This is the first of our blog posts and I thought it sensible to start from the very beginning, with a little tale of our trip to Vietnam which became the inspiration behind Vietnamese Coffee Co.
The Journey Begins.
Little did we know when we set off for Dublin Airport in the early hours of 30 November 2013, what a profound affect our upcoming journey would have on the rest of our lives. Our first flight left Dublin before a short little pit-stop at Heathrow where we would board the humongous Airbus A380 for our onward trip to Kuala Lumpur. Here lies a little tip for any of you globetrotters – if you want to fly to Kuala Lumpur, book a flight through Dublin. Even if you live in London, the prices are cheaper for a flight from London to Dublin, than booking direct from London. It’s actually the same plane that those passengers who left from Dublin will be on. Trust me – we saved a lot of money this way!!
After several hours we touched down in Kuala Lumpur (or KL as the locals call it) with quite a few hours layover before we were able to start the next leg of our journey to Hanoi, Vietnam. Upon arriving in Hanoi airport and collecting our bags (well Gary and our travel companion Emma), the P.A. system kicked into life with an announcement in broken English that Martin should contact the customer services as there was a problem with his luggage. The problem, it transpired, was that Martin’s luggage “didn’t get on the flight” but would be on a later one. I guess they just wanted to chill at the bar and have a few drinks… We were assured however that when it arrived, they would arrange for it to be delivered to our hotel. What a great way to start an 8 week holiday!! We had no choice but to accept their word and keep our fingers crossed!!
We had arranged a transfer from the airport to take us to our hotel (the Hanoi Moment) in Hanoi’s old town and were totally unprepared for the craziness that awaited us in the narrow, twisty streets. In fact, we had to have the traffic stopped for us just so that we could cross the 10 metres or so to our hotel’s entrance!! After nearly 40 hours of travel we were all bushwacked so decided to turn in for the evening.
Our first day in chaotic Hanoi.
Next morning, we were awoken by the sound of scooters and the general hubbub from the street below so we decided to get ourselves together and start our day the most important way – with a breakfast from the hotel. Luckily Martin’s luggage had arrived so at least he was able to have a change of clothes after 2 days of travel!! Now in most parts of the world you get the usual fayre on offer (toast, cereal, fruit, orange juice etc) and while they were all available here, one item on the menu stood out – soup. Or to be more specific pho – the national dish of Vietnam. We had all read about how delicious this broth was, but prior to arriving in Hanoi hadn’t been lucky enough to sample it. But for breakfast?? Well, we decided if it was on offer at breakfast time there must be a good reason so well all gave it a go. Were we glad we did? Hell yeah!. If you’ve tasted pho before (cooked properly) you’ll understand how flavourful it is and it totally set us up for the upcoming day’s adventure.
Satisfied and with our energy boosted, we set off through the streets of the old town towards the famous Hoan Kiem Lake. Before you reach the lake you come to an area where anywhere else in the world there would be a roundabout, but here in Hanoi they don’t bother with such things! The traffic here is crazy! I mean, like you’ve never seen before, with hundreds of scooters, pedestrians, bikes and every other type of vehicle you could imagine coming together (sometimes literally) in a chaotic scene to the sound of horns and the smell of two-stroke. Check out the video below to see what I mean. The trick here we found (after freezing for a few minutes wondering how on earth we would get to the lake) is to follow an old Vietnamese woman. The respect for their elders is very much in force in Vietnam and led to those on scooters actively swerving out of the way and you can cross behind without too much worry (you may think this is harsh but trust me, it might save you from being caught up in a nasty accident!!)
After bumping into a few locals who were getting their wedding photographs taken at the lake, we decided to stop off at a nearby cafe for a spot of people watching. It was here that we were to experience our first taste of Vietnamese coffee. With it’s strong robusta flavour combined with that sweetened condensed milk, we were treated to a uniquely decadent strong, sweet coffee which we were to become even more familiar with a few years later…
Tourist sites and the worlds cheapest beer.
The next few days in Hanoi were spent doing the usual “touristy” things including a trip to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton“. The prison still had a guillotine in display from the time when the French occupied Vietnam which was rather crazy! We also took in a trip to the Temple Of Literature (one of the world’s oldest universities) and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Whilst a lot of of our stay in Hanoi centered around visiting historical sites, we also found a little bit of time to relax. One of the most unique (and infamous) is the fantastic “Bia Hoi Corner”. This part of Hanoi offered the world’s cheapest (and freshest) beer at only 10 US cent for a pint. “Bia Hoi” translates as fresh beer and was offered by anyone with a small shop unit or doorway. Sitting on tiny stools being served beer by grandmothers whilst surrounded by hundreds of backpackers from around the world is definitely a memorable way to sample the local brew!! Alas, our time in Hanoi drew to a close with the memories of great food, coffee (of course), hospitality and fascinating historical trips. Our next stop – Ho Chi Min City.