350km (217 miles) N of Ho Chi Minh City; 200km (124 miles) N of Dalat; 200km (124 miles) S of Pleiku; 180km (112 miles) W of Nha Trang

There isn't much to this little provincial capital, just a maze of busy streets surrounding the center Thang Loi (Victory) Monument, with its high arch and a statue of the first tank to enter the town during liberation in 1975. Services in Buon Ma Thuot are basic, and the few hotels with any oomph cater mostly to local coffee growers' expatriate managers and folks (mostly Swiss) visiting the highlands on agricultural aid projects. The sleepy town has a few beat-up old museums hardly worth seeing, but Buon Ma Thuot is a good base for day trips out into the broad-reaching hill areas. Rolling hills covered with the ordered striations of row upon row of coffee plants bring you to far-flung ethnic minority villages of the Ede and the M'nong people. You can organize all kinds of trekking and tours in town that include canoeing, hiking, and elephant riding, as well as some great options for overnights and homestays in rural villages, or visit Yok Don National Park just north of town. You can also visit a working coffee plantation. In town, expect little more than local souvenir shopping, mostly for good, fresh coffee and jars of locally brewed whiskey in fired pots of the M'nong people.

Note: This part of the highlands was more or less "off the map" for tourism until recent years, not for want of sights or natural beauty, but because the Vietnamese government still suspects subterfuge among ethnic minority groups. The local cadres are really pretty relentless. I met a young traveler putt-putting all around the region on his own rented motorbike out of Ho Chi Minh City; for his troubles, he was made persona non grata in the provinces of Gia Lai and Dak Lak for traveling without a passport (he had a photocopy, which is usually okay because you often need to leave a passport at the rental office), and the poor guy had to endure lengthy interviews with a paranoid party member who thought he might be a spy. Spying for whom? Juan Valdez? Take care and avoid the men in uniform.