So, you have travelled to the northernmost province of Vietnam and now you are at the northernmost point of that northernmost province. Why not have a cup of coffee in the northernmost café?
Only 1.4Km from Lung Cu flag tower, and less than 1Km from the Vietnam/China border marker 419, lies this little gem of a café tucked away in an ethnic Lo Lo village.
Lo Lo Chai village has about 100 households and 450 inhabitants. It is a small rural community that was attracted to the area by its fertile soil. It is unknown but it has likely been here longer than the flag tower, which dates back to the 10th century and the Ly Dynasty.
A Japanese expat, Mr Ogura Yasushy, who has been in Vietnam for more than 20 years fell in love with the area and decided to set up a small café. He invested 200 Million VND in the project and appointed a local Lo Lo women to be the manager. A teacher was brought in to help the manager and her staff learn the basic English needed to communicate effectively with tourists and training on how to prepare the refreshments was also given.
Now the café runs autonomously and smoothly without the need for input. Mr Yasushy’s hope was that the income brought in through tourism would be directed to the local people and help them improve their lives. It certainly seems to be working.
You would be forgiven for being surprised by the filter coffee, free wifi and the level of English and service provided. You are far away from any city or town even, yet this café rivals many in more urban settings.
A Pleasant Design
There are 4 – 5 tables in a courtyard with enough seating for around 10 people. The café itself is constructed from clay ways and the courtyard has a dry stone wall around it. The roof is of the yin yang style – curved tiles are used in a one up one down sequence to create an undulating surface.
The café is open from 10am to 6pm and the menu has English and the signage is mostly in English. Most importantly, the wifi password is clear to see, etched into a wooden plaque hanging on the wall.
Naturally, you can have a coffee here but you can also try the matcha tea and the local corn wine that is sold. The matcha was introduced by Mr Yasushy and the corn wine has been made here for centuries.
Close by to the café is a homestay that has been set up with assistance from the Luxembourg and Irish Embassies. This, too, is a community based project aimed at increasing the income and thus living standard of the local villagers.
Nearby the café
Lung Cu Flag Tower
This is the obvious place to visit and is why most people do visit. It is a great place to get spectacular views over the surrounding corn fields, sunflower plantations and villages. [See more here]
Border with China
You can visit border post 419 beyond which is Yunnan province. Many young people come to straddle the border and place one foot in China and one in Vietnam.
There are now more and more homestays opening up. There is and awareness of how these projects can benefit the locals spreading through the community. You get to experience a bit of traditional culture and they get a few tourist dollars, win-win.
One of the highlights of staying here, or any homestay, in fact, is the meals. Here you can dine on delicious Pork, Black Chicken as fresh garden vegetables. All washed down with Lo Lo Chai Corn Wine, of course.
Lo Lo Chai Rice Wine
Like any other place in Vietnam, Lo Lo Chai village produces the ‘best corn wine’. This, they say, is because they use 36 types of forest leaves and mix them with millet and maize that has been left in the sun for two days to produce natural yeast. This is then cooked thoroughly and left to incubate for 5 days. After that it is bottled ready to be enjoyed. Try some.
The Cuc Bac Café and the homestay or very close to the Lo Lo Chai Cultural House. Here you can witness the local Lo Lo women perform songs and dances whilst dressed in their colourful traditional dress.
Drums feature prominently in these dances and festival days. This is because the Lo Lo were constantly migrating and believed that without the sound of the drums the deceased would not be able to follow their descendants.
How to get there
So long as you have 3G on your phone you will be able to get Google Maps and follow your phone. If not, there are plenty of cafes to stop at on the way where you can get wifi. The road is well tarmacked and not a difficult drive at all. There are ruts and some traffic so do not go too fast. Do ask if there have been any landslides or blockages as conditions do change quickly.
From Yen Minh
It is probably best to get an early start if you plan to visit the café from Yen Minh. This is because it is a fair distance (50km) and you might also want to stop at the Hmong King’s Palace on the way.
You simply follow the QL4C until you get to Sa Phin market and then take the left fork to head North to Ma So. There is a market at Ma So but it is, as usual, a morning affair so you are unlikely to notice this or the building that it is held in.
Here there is another left fork that you need to take northwards near to the SU SU coffee shop, which is probably a good place to stop for a drink and to check directions.
Now it is just a matter of following the road. Once you see the flag tower in the distance, just head for it.
From Dong Van
You head out of Dong Van westwards along the QL4C in only around 2km you will come to the fork with the DT182B. Turn right on to this and head for Ma So and then Ma Le. Again, you simply follow the road and you will find your way there.
Make a loop
As you can see on the map, it is possible to take a slight detour off the road to Lung Cu. This will get you to the Cuc Bac Café directly and on your return you can take the main road. Or, if you like vice versa.
Well, you should have plenty of reasons to visit Lung Cu: the Flag Tower, the remote location and the interesting culture amongst others. There should be something of interest for everyone. There is also no doubt that the natural beauty of the area will impress all who visits.