Location: Don Village, Buon Don District, Dak Lak Province.
There are daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City that fly to Buon Ma Thuot, where you can arrange a ride to Buon Don.
Dates: normally in the third lunar month (March)
Level of Participation: 2
Description: Vietnam's Buon Don district has long been famous for its M'Nong wild elephant trainers. Demand for their skills may have dried up somewhat, but Buon Don continues to celebrate its proud heritage every year with its annual Elephant Races. It’s an annual traditional festival in Don Village, which also features gong performances, UNESCO’s oral and intangible heritage of humanity.
The elephant race is one of the biggest festivals in the Central Highlands. It reflects the martial spirit of the M'Nong people, an ethnic group famous for their bravery in wild elephant hunting and training. The magnificent landscape of the Central Highlands further stresses the awesome atmosphere of this traditional festival.
The Buon Don Elephant Races take place every year during the third lunar month (which is normally March) and the event kicks off in the forests near the Sevepoi River. The race takes place on a mile long racetrack that is wide enough to accommodate ten elephants racing side by side.
On the big day, elephants from different villages gather at Don Village. Locals turn out to support their home town elephant dressed in their finest and most colorful costumes.
After a salute of tu va (horns made into musical instruments), the elephant handlers line their elephants up at the starting line. The tu va then sounds again, signaling the start of the race, and the elephants all rush forward amidst the resounding cry of spectators.
Each elephant is ridden by two jockeys; one steers the elephant, while the other manages the animal’s speed. Elephants can move at a surprisingly fast clip (25 mph), especially when encouraged by crowds yelling and beating gongs!
The first elephant across the finish line is given a laurel wreath. The lucky winner is also rewarded with sugar cane and bananas to snack on from festival goers. To take the edge off after the race the elephants then swim across the Serepok River, play tug-o-war, and play football.
The Elephant Races are incredibly popular throughout the Dak Lak province, no small thing in this elephant-mad area. The race attracts a huge following of locals and outsiders every year; they come for the atmosphere as well as to marvel at the amazing elephants.
Getting there: Buon Don is a district of Dak Lak Province in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The area is close to the Cambodian border, and 50km from the provincial capital Buon Ma Thuot. There are daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City that fly to Buon Ma Thuot, where you can arrange a ride to Buon Don.
Admission: There is no cost to watch the elephant race and to participate in the festival (except of course for the food and drink that you’ll definitely want to try)
What to bring:
- Definitely bring a camera that has video functionality as one picture won't capture the awesomeness of 10 elephants racing side by side.
- Patience, the races do take a bit to get started
- Money to buy sugar cane and bananas so you can personally reward the winning elephants (and also give the 'also rans' some love)
Local Attractions: The Central Highlands is one of the most beautiful regions in Vietnam, take some time here to trek, stay with locals or ride an elephant.
Travel Safety Advice from the World Nomads Travel Safety Hub: While the level of participation for this event is quite low, there are two main things you'll need to consider if you want to stay safe.
Firstly, you'll need to keep your valuables safe - this is an immensely popular festival, and while the grace and charm might be all-pervasive in this beautiful South-East Asian country, there are still opportunistic thieves who will have a sneaky eye on your purse or wallet when you aren't looking. Keep your valuables stored in a hidden place on you - or even better, leave them back at your hotel.
Secondly, while you won't be riding the elephants - remember that they are still potentially dangerous animals, and in a frenetic environment like these races, they could get a little wilder than usual. Our advice is to enjoy the race, but stand back a few rows - your view might not be optimal but at least you won't be in danger.
More Info: Visit website: Vietnam National Administration of Tourism or Telephone +84 4 942 2070 ,
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Information provided courtesy of Lonely Planet
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Thanks to VietNam Beauty for the photo.