First published April 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
A Local Cafe in a Scenic Location for a Pit-Stop on a Road Trip in the Central Highlands
Vietnam’s cafe culture is exciting and vibrant. It’s been this way for many years in the cities, but recently, as more and more young Vietnamese take to the road on independent motorbike road trips (known as phượt in Vietnamese), attractive local cafes have started popping up in scenic, off-the-beaten-track locations, deep in the countryside. These make excellent roadside stops: for a coffee, a break from riding, and a chance to admire the surrounding scenery. I recently came across Quán Cà Phê Cây Đa (literally ‘Banyan Tree Cafe’) on Route QL28, in the Central Highlands. (Update, July 2017: Sadly, the banyan tree next to the Banyan Tree Cafe has been cut down, but the cafe is still operating as usual).
The cafe doesn’t really have a name: there’s no sign outside and, when I asked the owner, she explained that people simply know it as the coffee shop near the old banyan tree on Route 28. The latter is a scenic mountain road, stretching 90km from Phan Thiet, on the eastern seaboard, to Di Linh, in the Central Highlands. The Banyan Tree Cafe is roughly 80km north of Phan Thiet and 10km south of Di Linh, just a few minutes’ ride from Juliet’s Villa Resort.
MAP: Cafe by the Banyan Tree, Route QL28, Gung Re Commune, Di Linh, Lam Dong Province
View in a LARGER MAP
The eponymous tree is impressively wide-trunked, with several gnarled and twisted roots. One of its long, thick branches reaches out over the side of the road, extending above a deep valley. Below the branch, a wooden-plank viewing platform offers panoramas across a lush landscape of coffee plantations, small farmhouses, and forest-topped mountains. A small shrine at the base of the tree is stocked with incense and offerings to the tree spirit, a common practice in Vietnam, where trees have spiritual significance and are often worshipped. Part of an old story goes: ‘thần cây đa, ma cây gòn…’ (‘the spirits live in the banyan tree, the ghosts in the kapok tree…’). Whenever I see these shrines, it reminds me of the Forest Spirit in Japanese anime movie, Princess Mononoke.
Next to the tree (which, despite its name, I’m not entirely convinced is technically a banyan tree – any dendrologists reading this are welcome to give their opinion), the cafe building is a simple but attractive wooden clapboard and corrugated iron hut, with a covered terrace overlooking the valley. The owners are husband and wife: the former offers a side business in motorbike maintenance, while the latter deals with the refreshments. No English is spoken but, if you don’t speak any Vietnamese, it’s easy enough to order a coffee: cà phê (sữa) đá/nóng - coffee (with milk) iced/hot. The coffee is a good, strong, local brew (it should be too: the cafe is surrounded by coffee bushes).
Other drinks are available, such as sodas, hot and iced green tea, and some snacks too. Waiting for the coffee to filter through the small, metallic percolators sitting atop the white porcelain cups – in true Vietnamese fashion – and sitting out on the terrace, looking over the landscape on a warm, dry, highlands afternoon, is a real treat. The sweet smell of coffee blossom rises from the valley, along with the sound of cicadas and birdsong from the tropical trees surrounding the cafe.
Although this area is still fairly off the beaten path, more and more people are choosing to take Route QL28, as local and foreign travellers alike realize that these back ways are a much more pleasant alternative to the main highways between Saigon, Dalat, and the coast. This means that you may have the chance to meet other riders at the Banyan Tree Cafe: young Vietnamese phượt travellers or Western road-trippers riding between the highlands and the coast. The cafe is a welcome pit-stop if you’re following my Tet Classic Loop or my Easy Rider route. (For more places of interest in the nearby area, see the Related Posts below).
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