The Buon Don Elephant Races is an annual spectacle that occurs on the third month of the Lunar Calendar, specifically in March. The festival is hosted by the Buon Don District’s Don Village.
Months prior to the race, the elephant owners prepare their four-legged wards by helping them gain sufficient energy. The elephants are also provided with rich sources of fruits and plenty of foods. Additionally, the elephants are regularly groomed to have proper hygiene.
The Central Highlands, the place where the event takes place, considers elephants as a powerful symbol of prosperity and strength. The Elephant Races is one of the area’s biggest festivals. The local residents, referred to as the M’nong people, are popular for their courage in hunting and training wild elephants. Their elephant race culture similarly depicts their people’s inherent valiance.
Elephant Races in Don Village
At times, the races are celebrated along with another festival occurring in the region. The most recent Elephant Race was a part of the Buon Ma Thuot Coffee Festival where twelve elephants were seen in the Buon Don eco-tourism area. The race similarly featured a wild elephant hunt, and a worshipping-elephant ritual.
Traditionally though, the race begins with a loud drum beat and gongs being struck – clearly an add-on to the already exciting and thrilling elephant race. The event starts in the timberlands near the Sevepoi River. The course sees elephants run a mile on a road wide enough for ten of them to dash in front of another.
As race day starts, elephants are made to assemble at Don Village. Some elephants are brightly garbed with striking outfits. The elephant handlers line up their animals at the starting line. A melodic instrument made of horns is sounded off thus signaling the start of the race. Elephants then surge onwards as onlookers, both local and foreign, cheer them on.
Each elephant is ridden by two racers, one of whom handles its speed. Newcomers to the race could be shocked at seeing elephants move at a speed of 25 mph specially when encouraged by a slew of fans and the sound of beating gongs.
The winning elephant receives a tree wreath and is gifted with sugar sticks and bananas. These delicious victory nibbles are enjoyably provided by festive goers. As an additional reward, the elephants are guided onto the Serepok River to enjoy a hearty swim and play football.
Fortunately, watching the elephant race is free! Make sure to record this fun event by bringing your camera. Similarly, do not forget to bring your own food and drinks. You can also purchase bananas and sugar sticks that you can give to the winning elephant, so do not forget to bring cash. Visitors can easily and freely trek the area and even ride an elephant, if their heart so desires.
It’s easy to get to the Dak Lak province of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Situated near Cambodia’s fringe, and a mere 50 kilometres from the Buon Ma Thuot capital, visitors can reach this elephant-rich destination by taking a flight from the city of Ho Chi Minh.