From Buon Don, Sré Pok River flows backward in western direction through Cambodia, pours in the Sea Lake and follows the downstream to Eastern Sea through Vietnam’s Cuu Long River. Coming to the upper of this river, tourists will have chance to hear the magical-ish stories in the middle of the nature and the wild…

Buon Don District is located about 42 kilometers distant from Buon Ma Thuot in northen west direction. It’s covered by mature accumulative forests and is the homeland of hunting down and domesticating wild elephants. Buon Don is the connecting place of Ede, Gia Rai and M’Nong minority group’s cultures; it particularly is the residence for a part of Laotians. A while back, after conquering and pacifying the highlands, at the beginning of 1899, French colonialists established Dak Lak province to be self-ruling, placing the headquarter in Ban Don (it was called Ban Don because there were many Laotians); it was moved to Buon Ma Thuot 5 years later. Apart from famous tourist destinations like Yok Don national forest, Dak Min River, Cu Min mature forest, royal tombs of Khunsunop – the elephant hunting king, chain-bridge across Sré Pok River… Buon Don has amazed many tourists with an ancient house on stilts hidden between the high trees which spread along Sré Pok River, Ban Don.

From Buon Don, Sré Pok River flows backward in western direction through Cambodia

Bun Dong is the 6th generation’s maternal grandchild (matriarchy) of Khunsunop – the elephant hunting king. His great grandfather moved to Vietnam at the age of 18, started hunting elephants at the age of 24 and when he hunted down 18 elephants, he started to build his house. The house was finished constructing on February 19th, 1885, after 16 months executing the work. To build the house, his great grandfather had to mobilize18 elephants to exploit and pull the wood, 14 professional building workers among which Tha Vi Vong Kham – a Laotian sculptor was the leader. The work used 7.5 m3 of a kind of wood called ca chit to shape 8,726 tiles with the average dimension of 2x12x25 centimeters. He had to trade 12 elephants with long ivories to pay the building wage. (Bun Dong said nowadays, a big male elephant costs 60 to 70 Vietnamese millions, not including the ivories.) Only offering sacrifices to celebrate the new house, his great grandfather had to kill 22 buffalos.)

This most famous ancient house in Ban Don was designed totally by wood, from the floor to the roof, which was made following the tower-pagoda architecture of Laotian-Thai. It includes 3 compartments, 2 sharp-peak roofs, altogether created a unique architecture feature in Vietnam. In 1929, after a conflagration that burned many houses nearby, this house have been moved about 1 kilometer apart from the old location. In 1954, the tamarind tree next to the house fell down, collapsing a compartment of the house. In the following years, wars had gradually taken away the firmness of the house. Nowadays, there are still many objects on display in the house such as the implement to hunt and domesticate elephants which was made by buffalo’s skin, the horn to give signals when the elephant gets to edge of the forest. The only souvenir that Khunsunop – the father of elephant hunting and domesticating in Buon Don left is a copper tray used to worship his house elephant before going out for a hunt, and the new elephants in proceeding of entering the village. The copper tray was brought from Laos in 1859. Besides, ngao tet xang – tak tok m’rok, which means “the guardian sword” was given by King Bao Dai to Ama Po Pho Kham Suc – brother’s son in law of the hunting king Khunsunop when he accompanied the king to go hunting at Me Van forest (now located in Cu M’Gar District.) This is a treasure reflects the power the king gave when Ama Po Pho Kham Suc was nominated to be the head of the highland tribe which held the highest power at that time. In a hunt of 1942, he was attacked by a violent elephant, Ama Po Pho Kham Suc was forced to take out the sword to fight back; unluckily the sword cut at the ivory and have been nicked in the one-third part ever since. Later on, his youngest son gave the sword to the ancient house.

Because the roof was made in wood tiles, in the summer, the roof shrinks and helps the house to stay cool; in the winter, it stretches out, warms up the house. Arriving to Ban Don, tourists tend to be attracted to the stories, from the king of elephant hunting to the uniqueness of the ancient house. That is why, there are many people, foreigners and Vietnamese hope that they can stay here for a night to fully experience the nature and the wild. After riding an elephant, swinging along the famous song of Pham Tuyen – Chu voi con o Ban Don (The little elephant in Ban Don), tourists come to the river wharf so that they can tell apart  the differences between the unstable feeling of staying on an elephant and staying in a dug-out canoe. Crossing Sré PokRiver to come to Ai No Island by the 200 meter-chain-bridge, tourists seem to be lost in a wonderland. Water streaming out under the feet, trees covering above the head; he chain-bridge is slightly slanted, creating a satisfying and terrifying feeling at the same time. As the evening comes up, tourists gather on the wood floor, experiencing the taste of Ruou Can (wine drunk out of a jar through pipes) and other typical dishes of Ban Don. Sré Pok River has three kinds of precious fish; they are mom traufish, soc dua fish and duoi nuoc ngot fish (freshwater skate), all are listed in the particular food. Mom trau fish, called natively by people here, along with Buon Don’s forest leaves to make delicious sour soup. It might have come from the special taste that Vietnamese call it nobly “anh vu” fish. At midnight, when the moon gently shines through the window, tourists re-call the talk of the little owner before, imagining the sight of the significant hunting in the middle of the great highland. Among the sound of the river, there is apparently the sound of the horn, calling out the tourist to come to the edge of the forests, welcoming the new hunted elephants…

It would be an important drawback to not mention the Ama Cong wine. Ama Cong was originally the name of the grandfather of Bun Dong; he used to be famous as the best elephant hunter of the highland. Since he was 14, Ama Cong’s life had been connected closely with the wild forests and hunting, domesticating elephants. If the great grandfather – Khunsunop caught about 444 elephants during his life, Ama Cong – the disciple would have reached the number of 333 elephants. Even now he is 93 years old; Ama Cong is still healthy and clear distinct. Before, to be adaptable with the nature and stay tonic for the hunts, he created a remedy made up from a kind of mature tree called t’rong in Buon Don; this kind of trees is probably thousands years old. T’rong’s leaves along with some other medicinal herbs are put in steep with rice wine following the traditional method. It is meant to be the cure of nerves pain, anorexia, insomnia; it is particularly effective to men. The fragrant wild smell, the slight sweet smell of the herbs and the hot, spicy smell of the rice wine altogether create an unforgettable taste for tourists. Nowadays, this remedy with the official name “Ama Cong wine” has been recognized by Buon Don Tourism Center as one of the special features to be introduced to tourists. In the ancient house of Ban Don (which is now administrated by Me Linh – the Ama Cong’s oldest daughter), this kind of wine is introduced as a traditional heritage of the family.

Buon Don’s tourist destinations spread out from Bay Nhanh (Seven Branches) Waterfall to Krong Ana commune. Many brother ethnic groups have dedicated the traditions, culture and history of their own national’s characteristics to this upper-river land. Especially the Laotians, they are proud of having the father of elephant hunting and domesticating, along with a 120 year-old ancient house. Every material object, every non-material object has been contributing to honor the uniqueness of Vienam’s culture.

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