The Travel Series: Vietnam
On our first date, that 11 bar gin crawl, we remember sitting in Wetherspoons with our £1.50 G&Ts talking about the fact that we both dreamt of travelling. ‘I know this sounds a bit cliche, but I think I want to take some time out after I graduate’. ‘Yeah, me too’. When we began to share all of the countries that we dreamt of visiting and all of the sights we wanted to see, we were pleasantly surprised when Vietnam was included in both of our top three on our bucket lists. We knew it was early days, we’d only had 6 gins together after all, but D promised that if we were still together when we tossed our mortar boards, we’d make the trip… and here we are.
We were both particularly intrigued to visit Vietnam because of its’ lush scenery and tumultuous history. Although we successfully consume far too many gin and tonics on far too frequent an occasion, neither of us were particularly interested in partying and drinking from questionable buckets, nor were we interested in just bumming around on a remote beach for days on end. No, on our adventure, we wanted exactly that. We wanted to trek through jungles, explore historical temples, and visit local markets. We yearned to see the real Southeast Asia before it gets completely ruined by people who don’t really appreciate it.
The country is more beautiful and so much more varied that we had ever imagined. We certainly weren’t prepared for the compelling contrasts for which Vietnam has been blessed with. Throughout the length of this slender and curvaceous country, there is lush unspoilt countryside, vibrant cosmopolitan cities, moving war sites, and fascinating historical towns. All of which fit together seamlessly like pieces of an intriguing jigsaw. A jigsaw that we were itching to solve…!
'One word to describe Vietnam? Vibrant!'
If we could only use one word to describe Vietnam, it would be vibrant. The vibrancy and the hustle and bustle of the streets was endearing and it emulated from everything: the people, the sights and the smells. We witnessed and heard the roars of the thousands of motorbikes, and devoured some of the world’s tastiest and most flavoursome food. Back home, most people would say that the heart of a village is its’ pub. In Vietnam, it is undoubtedly the local market, and damn is that place beating…! The vendors hawking their wares are vibrant, the colours of the fruit and the spices are vibrant, the aromas that fill your nose are vibrant. A Vietnamese market really is a place that will ignite every single one of your senses.
However, the vibrancy doesn’t stop here. One thing that we have noticed since being in Asia is that because of distilling and import laws here, many bars have turned to house infusions to spice up their menus. And so just like the vibrancy and variety of Vietnam itself, its’ gin offerings are no different. When ordering in a bar, long gone was deliberating over which premium tonic to partner with which top shelf gin. In fact, the brand names didn’t even catch our eye. Instead, we found ourselves pouring over unique and creative house blends, desperately trying to convince ourselves that ordering one of each is totally acceptable.
Buried down a series of unassuming alleyways, The Gin House is definitely a bar that is on a ‘need to know’ basis. Drawing back the curtain which elegantly shaded the door, we were hit with what looked like a very swanky London bar. It was hard to believe we were in the middle of Ho Chi Minh and not Shoreditch town. And for once, we didn’t visit this gin bar alone. We convinced the devout beer-drinking friends that we were visiting to come with us and it’s safe to say that after trying a couple of The Gin House’s extensive and imaginative house infusions, they were more than convinced!
Whilst boasting one of the most impressive ranges of gin that we have seen in Asia so far, The Gin House has at least 12 house infusions that definitely tantalise your tastebuds! They had the typical ‘best sellers’, blends that use Asian sweet fruits and spices to appeal to the masses, but they also had a couple of creative concoctions that we have never had the pleasure of seeing before. The most notable was their Vanilla and Orchid infusion. The promise of the gin served on the rocks excited us straight away and the smoky and ‘bourbon-esque’ taste was one that was refreshingly unique – and refreshingly delicious!
We found out about this bar after owner Kate Gerrard gave us a follow on instagram, and boy are we glad she did! Getting the chance to meet for a coffee in Hoi An, Kate explained that she moved to the town after she was offered a job whilst on holiday. Looking around at the beautiful place, it wasn’t hard to see why she accepted… Her initial job was in the hotel industry, but Kate decided to open a specialist gin bar after becoming increasingly frustrated when bars in the town only ever offered a standard Gordons and Schweppes.
Interestingly, the T Room isn’t located in the lanterned covered streets of the Old Town, but instead resides peacefully in a quiet residential area that sits between the tourist traps and the beach. The location may seem strange, but The T Room isn’t for tourists. It isn’t for locals or expats either. The T Room is a bar for people who love Gin, and it was clear that these aficionados are seeking it out given the fact that were not alone in enjoying the secluded bar on a quiet Sunday evening.
The T Room is no exception to the house infusion trend, and as you can imagine, our eyes didn’t even register the branded gin bottles on the shelves. Instead, we devoted all of our attention to their house blends. D went for the sweetest one on the menu of course – the delicious vanilla and pomelo – and A opted for the most classic mix on the menu, cucumber and black pepper. Yes, we might have been rather predictable when choosing botanicals that were right up our street, but when we had that first sip, we knew we’d made the right decision…
The Mad Botanist really is the epitome of cool; it makes you feel like you’re part of the in-crowd as you leave the bustling backstreets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, through a hidden doorway and climb up the unassuming stairway to an atmosphere of relaxed sophistication.
There is a vast and innovative choice of cocktails on offer with spirits including peanut and banana bourbon and Vietnamese coffee vermouth and also a surprisingly well stocked gin collection any gin fan would be proud of.
After being recommended it by Head Bartender Mr Cong, D opted for a Kim Chi – Rosemary & Raisin infused gin, Poached Pear and Vanilla Shrub, Pink Radish Cordial, Soju Seaweed, Orange Bitters & Egg White, all served up in a tea cup! A chose one of the refreshing ‘lab’ style house infusions which they paired perfectly with Thomas Henry tonic. With live music, a relaxing atmosphere and great drinks, the Mad Botanist was the perfect way to say goodbye to Vietnam.
After spending a month immersing ourselves in its’ culture, Vietnam has definitely been the ride of our lives. Exploring the length of this varied country has been the same as exploring the depth of its’ creative gin scene: an adventure. An exciting and vibrant adventure. Cambodia may be rumbling, but it’s curvaceous neighbour is certainly on the move. It may be fast-paced and adrenaline fuelled but the vivaciousness that emulates from every corner is compelling. And just like the market is to any town, we found Vietnam to be the beating heart of Asia and a country that well and truly captured ours.
So, until next time - Bottoms up!
Written by A
28th May 2018
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