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Inside World Festivals: Buon Don Elephant Races

VIETNAM | Thursday, 24 June 2010 | Views [4620]

Kicking up some dust!  The annual Elephant Races in Don Village, Central Highlands, Vietnam

Kicking up some dust! The annual Elephant Races in Don Village, Central Highlands, Vietnam

Few travel adventures offer the excitement and uniqueness as Vietnam’s Buon Don Elephant Races, held each year around March in the forests near the Sevepoi River.  Nothing quite compares to watching ten magnificent elephants racing along a one mile stretch of racetrack set amidst the beautiful landscape of the Central Highlands.

The next set of races takes place April 12, 2011 or yearly around the third lunar month. Visit Vietnam Tourism for more details.


The area has long been renowned for its highly skilled M’Nong wild elephant trainers, with their amazing ability to tame some of the earth’s largest, most magnificent beasts and this annual race allows these proud people a chance to celebrate their unique heritage.  


The event begins with the sounding of tu va, musical instruments made from animal horns.  Then the elephants are lined up at the starting line to prepare for the race.  Each enormous creature is controlled by two jockeys; one to steer and the other to manage the speed, which can reach an incredible 25 miles per hour.  Another blow from the tu va and the race begins, set to the sounds of chanting spectators.  The winning elephant receives a laurel wreath, sugar cane and bananas and all ten contestants are rewarded with a refreshing swim across Serepok River.

For festival goers the event is a spectacle of incredible sights, with the locals turning out wearing brilliantly colored clothing and fantastic costumes to support their villages.  The sounds of beating gongs and resounding cries from the crowd fill the air as the elephants are cheered on during the race.  The atmosphere is nothing less than electric.  Spectators can even get involved in the festivities by offering treats to the elephants after the race.

There is no cost to attend the event, other than food, drink and treats to feed to the elephants.  Those planning to travel to the race are advised to bring a video camera because the experience just can’t be properly captured with a traditional camera.  After the race, visitors are encouraged to stick around and enjoy the incredible beauty that the Central Highlands has to offer, mingle with the friendly locals and even take their own elephant ride.

Getting There

Getting to the Buon Don Elephant Races is relatively simple, as Buon Don is a district of Dak Lak Province to which there are daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Buon Ma Thuot, the provincial capital.  From there, a short ride to Buon Don can easily be arranged.

How to Stay Safe

Given the size of the crowds that gather to attend the event, standard safety precautions should be adhered to.  Keeping wallets and valuables well concealed to avoid being pick-pocketed and crowd safety techniques, such as keeping to the edge in case of stampede should be employed.  And, of course, travelers must remember that even trained elephants are wild animals and should be respected as such.  

For travelers seeking adventure, culture and a unique experience second to none, a trip to the Buon Don Elephant Races is a must.  With beautiful landscapes, rich local culture and the adrenaline inducing experience of watching ten majestic elephants race side by side in fierce competition, visitors are sure to leave with memories and stories to last a life time.

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Tags: elephant races, elephants, sevepoi river, vietnam, vietnam festivals, world festivals


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