The screaming public row that was yesterday simmers still, there’s no need for a trip to the lawyer for divorce proceedings, just a trip to the mechanic that we’re calling a counsellor nowadays. This is the best counsellor ever, it turns out all along that all Rob needed was something shiny to wear out to the party. With a shiny new exhaust pipe blinging in the morning sun, Rob is purring like a society lady lathered in Tiffany and Chanel. Again the seven wonders of the world really should become eight, Vietnamese mechanics are truly a force of nature. In less than an hour, not only is Rob cured like a manic fifties housewife downing some potent amphetamines, he’s all dolled up with jewellery and hitting the town. We all breathe a sigh of relief, lawyers are so frightfully expensive. 

 So here we are, the awkward make up has taken place a little quicker than we thought so we sit on the cusp of a day crammed full of mechanical pain that all too quickly becomes all too devoid of distraction. Lets play a game; we’re in a town famous for coffee and with a day of open space lets have a guess at what we should do. Amazingly we decide that it’s time to taste coffee and in Buon Ma Thuot there’s only one place to go, the coffee village. Just out of town we were thinking of a quaint little village of coffee growers but it turns out that the term village is a little more flexible, we park Rob and Greg in the carpark of a plush little conglomerate of gardens, water features and statues interspersed with glamorous historical style cafes.  

Charlie Winn

Vietnamese coffee, with the phin brewer sitting on top, Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam.

  Half open pagoda, half decadent art gallery we sit cross legged on a raised platform in this subtly lit space of carved dark timber and old world charm. Coffee in Vietnam is serious business and nowhere more than Buon Ma Thuot, an array of bean blends sound like a different language to these usually informed coffee snobs now treading on new ground. On recommendations we go for blends we can’t remember now that deliver tastes we are unlikely to forget for a long time. The usually sweet chocolatey punch in the face is pulled apart and layered into it’s separate elements: cherry, chocolate, floral herbs and sour fruit come together in a package that we call coffee. It’s coffee unmistakably, but it’s so much more somehow and in this setting that throws us back to a glamorous last century or possibly earlier we’re on a historical journey, not just a flavour one.

 It’s also today that we discover the defining difference between Viet coffee and espresso that we usually go for; how can such a rudimentary method produce a consistently great result in place of the sometimes hit and miss hi-tech methods we are used to? In short, the secret is in the roasting. Where coffee as we know it strips back the easy masks and challenges the produce to stand on its own and ask to be appreciated, Viet coffee dispenses with snobbery and goes directly for the tasty outcome. So instead of roasting beans as they are, Viet coffee roasts the beans in oil of sorts, often clarified butter, along with possibly sugar or even cocoa powder to create a caramel crust.  

Charlie Winn

Boys fishing behind the waterfall, near Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

  So the philosophically unanswerable question remains: is it better to simply make a great outcome or is there credit in shunning the amendments to nature and striving for perfection in simplicity? The answer in Vietnam is not one or the other, like all good philosophical musings the question leads us to new thoughts rather than unreachable answers, coffee here acts as a parallel commentary on Vietnam itself. In a nation with little resources that couldn’t afford expensive machines the Vietnamese, unlike so many other cultures, refused to accept mediocrity. Vietnam in so many ways exemplifies the antithesis of laziness and apathy; no part of life great or small escapes the keen eye of a culture that refuses to accept the hand that is dealt without striving for something better. In this most romantic of settings a cup of coffee so aptly summarises the strength of a nation: Never let it rest; until your good is better and your better is your best, goes the saying. 

 From the padded seat of epiphany it’s off to a waterfall with two others we’ve met at our hostel, Ari and Jamie. A few wrong turns sends us onto some less than perfect roads and through some very perfectly off piste villages on our long way too the falls. In the middle of an otherwise flat plain a large space is carved out by overhanging rock which tumbles water dramatically over a heavy shelf. We walk past the tour groups that would otherwise be us if it weren’t for Greg and a now well behaved Rob, now more than ever we’re feeling the liberation that comes with having our own wheels. With a little bit of bling a day of mechanics has become so much more to teach us the old saying that is so foreign to gay men: ‘happy wife, happy life’. For now it’s the more familiar and very immediate saying we embrace: ‘the way to a mans heart is through his stomach’. Can’t agree more, dinner time it is.