky rice, which is soaked and then placed inside bamboo tubes, cooked with spring water. The bamboo tubes, containing the sticky rice, are either roasted over an open flame or buried in charcoal. Once cooked, the burnt outer layer is removed, revealing the white interior.
It is often served with grilled meat, usually from cattle or poultry, prepared in a distinctive manner. Most ingredients are not marinated and are grilled directly over charcoal or placed in bamboo tubes for grilling. This method requires minimal preparation time and is convenient for trips to the forest or fields. When dining, people typically dip the grilled meat in a mixture of salt and chili.
Grilled hemibagrus fish from the Serepok River
The Serepok River, flowing through Krong No District and Cu Jut District of Dak Nong, is home to various types of hemibagrus fish, with the hemibagrus microphthalmus fish being the most popular, known for its red tail.
Hemibagrus fish can be used in numerous dishes, such as grilling, braising, frying, steaming, stir-frying with garlic, or cooking in porridge. Among these, charcoal-grilled fish stands out as a delectable choice.
The fish is wrapped in wild leaves and grilled, served with a dipping sauce made from lemongrass, green chili, and wild leaves. Grilled fish, when paired with bamboo-tube rice, offer a rich and distinctive flavor characteristic of Dak Nong cuisine. This dish was recognized as one of the top 100 Vietnamese specialties in 2020 and 2021.
Rattan bud soup
Rattan bud soup is a time-honored dish among the M’Nong people and other ethnic groups in Dak Nong Province. The Vietnamese term “canh thut” finds its roots in the tradition of placing – thut – the ingredients inside bamboo tubes discovered in the forest, and cooking them. This practice has always been prevalent among laborers working in the fields. While cooking, chopsticks are used to stir the ingredients until they soften.
This dish combines wild vegetables like bep leaves, rattan buds, and bitter eggplants with fish to create a rustic yet enticing soup. Additionally, the soup can include tripe, pork ribs, and canned fish to introduce more flavor variety.
Dak Nong is known for its ideal conditions for growing coffee, resulting in high-quality beans with a unique flavor. The region is particularly renowned for robusta, arabica, and culi coffee, among others.
Dak N’rung pepper
Dak N’rung pepper is another renowned specialty of Dak Nong. The pepper from here is highly regarded for its quality, featuring large, round, plump, and fragrant seeds. It is conveniently packaged for easy transport, making it a popular choice as a gift.
Dak Nong’s terrain and soil are well-suited for macadamia tree cultivation. These nutrient-rich nuts are grown using traditional, chemical-free methods, avoiding excessive use of inorganic fertilizers.
As a result, Dak Nong’s macadamia nuts are completely natural, safe, and promote the well-being of consumers. Macadamia nuts are not only prized for their exceptional nutritional content but also for their delightful and alluring taste.
Dak Mil avocado
Dak Mil avocado boasts a thin and smooth skin. When ripe, its flesh is yellow-green and free of fibers. The region’s suitable soil and climate, coupled with the tender care of its residents, produce delicious, creamy avocados that are rarely found elsewhere.
Buon Choah rice
Buon Choáh commune in Krong No District holds the distinction of being Dak Nong Province’s largest rice granary. This area was formed on volcanic soil and benefits from favorable climatic conditions and irrigation water rich in minerals, all of which contribute to the flavor of Buon Choáh rice.
Durian is another of Dak Nong’s famous agricultural products that makes for an excellent gift. The durian is primarily grown on the red basalt soil of Dak Mil, resulting in a sweet taste and distinctive aroma. Dak Mil is home to numerous durian farms and fruit orchards that welcome visitors.
WHERE TO STAY
There are numerous lodging choices in the area. Well-regarded options like the Robin Hotel, Ngoc Thuong Hotel, Dak Nong Lodge, and Sunrise Hotel receive high ratings on booking websites. Prices for accommodations in Dak Nong range from VND300,000 to nearly VND1.5 million ($12 to $62) per night.
For those seeking a more immersive experience, Gia Nghia offers homestays and farmstays, such as Yumin Farm House, Hoa Dat Garden, and Ngo Gia Trang. In the Dak RLap District, you’ll find Molly Home, while in Dak Mil, there’s Montagnards Home Farm. Prices for these stays typically range from VND150,000 to VND1 million per night.
When traveling with a sizable group, you have the option of lodging at Ta Dung tourist area or Phuong Van Farm for a natural experience. Ta Dung Lake’s scenery has earned it the nickname “Ha Long Bay of the Central Highlands,” while Phuong Van Farm, located in Gia Nghia City, is often described as a forest within the city. Here, visitors will find a blend of lush forests, coffee plantations, vegetable gardens, and fruit orchards.
HOW TO GET THERE
When planning the journey to Dak Nong, visitors have several transportation options at their disposal, depending on the starting point.
For those coming from Ho Chi Minh City, you can opt for various modes of transport such as cars, passenger buses, motorcycles, or planes.
Bus tickets from Ho Chi Minh City to Dak Nong, departing from the Eastern bus station and offered by companies like Dai Nghia, Duyen Ha, and Hoang Long, typically range in price from VND150,000 to VND200,000 ($6 to $8) per person. The bus journey takes about 6 hours.
If you’re departing from Hanoi, bus tickets are priced around VND800,000 and include two meals, but the journey takes a longer duration of approximately 30 hours.
Since Dak Nong doesn’t have its own airport, travelers interested in flying can choose Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air or Bamboo Airways to reach the nearest airport at Buon Ma Thuot City in Dak Lak Province. Airfare can range from VND2 million to VND3.5 million ($83 to $145). From Buon Ma Thuot, visitors can take a bus to Gia Nghia City for around VND200,000.
Those who prefer flexibility and the freedom to stop and rest at their own pace can opt for driving a personal car or riding a motorcycle from Ho Chi Minh CIty along Highway 14.
Story by Nguyen Nam