Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
Our jungle trek started across the Dak Krong River the boundary of Yok Don National Park. We shuttled across the river in a narrow dugout canoe making sure our buoyancy aids were on tight and holding tightly onto our packs. Yok Don National park is in the Central Highlands in Vietnam, close to the town of Buon Ma Thout. The park is a reserve set up to protect the jungle and wildlife and stretches some 30 kmh to Cambodia. It tries to protect the area from the government backed coffee trade and to support the minority tribes, although according to most objective sources the area has also been subject to considerable ethnic cleansing as local tribes are moved out to make way for coffee plantations run by people from the north of the country.
Getting to the jungle we set of from Buon Ma Thout passing through the minority areas of the Ede villagers, their houses were high up on stilts with their coffee harvest drying on the ground in front. Before we set off on our river crossing we had the mandatory briefing at Yok Don National Park headquarters. The rangers told us that most of the area is now out of bounds and we would be walking through the outskirts of the park and so were unlikely to see any wildlife. As we set off on the other side of the river we walked through some illegal coffee plantations, poor farms and paddy fields. Water buffaloes were grazing in abandoned fields.
I was trekking with a World Challenge team from Perth Australia, this being an acclimatisation trip preparing for another longer trek in the Cambodian jungle a couple of weeks later. After all their jungle training, excitement built when we left the farmland and entered the bamboo forest. Our local guide looked like he was on his first trip, making sure we stuck to the right track through what was pretty difficult vegetation, holding his GPS in the air trying to pick up signals.
This was a relatively short walk, arriving at a shallow river mid-afternoon, to practice river crossings. This had a ford and weir so we paddled across, avoiding the deep drop on either side. A short walk took us to the Ranger Station where we were to spend the night in tents. The rangers sat around with their guns, carefully watching us settle into their huts. After we spent hours repairing the tents from the trekking company with gaffer tape and trying to protect them from the pending downpour with random flysheets most of the group decided to spend the night on the floor of the house at the ranger station. We rigged up a network of ropes to hold their new mosquito nets, that’s always a fun hour.
Next morning we set off along the ranger station supply road back into the jungle. Around an hour after leaving we came across large piles of elephant dung in the middle of the track. Were we going to see some wild life? Then out of the trees came a couple of elephants, followed by their handlers, these were the rides for our planned elephant trek. We had been warned that the animals may be in poor condition and mis-treated, but these were well looked after and healthy. What fun this elephant trek was, crashing through the forest, pushing vegetation out of our way with their trunks and feet, the handlers cutting branches from higher up to prevent us getting hit in the head. We walked down to the river and stopped to let the elephants drink and eat tree bark, ripped off with their tusks. It was such a shame the boys in our group missed out – they decided to save spending money for more shopping in towns. Sometimes you cannot get the message through that Elephant trekking along the Ho Chi Minh trail was a trip of a lifetime and a far better use of $10 than another pair of fake trainers.
After a locally prepared lunch of pork kebabs, rice in bamboo and a whole cucumber each, we trekked along the track following the river until we met the canoe again, to be ferried upstream weaving through some islands to our next overnight stop. Arriving at a landing point, we were met by another elephant, waiting to shake our hands and take other tourists around the resort. This was Ban Don resort, a sort of made-up village, with a Ede longhouse to visit, and stilt huts to stay in. All of our huts had resident frogs and geckos to keep the other wildlife under control, we tried to chase them out but they quickly retreated into holes in the bamboo raffia walls. The resort was a bit contrived, but fun.
Next morning, before we departed back to Buon Ma Thot, we were shown around the long house built in the grounds of the resort. They laid on a bit of minority tribe dancing and told us about the society of the Ede people. This minority tribe, which is being discriminated against by the Vietnam Government, are a matriarchal society. Married men take his wife’s name and move in with her family. The men are not allowed in the front door, and have to use side doors going up separate ladders, distinctly different from the female ladders, not having the breasts to hang onto.
Great fun, but gentle and easy trek. Next stop Hoi An for some R&R.