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Vietnam and its surrounding countries are changing rapidly, which has made it more important than ever to be accompanied by a top insider guide who can take you away from the tourist trail. On my recent trip, I spent time uncovering an exciting part of the remote Central Highlands, Lắk Lake, which lies just over an hour’s flight north of Saigon – one of the nation’s best coffee-growing regions.

Getting off the beaten path in Vietnam's Central Highlands

Home to minority villages, 44 ethnic groups, including the Ede, Jarai, Mnong and Lao, and beautiful landscapes made up of rice terraces, lakes and coffee plantations, the Đắk Lắk Province provides a glimpse into the other, quieter side of Vietnam, where traditions, cultures and scenery remain unscathed by development. Those looking for a true adventure and cultural immersion should travel here.

Getting off the beaten path in Vietnam's Central Highlands

Set on a hill overlooking the second biggest natural lake in Vietnam, LAK Tented Camp is a wonderful base for your time in the Central Highlands. We recommend staying in one of the four lakefront wooden bungalows, which have all been tastefully designed and named after nearby ethnic villages. Created with the goals of cultural integrity and environmental conservation, this eco-friendly lodge sits in harmony with local architecture and ecology, and is perfect for intrepid families, couples and honeymooners alike.

Getting off the beaten track Vietnam's Central Highlands

The real highlight of any two-night stay here is time spent unearthing the fascinating tribal communities, particularly the Rhade (Ede), who populate the whole Đắk Lắk plateau. Austronesian in origin, there are about 250,000 Ede inhabiting the area, who can be distinguished by their unique longhouses and traditional matriarchal system. It became incredibly evident, as we drove through the countryside to our first stop of the day, how rich this region is in resources – a huge farming industry dominates, growing everything from rice, peanuts, tapioca and cashew nuts to sugar palm, cotton and, most abundantly, coffee.

Getting off the beaten track in Vietnam

Our full day of adventure began by setting out on a 4km hike, which meandered along the southern side of the former swamp of Krông  Ana – now an expanse of picturesque, landscaped rice fields. The track crossed the villages of Viet, Nung and Tay, and en route we passed coffee plantations, the majestic, ancient forest of Nam Ka and all sorts of fruit trees, before reaching Lake Ea R’Bine. Upon arrival, we feasted on a freshly prepared picnic, exchanging stories with local friends from nearby villages. Then, venturing down to the lakeside, we boarded a traditional canoe and explored Ea R’Bine, which lies in the shadows of Chu Yi Yang (the Mountain of the Spirit Yi), encircled by water lilies, lotuses, bamboo and reeds. This is a great experience for families of all ages. We can completely tailor the length of the hike, should some be up for more of a challenge.

Getting off the beaten path in Vietnam's Central Highlands

On our return, we met with the village chief, Mr Matit, who openly welcomed us into his longhouse for an insight into the community’s way of life. Sipping on an extraordinary concoction of home brews, we chatted about local customs, including their animist beliefs, before making our way back to Lắk Lake. We can arrange many other expeditions too, from cycling in the nearby villages to kayaking on the peaceful lagoon.

Lắk Lake

For a wonderful introduction to somewhere time has stood still over the centuries, I would urge our clients to travel to Lắk Lake and the Central Highlands. The scenery is simply breathtaking, the people are warm and friendly, and there is no doubt you will come away with an overwhelming sense that you have experienced a wild and captivating part of hidden, rural Vietnam.

Getting off the beaten path in Vietnam's Central Highlands

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Serena Winn-Darley
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Flora Sweeting

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