Size, diversity, and beauty make Yok Dôn National Park one of the most famous natural areas in Vietnam. With 444 square miles of protected space, Yok Dôn covers a significant portion of Central Vietnam before running to the border to meet the Mondulkiri Protected Forest in Cambodia.
The second-largest national park in the country, after a recent expansion of Phong Nha-Ke Bang, Yok Dôn’s international recognition comes from the Srepok River which flows through the park. Though some areas have restricted access, those that are open provide authentic enrichment to park guests of all ages.
Yok Dôn National Park is in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The park is officially a part of the Dak Lak Province, and it’s not far from the border with Cambodia. Four communes border the national park and one, the Krông Na, is located within the park on the Srepok River Basin. Most of the communes have limited resources and few accommodation options.
Travelers who want to stay in a bigger city should consider spending the nights in Da Lak Province’s capital, Buôn Ma Thuôt. Close to the national park, the city is very developed with a range of options for guests to stay, dine, and sightsee. As a major hub for the province, Buôn Ma Thuôt is crucial as it provides park guests with open access to Yok Dôn National Park.
Protected as a forest in 1986, Yok Dôn was re-designated as a national park in 1992 after spending 2 years as one of Vietnam’s many nature reserves. The various protection orders established and recognized Yok Dôn as a significant place for Vietnam’s threatened biodiversity.
Beyond simply protecting the land, Yok Dôn’s establishment as a national park assisted in conservation and research efforts by encouraging ecotourism. Locals have long relied on Yok Dôn for its natural resources. Named by the M’Nong people, the park is called “Mountain Island” with “yok” meaning mountain and “don” meaning island.
While deforestation and poaching continue to be major issues within the park, education programs are working to create a balance between the locals and the land. As Vietnam’s only park with dry deciduous dipterocarp forests, the increase in popularity of Yok Dôn has also brought more funding to the locals and their villages.
What to Do
With nature on full display in Yok Dôn National Park, activities are rightly based on spending time exploring the area’s landscapes, forests, plants, and animals. Hiking is the top activity, though other options include wildlife tours, homestays, swimming, boating, and camping.
Pre-arranged tours are the most recommended way to experience Yok Dôn, but travelers do have the option of spending the day without a guide if preferred.
Trekking tours in Yok Dôn are better with a local guide and can last for a few hours to several days. Light hikes are great for visitors who don’t have a lot of time to explore the park since they highlight the forest landscape without requiring more than half a day to complete.
Visitors who want to explore more of the park on foot can arrange for a multi-day tour where itineraries include summiting Yok Dôn Mountain, visiting the Yang Lanh Village, or swimming in the Dak Lau Stream.
Frequently, the longer the hike the more challenging it will be. Hikers should only attempt to summit Yok Dôn Mountain if they are certain that they are fit and healthy. Endurance is another important factor because some hikes are up to 5 miles or longer. For multi-day trekking tours, visitors should be prepared to hike for several hours per day before camping overnight.
There are multiple villages that are open to Yok Dôn’s visitors with communities both inside and outside of the park. The Yang Lanh Village is a remote community inside Yok Dôn, which can be accessed by hiking on foot or by boat. Homestays in Yang Lanh include participating in traditional ceremonies, learning how to cook, visiting the plantations, and fishing with the locals.
Swimming and Boating in Yok Dôn
The Srepok River is the aquatic lifeforce that flows through Yok Dôn National Park. As the main waterway, visitors can take a motorized or non-motorized boat ride through the river to bird watch or visit the Yang Lanh Village. Not ideal for swimming, the river is mostly used as a transportation route, although guides may be able to point out a few places where a quick dip is allowed.
Harder to access, the Dak Lau Stream is the best place to swim in Yok Dôn National Park.
Overnight Stays in the Park
Visitors who spend the night in the park will need to have arranged a homestay or be part of a guided tour. A few itineraries, including the big trekking tours, have overnight camping setup for park visitors. Camping in Yok Dôn typically requires either a tent or hammock and tour companies will provide them in addition to a meal.
Similar to hiking tours, Yok Dôn National Park also offers wildlife tours. Though not as strenuous as hiking, the guides will take visitors to more remote areas of the park where they can observe some of the local wildlife.
Elephant tours are the favorite animal for visitors to spot and many now freely roam throughout Yok Dôn. Elephant rides were once offered, but in recent years, the park seems to have taken a more ethical approach to its pachyderm inhabitants, and instead, guests have the chance to observe the animals in their natural habitat.
Plants and Wildlife
There are two types of forest in Yok Dôn National Park: deciduous and semi-evergreen. While the deciduous forest is much greener and filled with fire-resistant bark trees, the semi-evergreen forests are a complex ecosystem with five layers. Both forests are dense but house different environments.
As visitors head higher in elevation, they will notice the forests change to deciduous as the canopy opens and the trees become denser. Animals thrive in both forest types in Yok Dôn with most wildlife sticking to the lower altitudes. Species that have been confirmed in the park include Asian elephants, guars, tigers, and the vulnerable Eld’s deer.
Additionally, a small number of yellow-cheeked crested gibbons live in Yok Dôn, making them one of two primate species in the national park. Most of these listed animals are rare to see and visitors will most likely encounter birds and insects during their time in the park.
How to Get There
Buôn Ma Thuôt is a city that is only about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Yok Dôn National Park. As the capital of the province, Buôn Ma Thuôt is a major hub for travelers who are exploring Dak Lak Province and Yok Dôn National Park. Domestic airlines have daily routes from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Buôn Ma Thuôt, which significantly reduces visitors’ travel time to the area.
Once visitors have reached Buôn Ma Thuôt and either settled into their accommodation or found their transit point, people can take a bus, taxi, or private car to the national park’s main entrance. Buses run daily and are the most affordable option for budget travelers. Visitors who prefer private transport can arrange for a car or book a tour of the park through a local company.
When to Visit
Weather will greatly affect visitors’ experiences in Yok Dôn National Park. As a natural attraction, most of the activities in the park are located in the great outdoors. The park’s most popular time for visitors is from November to April, which is when the weather is drier. From May to October, there is a lot of rain in the park, which can make some activities like hiking more difficult.
In line with all of Vietnam’s national parks, Yok Dôn is open every day and it is up to visitors to plan their trip accordingly.
Immense in scale, it is impossible to explore all of Yok Dôn in one trip, let alone several. While many of the park’s best highlights are just a short hour away, travelers don’t have to venture far to explore the beauty of Vietnam’s forests. Within the thick foliage, visitors will uncover a hidden world where rivers run deep, and biodiversity abound.
Address: Krong Na, Buon Don District, Dak Lak Province, Vietnam