Mai Chau

Tomorrow we will celebrate my Dad’s birthday so I’ve picked an appropriate song. This band is still popular in Vietnam and has made a recent comeback to the wedding party DJ list.

It’s been almost a week since I met my parents at the airport in Hanoi and now we are heading by private transfer to Mai Chau. Captain Caveman has joined us and has a few days off from his day job before he goes on an expedition with other cavers to find new caves. I’d previously booked Mai Chau for a surprise for him but had to cancel it so we were both looking forward to the visit.

Although it’s only 135km South West of Hanoi it took us a while to get out of the city and about 3 hours to get to our hotel, Mai Chau Lodge.  First impressions are good and the place is set in a very picturesque village with lush green rice paddies surrounding it.

Mai Chau Lodge
The Lake


We celebrated the next part of our holiday with mojitos in the outside bar, of which we were the only customers, before heading in for dinner.

On Friday it was Dad’s birthday so after a good buffet breakfast we decided to go on the cave trip provided four times per day by the hotel – there’s nothing Captain Caveman enjoys more on his day off than a trip to a cave.

Mo Luong cave is right across the road from the Mai Chau Lodge and just up a few stairs so I felt a little foolish when I took my bag and a waterproof, like I was off on a school trip. Inside the cave has 3 or 4 chambers but we only went in the show cave part of it. There is a tunnel at the end that an experienced caver could go down but we left it at looking at the main section plus going up a ladder to a section full of bats. As we finished the short tour we could hear water and as we neared the doorway exit we saw that there was a heavy downpour of rain – good job we brought our raincoats. The tour guide had no coat or umbrella and so we waited in the cave until it eased off a bit, I took some photos but most of them were blurry due to the lack of light (and it not being a great camera).

Cave Entrance
Captain Caveman checking out the ladder to the next part of the cave
Mom doing some caving
Family photo in the main chamber

By lunch time Captain Caveman was feeling under the weather so he went to the room to rest while mom, dad and I had some lunch and had a walk around the area. The weather was a little overcast and not too warm but it was nice to see the paddy fields and the mountains covered in clouds. Despite having a pool, which our rooms overlooked, none of us swam as it just wasn’t warm enough.

At dinner that evening we arrived to a fairly empty dining room where the staff were keen to show us their traditional dance and music skills. Captain Caveman wasn’t impressed given that we had ordered food and might not see it arrive at our table any time soon.  Nevertheless the show did go on (and on) while we ate our food and another couple sat in to watch and got involved when they asked for volunteers on the bamboo stick dance (which I think they’d already practiced).


After dinner the waitress brought out a lovely cake (which I’d organised in advance via email) which was decorated really well and tasted good.

We’d had a good time in Mai Chau despite the weather not being great and I couldn’t help thinking that it reminded me a little of our home in Vietnam, Phong Nha. After a few celebratory drinks we retired to the room to pack for our next adventure, tomorrow we were off back to Hanoi where we would take an overnight train to Dong Hoi.












Monkey Island

I could’ve been predictable with my song choice and picked a Monkees one, I also quite fancied a couple of songs with monkeys in the video but in the end I had to choose one of my favourites from a Sheffield band. I heard this covered by a very young Thai band in Bangkok late last year and it reminds me of my home city every time I hear it.

We awoke feeling surprisingly ok and even managed a trip to Titop Island. It’s a small Island in Ha Long Bay which was named by Ho Chi Minh (Uncle Ho) in 1962 after an astronaut, Ghermann Titov, who’d been a hero from the Soviet Union.

We arrived early and the weather was overcast and certainly not warm enough for a dip in the sea or even a sit on the beach so we set off to climb to the top of the hill on the island to get some views. Mom got so far and had to turn back while the three of us battled with the groups of impatient tourists to get to the top, take photos and get back down.

We then got picked up by another boat and headed for the pearl farms for a look at how the pearls are made and obviously to have a browse around the shop. It was an interesting trip and there were no hard-sell staff which made the look round the shop very relaxed.

After 2 nights on our Ha Long Bay cruise we were off to stay at the Monkey Island Resort not too far from Cat Ba. The place is set on its own island where one side is inhabited by monkeys. We got off the boat for an hour or so to watch the monkeys being fed, as well as watching them help themselves to customers’ snacks from any bags they had. They had their eyes on our beers but only managed to make off with a can of coke while the bar man had his back turned.

At Monkey Island we checked in – Chrissy & I in to a standard twin bamboo hut, set in the gardens not far from the beach, my parents in a rather swish beach front villa. Dad was the only one to swim in the sea (I still had my fleece on) but we all did manage a lounge on the beach. We had an evening BBQ on the first night but chose off the menu on the second night. We stuck to beer as the wine list was showing $35 per bottle in one menu but had cheaper ‘out of stock’ wines listed in the lunch menu. Instead we decided on beers for our sun-downers, even if they were a bit overpriced. My mom had a massage and I had some reflexology there which was really good. It was very relaxing and I slept really well in our small but adequate room. The weather could’ve been better but at least we did see a little bit of sun. In the evening the resort allows backpackers to visit for a bit of a party night where there is lots of drunkenness and traditional dancing on the beach.  We watched as the revelers tried (and mostly failed) at the bamboo dancing.

On our last day we had an early breakfast and a boat came to take us to Ben Bo port where we took a car pick up to our next part of our trip back to Hanoi. From Cat Ba island we got on the Full Moon Party bus, after watching a colour dash race take place outside the travel agency. We then got another boat, this time a fast ferry, which took us the quick route back to the mainland. From there we got the bus back to Hanoi where we were on time to meet Captain Caveman and Watto (Chrissy’s husband).

After a delicious lunch of fish & chips, pie or bangers & mash at the Moose & Roo on Ma May street we said our goodbyes to Chrissy and Watto and we boarded our next bus to Mai Chau.







Ha Long Bay cruise

The song for today’s blog is one I like to listen to a lot, I find the video hilarious and it’s appropriate that we went to the Fat Pig for mom’s birthday celebration, we were off to stay for a couple of nights on Monkey Island and Chrissy had developed a type of ‘Chicken Tourette’s’.

I mentioned before that Chrissy is a fellow CWAG. This is similar to the term WAG which is used in the UK to describe Footballer’s Wives and Girlfriends who are usually to be found being ladies of leisure, going to soirees and drinking wine while their famous footballer husbands earn the money and keep them in the manner in which they’ve become accustomed. Chrissy’s husband does the same job as Captain Caveman (my boyfriend) and often they are unable to attend functions due to them being away at work so it’s been deemed appropriate that Chrissy and I attend on their behalf. The term came about 3 years ago when the boss of Oxalis invited us to an evening meal for all the staff and some local VIPs and we were introduced as the ‘Caver’s Wives & Girlfriends’ aka the CWAGs and it’s been our name ever since. There have been others join and leave the group as well as some honorary CWAGs along the way.

We had a 4 hour drive to Ha Long Bay port with our guide, David, who helpfully explained the Vietnamese tonal part of the language by demonstrating the difference between Watermelon, Pineapple and Coconut ( which are all called ‘dua’ but with slightly different pronunciations). At the port we had to board our Apricot 3 boat via tender due to there being lots of officials about the place – we all had to have our life jackets on too. We checked in to our cabins and were very impressed with the photographer for the brochure’s skills. The boat could have done with a bit of tarting up but our cabins were fine, next door to each and at the back of the boat within easy reach to the back steps up to the restaurant and bar. A massive lunch was served and Dad wasn’t too happy as there was far too much and a lot would end up going to waste. While slowly sailing along David explained a bit of the history of Ha Long Bay and how the limestone rocks were formed, he also helpfully pointed out all the rocks that looked like chickens (we were having trouble seeing it for ourselves). From then on every time David mentioned chicken, Chrissy did a farm-yard impression of a chicken clucking which continued throughout the trip, whenever anyone mentioned chicken.

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In the afternoon we were taken to look at Surprise cave and we all made the short climb up the steps and walk along the path inside. The two main surprises of the tour are the vast number of tourists taking selfies and generally getting in the way of other tourists, as well as a phallic rock that mom declined on having a rude selfie with.

Back on the boat we were quite cool and I was glad of the jacket I’d bought in Hanoi, the air was fresh and the scenery still good but we all passed on the kayaking. We did, however, participate in the Happy Hour and free sangria at sunset, followed by quite a lot of wine with dinner. It might have been a bad idea to have the Tequila, especially as they were big measures and the lime was sliced so thinly it was ineffective – my mom had to eat the lime with skin and pips while another of us had to use the sleeve of their fleece to be sick down after shouting for a bowl but not getting one.

Later as all the boats settled in the bay for the evening we got on the karaoke and felt sorry for the quieter boats nearby who probably weren’t having as much fun as us. We made friends with a lovely French woman who sang ‘Joe le Taxi’ and I teamed up with a fun girl, still in her swim wear, to murder a Whitney Houston song.

Fat Pig

Today’s blog is accompanied by a song that I like that is also the name of a great bar that we visited in Hanoi. I saw Professor Green live on a Monday night in Sheffield and he was amazing.

It was cooler in Hanoi and there had been some storms during the night. We met for breakfast on the 8th floor of Home Hotel where there was a really good buffet of western and Vietnamese choices, they also offered omelets and pho brought to the table for you. The chocolate croissants and bread rolls were really nice and I had quite a few while looking out of the large panoramic window at the views of West Lake.


We took a taxi to the Old Quarter and paid our deposit for the forthcoming Ha Long Bay cruise before trying our luck with the Hanoi traffic as we walked a few minutes towards the famous Hoan Kiem Lake. I bought a waterproof jacket as the weather looked a bit like it would rain. As it was a weekend the traffic wasn’t permitted on the road around the lake so it made it a little easier to walk around. We went to the red bridge and I pointed out where the water puppet theatre was and then we decided it was time for a drink – a smoothie at a place on the 5th floor of a building overlooking the fountain, called Avalon.

While we were admiring the views from the open balcony we had calls to let us know that Chrissy was on her way and that the Oxalis Adventure Tours team was near the Post Office at a display stand. Chrissy arrived and we got a round of beers in (she’s a bad influence) before ordering some snacks for lunch.

Hanoi - Son Doong

After lunch we went to the Oxalis stand and had a photo of us ‘in Hang Son Doong’, the biggest cave in the world before heading back to the hotel.

I’d booked a table at the Fat Pig for dinner, invited our friends Gary, Hanh and Hung to join us at 7pm for pork dishes and smoked sangria. I’d been before and enjoyed the pork ribs so we ordered a mixture of things to try – the pork crackling with apple sauce is amazing. We had a good time and although my parents were still on UK time we managed to stay up fairly late, drinking wine/beer. Despite the celebrations we knew we had an early start the next morning as we had to be over at Ma May street for our bus pick up at 8am, ready for our cruise aboard the Apricot 3.

Happy Birthday in Hanoi

I chose this song because I had been counting down the days ‘til my parents would come to visit in Vietnam. It was also the anniversary of me seeing the band support Foreigner in my home city of Sheffield, with a friend and my parents – the song holds great memories for me.

Anyway, my parents were visiting for 2 weeks and I’d planned the itinerary to try and see a bit more of the country as this was there second visit to Vietnam. Two years ago they flew in to a very hot Saigon before coming to Phong Nha (also very hot) and then going to Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An. This holiday they would fly in to Hanoi where we would stay a couple of nights before taking a 4 day trip to Ha Long Bay and Monkey Island with my fellow CWAG (Caver’s wives and girlfriends), Chrissy. I had also booked a couple of days in Mai Chau where Captain Caveman would come too, in between his cave tours. There would be just a few days spent in Phong Nha and Dong Hoi at the end of the holiday this time.

I was looking forward to seeing my parents having not seen them for 7 months and was hoping they would enjoy seeing some of the north of Vietnam as well as seeing how Phong Nha had changed in the last 2 years. I was also looking forward to being a lady of leisure again and enjoying being a tourist for 2 whole weeks. It was also my mom’s 65th birthday, mother’s day and my dad’s birthday within the first week, so lots to celebrate.

I caught the overnight train from Dong Hoi to Hanoi late on the Thursday evening, I had a soft sleeper bottom bunk (for 470,000 VND) and slept really well due to the beers I’d had before departure. I’d left Captain Caveman at Beachside Backpackers in Dong Hoi, a gorgeous little bar and hostel right on the beach, as he was off on a cave tour the next day and would  join us in Hanoi the week after.

I arrived at the airport early. There is a number 86 bus that runs from the train station in Hanoi to the airport and goes via the main areas of Hanoi such as West Lake and Hoan Kiem and costs about 30,000 VND.  I had already booked us a couple of rooms at Home Hotel which is on Yen Phu Street in the Tay Ho District of Hanoi. I’d stayed here previously with Captain Caveman and thought it was a good location and value for money, we were there for 2 nights and I didn’t know if my parents might have jetlag so wanted a comfy bed for them.

I waited at the airport armed with my own luggage and a bunch of red roses for my mom, whose birthday it was that day.  I could see them waiting for their luggage and the hotel driver was already waiting with me when the eventually walked out. We were all so happy to see each other and mom was surprised at the flowers. It took us less than an hour to get through the busy traffic of Hanoi and to our hotel. The hotel charged us $18 for a pick up and it was a big car with plenty of luggage space.

As is often the case with me, I’d left getting my legs waxed until the last minute and so had arranged for Quy, a lady recommended on Hanoi Massive Facebook group, to meet me at the hotel – she will come to your room for massage, treatments, waxing etc and is really good without being too expensive. As we checked in we were told that we had been given an upgrade to the Executive Suites (next door to each other) which was a nice surprise for mom’s birthday. They don’t have big enough vases for bunches of flowers though, so mom made do with the bin which she propped up at the edge of the corner bath.

While I was checking my parents room, Quy had called to say she was here, in fact it turned out she had arrived before us and had saw us check in. My parents had a rest and unpacked and after Quy had gone we got ready and went off for a meal to celebrate mom’s birthday. We took a short taxi ride to a place called Dalcheeni (a lovely Indian restaurant on Xuan Dieu) where we got a much needed beer and ordered soup starters, mains, rice and nan bread plus a bottle of white wine. It was a nice meal and quite low-key for a 65th birthday celebration but we had a good laugh. We even walked over to Republic afterwards and sat on the terrace upstairs drinking another bottle of white wine. My mom was unaware that I’d organised a birthday celebration for the next evening and invited some friends along to help us celebrate.