Sunday 10th January started with a buffet breakfast at the Vinpearl Hotel in Dong Hoi as part of my birthday treat from Captain Caveman. I even ate croissants, which were so delicious, as well as pho ga (chicken noodle soup) with bread things in and a bacon sandwich. I had juices, an ominous looking detox water and some tea, I overdid it on the gluten though and suffered when I had the last of the Danish pastries. We went to the indoor swimming pool and I did some walking and swimming without doing the breaststroke style legs. Captain Caveman took some videos but he didn’t last long in the pool because it was too cold. I also found it cold and had a bad stomach so instead of the planned hour, I managed 30 minutes (better than nothing).
Back in the room we packed and got ready to leave, Captain Caveman got a call from Deb to say that her and Colin were finished shopping in Dong Hoi and were just waiting for Watto to come out of the dentist, if we would like to meet up and then get a lift back in the Oxalis minibus. We checked out and headed off to meet them at Earth cafe, the lovely Vegan place. When we arrived Watto was there, as well as Thao and Mo (the owner) and everyone was having a coffee. I had a kumquat and daisy tea which came in a fancy cup and tasted great, when the complementary tofu vegan rolls came out I couldn’t help but try a couple and I really enjoyed them. The driver picked us up and we called at Tuan Viet Gourmet, the shop which sells the chocolate digestive biscuits, then a tool shop and finally we were on our way back to Phong Nha.
After a motorbike ride from the Glass House to Elements I couldn’t get warm, even after being in bed for a bit with clothes on, so we went up to the Farmstay early so that we could have a Jameson’s hot chocolate. Matty joined us, while Veronika had a rum in her tea, round the fire and started to thaw out a bit. Captain Caveman and Matty went off to the sauna but I stayed enjoying another whisky. At least the Sunday roast dinner would warm me up and we had a very good meal with red wine – I even got the biggest piece of pork crackling on my dinner. At the end of the meal Bich and Ben came over to the table where Veronika, Matty, Captain Caveman and I were finishing off our cake, to wish us a happy birthday and give us a gift of wine – I was a bit emotional and was so grateful for their kindness. Matty went to his room and came back with a bottle of wine, to add to our birthday wine collection too. Veronika and I decided we would keep the wine at the Farmstay and drink it together once it had got to our actual birthdays – everything was all warm and lovely again!
I was about to start the celebrations of my forthcoming birthday on Saturday 9th January, Captain Caveman had booked us in to the Vinpearl Hotel in Dong Hoi to celebrate early, due to him having to work next week. We had arranged to go to Dong Hoi in the morning but things didn’t go to plan, and at the last minute Captain Caveman had to work, so I set off by myself. I was assured that he would still come to join me that night and should be there by 6pm. I decided to treat myself to a Tree Hugger brunch after dropping both our bags off at the hotel. I had 3 cups of ginger, honey, lemongrass and kumquat tea (as you do), 2 herbal teas which they give you for free and my favourite beef and veg rice plate. I didn’t chance a gluten or dairy food because I had physio in the afternoon and that all went well, as usual. When I checked in at the Vinpearl everyone was wearing masks, including me, and they were doing the usual hand sanitizer and temperature check (I was a cool 36°C). Our room was on the 20th floor and had a free fruit plate already waiting for me, I ate all but the persimmon and an apple, with a couple of green teas and an earl grey. Finally a message came from Captain Caveman that he was on his way to Dong Hoi using a new Grab style shared car service with An, from Phong Nha. He charges just 50,000vnd each way and there are up to 4 set journeys per day for a car share. Armed with 2 bottles of Lindeman’s sparkling wine he arrived and I had my glass of fizz in the bath! Captain Caveman also had a bath with his fizz and we decided it was too cold to go out and ordered room service, while dressed in our robes. We watched some films including Call of the Wild which I thought was great, we didn’t go to sleep until late but still remembered to set the alarm for the buffet breakfast.
It was no surprise to read that the UK was reporting the most cases of Corona they had had in one day, on Friday 8th January, because it was exactly 2 weeks after Christmas, when people were allowed to meet up. It sounds pessimistic but I had even written in my diary a note to expect the surge in reported cases in countries where Christmas day would be celebrated, this way I wouldn’t be overly worried about my immediate family. So, while Captain Caveman got up at 5am to go surfing with Ben and Matty, I did some blogging and learning Vietnamese. Captain Caveman was back, earlier than planned because it was too windy, before I even got out of bed. He made me a bacon sandwich and we decided to go to the Farmstay for a late lunch. I had the very nice mushroom soup and Captain Caveman had chicken quesadillas. I tried to do some work in the afternoon, from the Farmstay but I find it easier to work at home so I did all my exercises outside, using the stairs. That evening we joined Phong Nha Farmstay guests for pizza night at The Villas. There was a nice Danish family here and an American guy with a cool motorbike. Our night turned out really well and we had so much pizza I thought I might burst. I managed 10 slices and 3 glasses of red wine before getting a lift back home.
Thursday 7th January was a bit of a steady one, we got up late after I was catching up on blogging in bed and Captain Caveman made me a bacon sandwich. By lunchtime I wasn’t hungry and we didn’t have anything taken out of the freezer so I just had raisins, knowing I’d be eating well later. For dinner we went to Phong Nha Farmstay, I’d even washed and blow-dried my hair, where we met with Matty and Tatas. I ordered the meat pie with chips and gravy (no beans!), Captain Caveman went for an unpredictable Bun Cha, Matty also had pie and Tatas went for a vegan curry with steamed rice. The wine kept on flowing and we had 3 bottles between the 4 of us, as you do, which meant we drank all of the stock of my favourite red wine. We decided to follow Captain Caveman’s lead by having a dessert, he had the passion fruit cake, I went for the chocolate fondant cake. The dessert made the evening and it was so good that I didn’t care if I was getting fatter again!
I decided to have a late brunch at Phong Nha Farmstay on Wednesday 6th January and from there I planned my lift to Dong Hoi. As I ate my beef noodle soup (pho bo) and fried veggie spring rolls I read the news. Just 4 days after Vietnam had discovered the new variant of the Corona virus had come in to the country from the UK, there was an announcement from the Vietnamese Prime Minister that they would suspend all flights from the UK. It’s worth noting no holiday makers had been allowed in for over 10 months now, this meant any special flights or repatriation flights would be stopped! Of course with no flights coming in from the UK that usually means they don’t go to the UK either. Here’s the link if you want to read more. https://vietnamnews.vn/politics-laws/853302/pm-orders-suspension-of-flights-from-uk-south-africa-due-to-new-coronavirus-variants.html.
I left with Phuong’s Transfers at 12.40 and arrived at my physio appointment before 1.30pm, my first one this year. Building works had started out the front of the clinic and it was slightly hazardous for anyone with walking difficulties. Inside there had been walls knocked down and a bit of wallpaper put up. My physio went well, no pain in particular aside from my ankle and my visa agent, Kimmie, popped in to pick up my passport so that I could apply for another one month visa extension.
On the way back, in Phuong’s comfy minibus, Captain Caveman messaged to say he was also on his way home and we decided to eat out, at the Phong Nha Farmstay. Matty was there and so we shared a table and a bottle of wine, he ordered the carbonara, Captain Caveman had one of his favourite meals, meat pie, chips, beans and gravy and I had the pork clay pot with steamed veg and rice – it’s my new favourite dish now. When we got home the room had been cleaned and it was so nice to get in the freshly made bed and not have to get up too early the next morning!
The alarm went off so much earlier than I would have liked, having been up almost all night with a gluten tummy and listening to Captain Caveman snoring. Tuesday 5th January was a bit of a mixed bag really; Captain Caveman was working and was off to a cave – he didn’t know which one, or who with, or what for, or how long it was for, until he got there and he was more fine with that than I was. I didn’t get back to sleep and instead got on with my list of jobs for the day. At lunch time I headed over to the rascal for a lift with Duyet to the Farmstay. When I got to the Farmstay it was nice and quiet with the fire on so I ordered a Bun Cha for lunch, as recommended by Sau. Bich had booked Sy from Magic Fingers to come over in the afternoon so I had booked in for a massage. I went in for a foot massage and also got an Indian head massage, although Sy had to be more careful with my bad leg, it felt absolutely amazing!!
I came out just after 4pm and I ordered a hot lemon, ginger and honey tea and sat down to do some writing. I was also hoping Captain Caveman might get in touch to let me know if he was on his way home or if he was staying overnight in the cave but I heard nothing. It was shepherd’s pie night at the Phong Nha Farmstay and I ate mine with Matty, it tasted good and was piping hot – Ben had to eat Captain Caveman’s pie! I was so full that I couldn’t manage a dessert and, feeling stuffed and a bit tired I went home for an early night.
I was woken up on Monday 4th January by one of the housekeeping staff who had brought back our laundry so I decided to do my exercises early and get ready for a party we had been invited to. The Phong Nha Farmstay was having a staff end of year party at 11am which Bich had invited all the staff, Matty, Veronika and I to. At 10.10am I decided to try, for the very first time, to walk the 2.2km to the Farmstay, using my crutches like walking poles. The furthest I have managed to walk so far is 500m and so it wasn’t easy but I just kept going. Veronika set off later than me and then caught me up because I am so slow, even though I thought I was going quickly. It took me 53 minutes to do 2.2km and I was knackered when I got there but extremely grateful to have made it. The next challenge was having to sit on the floor for our hotpot meal and of course I used to be so flexible, could cross my legs and sit for ages on the floor but not any more. Veronika and I had to sit at one end so we could stretch out a leg. The hotpot wasn’t really for me as it had both chillies and fishy stuff in, lots of squid in particular, which I can’t eat. Regardless to allergies I still had to try some so I mainly ate the sweetcorn and the mushrooms at first, until Ha arrived and sat beside me giving me the prawns, which were good. We also joined in on the shots of rice wines and I did well to have 3, Veronika got off lightly with 2 and Matty was drunk, having had plenty more. Ben took a video of the party and we all had a great time, it was nice to see the staff being treated and then having the afternoon off to go to karaoke. Veronika walked home but I decided to stay and try out the sauna with Ben, Bich and Matty. It was very nice but I didn’t have my swimmers with me and had to go in naked, just with a towel round me. By 6.30pm I was ready for dinner so I decided to go for a salami pizza and really enjoyed it. Captain Caveman let me know he had been delayed but would be back, from Hue, around 9pm so I went home, by the time I was meant to be sleeping my gluten intolerance was back with a vengeance!!
I fully intended to go back to sleep for a while on Saturday 2nd January, after Captain Caveman had got up at 5am, drove his motorbike to Oxalis Home (about 12km away) to get the staff bus to Dung’s wedding, south of Hue (a few hours drive away). He had packed a bag and decided not to get the bus back the same day and would stay a couple of days in Hue for a short break. It was 12°C again and I stayed in bed but didn’t get back to sleep at all. On the news the first case of the new Corona virus variant had arrived in Vietnam from the UK, the 45 year old repatriating Vietnamese woman had already gone straight in to the compulsory 14 day quarantine upon arrival. I had buttered toast for breakfast and then got an invite to go to The Villas with Bich and Veronika in the afternoon where Ben would be with the yoga retreat group for a late lunch. I was grateful for the lift over and to enjoy a trip out for a nice change. I had an oolong tea and treated myself to a sticky date pudding with vanilla ice cream which is absolutely delicious. Back home, Veronika and I had time to get ready for dinner and we had a very civilised meal at Phong Nha Farmstay, our home from home. Veronika had pumpkin soup with garlic bread and I had beef in bamboo with steamed rice and vegetables and only 1 glass of red wine. Matty returned from East Hill, where he had been to celebrate his birthday, they do an amazing BBQ chicken with sticky rice. The Phong Nha Farmstay surprised him with a birthday cake and so we all had to have a piece of that to finish off the night – my diet was going well and I decided to try not to eat until dinner tomorrow!
Sunday 3rd January was a quiet day, Captain Caveman was still in Hue and was planning to pick up some sausages to bring back. I stuck to my not eating a meal until dinner and, instead, got on with my massively increasing To Do List and catching up on Vietnamese language learning. One of the fantastic things about where we are is that the Phong Nha Farmstay is like our ‘local’ and so it feels good to have the opportunity to go for the Sunday roast dinner each week. It’s strange really that I have started to eat, and look forward to, more of the western traditional foods now that it’s colder and I think it’s a sign I’m missing home – I hardly ever ate a Sunday dinner in the UK, though. To keep me from getting too hungry I had plain popcorn as a snack but then I was so hungry for my Sunday dinner that I could hardly wait to order it. Veronika ordered her meal without all the extra gubbins whereas Matty and I ordered it as it comes; pork (with crackling), lamb, roast potatoes, vegetables, smoked duck and veggie pasta bake, bread and gravy! The carrot cake was fresh, moist and delicious, as always – enjoyed by the fire. Veronika had a cup of tea but I shared a bottle of red wine with Matty before getting a lift back home.
I started the year on Friday 1st January, hangover free, knowing that I would be spending more than a year without leaving Vietnam, this was the longest I had been in the country since I first started visiting regularly about 6 years ago. I had also managed to accidentally put a bit of weight on over the festive period, even though we didn’t do a lot of the traditional celebrations we may have done if we had been in Turkey or the UK. Since arriving in Vietnam I had managed to lose just over half a stone more and I was pleased to see that I was still less centimetres on all my measurements. This blog was going really well and, despite 2020 being a terrible year for most, it was surprising that I had a lot more views than previous years. I was really grateful to find that December had a 21% increase on November and now the top 5 viewers by nationality had changed; Vietnam was first by a big number, followed by UK, Australia, USA, Canada and Turkey. It was reassuring to me because I had not really been able to write about too many exciting things but I was very happy to be in a safe country. Vietnam had handled the pandemic well (a 2 week national lockdown in April plus city specific lockdowns in July/August) and the numbers were very low here, life was pretty normal and we could go about our business quite easily in Phong Nha. It was 12°C in the morning, which is not as cold as it can get here but it felt so much colder than I was used to – maybe I was finally becoming acclimatised to living in a hot country. Captain Caveman was at Oxalis Home early, catching up with the rest of his work colleagues over a coffee, he even got a last minute invite for a lunch at the Vung Hue with all the cave experts. I had gluten free cereal with UHT milk for brunch followed by homemade popcorn as I needed to save myself for pizza night. Captain Caveman, Veronika and Matty were also regular frequenters of the ‘all you can eat pizza’ on Friday nights at The Villas restaurant and tonight was no different. We really enjoyed the pizzas and this time my favourite one, The Showstopper, was served in the middle of the night rather than at the end so I still had enough room to enjoy it better. Back home, so full of pizza, it was an early night for us as Captain Caveman had to be up before sunrise on Saturday.
On the morning of Thursday 31st December the Phong Nha Farmstay started a 4 day yoga retreat for a group lead by Marzena, a yoga teacher from Poland who lives in Hanoi. I had been invited to give the first yoga class a try and was ready at 6.30am, on my way to the 7am session. Captain Caveman left for Oxalis a little later and it was quite a cold, rainy day. There was a big Countdown to 2021 party going to be held in the town centre with some DJs and EDM (Electronic Dance Music) blasting out. I wasn’t going to any of that and was quite happy to do my own thing, probably involving wine, food and the Phong Nha Farmstay. The yoga was challenging for me, because of my injuries and poor fitness levels but I survived the 2 hour session without too much pain or further injury and I actually really enjoyed it. I had pho bo and orange juice for breakfast at the Farmstay and then came home for a shower, via the scenic route.
At lunchtime Captain Caveman and I went by motorbike to the The Villas in the rain, when I could have had a lift with Bich, Veronika and Matty, so I was soaked and cold when we arrived and I went straight to the fire to warm up and dry off. Veronika and Matty were already sat with Momma D who was drinking a glass of champagne and was having lunch before getting ready for work at her pop-up bar that night. Captain Caveman ordered a beer and the rest of us ordered fizz too, with our food. Veronika and I went for the special festive menu of confit duck leg for main and the others had the tomato soup with cheese toasties, which looked fantastic. We had more fizz, I had a sticky date pudding for the first time – oh-M-G, it was so good! We ended up having about 2 bottles of the champagne and we were tipsy when I said goodbye and an early Happy New Year to Captain Caveman. He was going to go help Watto with some electrics then go to the Oxalis party, planning on staying in Phong Nha for New Year’s Eve so he could have a drink at the Countdown party. Back home I managed to have an afternoon nap as I didn’t need to be at the Farmstay until 7.30pm for dinner.
After napping for a bit too long I was more than slightly reluctant to get out of the nice warm, comfy bed to go out for New Year’s Eve at Phong Nha Farmstay. Veronika and I got a ride with Duyet, both feeling like we had peaked too early on the fizz at lunch time. The yoga retreat guests were booked in for an 8pm dinner, after their evening yoga and they were a really fun group who were not your stereotypical yoga types at all. The night started with a glass of wine for me and Matty while Veronika stuck to her cup of tea. Just before 8pm Captain Caveman called, it was a bad line and I only got part of the conversation, saying his plans had changed and he was on his way back to the Farmstay. I sat at the end of a long table with Matty, who was the first to the buffet dinner, followed by me, where the food was fantastic (and plenty of it). Captain Caveman arrived and had already eaten so just had a drink while I scoffed meat and veg skewers and fried rice. The amazing brownies were for dessert and I managed two lots as they were so nice. By 10pm, though, Captain Caveman and I had overdone it and were back home and in bed! Quite a lot of people went in to town for the countdown and said it was a great night however we were already fast asleep well before midnight.
It was a glorious sunny day on Monday 28th December, Captain Caveman and Veronika had gone for another day of walking and I stayed at home doing my usual daily tasks. My breakfast was sourdough, I had cheese, crackers and walnuts for lunch and I got some chicken out of the freezer and decided I would cook a chicken curry for dinner, even though Captain Caveman had been to the Pub with Cold Beer for a chicken lunch with Veronika, Matty, Ben and some Farmstay guests. When he got back he wanted to go to the Farmstay for sunset and drinks so we went along for one and we got to see a farmer washing his buffalo after a hard day of ploughing in the rice paddies. I came back to start cooking, leaving Captain Caveman to have some more beers and talk walking routes with Veronika and Matty. The recipe I followed said to put 2 teaspoons of curry powder in but it didn’t taste strong enough so I put 6 in and it still wasn’t very curry-tasting. At last I managed to speak to my parents to wish them a ‘Happy Christmas’ as we hadn’t been able to match times to call on actual Christmas Day and the 7 hours time different can be a pain! Speaking to them made my day and I was relieved to hear they had a good time despite restricting their movements over the festive period. The curry was edible but was more like a creamy sauce than what I expected so I wouldn’t have it again.
Captain Caveman had caught a bad cold and was very snotty on Tuesday 29th December but still went to do some work. I had buttered toast for brunch and kept using a bit too much hand sanitizer! For dinner we had booked in for shepherd’s pie night (again) at Phong Nha Farmstay, this time with extra veg and a bottle of red wine. One of the organisers from Saigon Children’s Charity was back with his family and so we had a chat with him. Captain Caveman was due to go to Ho Chi Minh later in January and if I could find a way to have my passport back in time, I would go too.
Wednesday 30th December was pretty much a duvet day for both of us. The temperature had dropped again and we were both now under the weather. Captain Caveman was quite bad and didn’t speak all day except for when made to. I now had a sore throat and kept going hot and cold so we both stayed in bed as much as possible. I made Captain Caveman cheese on toast with the last of the cheese and I had the last of my gluten free cereal for a late breakfast. We each had a Snickers for lunch then for dinner Captain Caveman braved a trip out of bed to the kitchen. Because we had not had a shopping trip in a while we had hardly anything in and the sausages we were going to have were off, so we went to the Farmstay for dinner again. Captain Caveman had a salami pizza which looked amazing but he’d had it with extra chillies so I couldn’t have any. I decided to have the pork casserole with steamed rice and vegetables because I felt I needed some goodness, something healthy. It was really tasty and I managed to eat it all and started to feel a bit better. I was meant to have gone to physio but I’d felt too sick and didn’t want to pass on my germs to anyone! It was an early night as Captain Caveman had a busy new year’s eve to go to, with 2 parties, so I hoped we would both be feeling better.
Captain Caveman was working on Saturday 26th December, Boxing Day, and was off to Hang Va for 2 days. I had set my alarm for 8am and Tatas was already awake when I went in to the living room so we headed off to the Farmstay for breakfast – I had pho bo. I needed to get back for some important tasks so I left, armed with a box of wine, to take home and said I would be back later to see Melissa and her family off – they were leaving for Phu Quoc. I got on with my work in the afternoon and chilled out at home before going back to the Farmstay around 3pm for the goodbyes. I decided to have a cider and went out to the pool to watch the sunset and chat to some of the other guests. The workers were out doing the tough job of working the rice fields, either with a buffalo or a machine, either way it was very muddy and looked like extremely hard work. Bich and some of her helpers were busy planting lettuces and were getting stuck in with it in the beautiful sunshine. We were lucky to be still drinking cider as one of the famous Farmstay sunsets started and so I managed a few photos. Soon enough it was time to go to the all you can eat pizza night, which had been moved from Friday to Saturday, at The Villas. There were quite a few of us at Pizza night and I had a good laugh trying to keep up on the number of slices and ciders with Luc. As it was Ben’s birthday we went back to the Phong Nha Farmstay for birthday celebrations and a bit of cake, which I couldn’t manage a full piece of.
It got as hot as 27°C on Sunday 27th December, here in Phong Nha, which was lovely after the cold spell. I had cereal for breakfast and I didn’t bother with lunch as I knew, with it being Sunday, we would be having a big Sunday dinner at the Phong Nha Farmstay later. I went to the Farmstay to say bye to Annette and her friend as they left for the airport at 4pm and we all hoped for a return visit, having had such a good laugh together. Captain Caveman had returned from his Hang Va trip and came straight to the Farmstay where we had a starter of fresh veggie spring rolls for me and chicken quesadillas for him. The Sunday roast dinner was as satisfying as usual and we left full and happy to have had a rather civilised evening with Veronika and her family.
Although Christmas Day fell on a Friday this year, there would be no pizza night at The Villas and so we booked in for the Christmas Dinner buffet at Phong Nha Farmstay that evening. We had decided not to celebrate Christmas and so hadn’t bothered with any gifts or cards for each other or anyone else. The Corona situation had meant Christmas was cancelled for most people and, although not specifically virus related, we had no spare money. Instead we would hope for a time where we could spend time with our family and friends back home, once the virus had gone, and we would celebrate everything that we had missed since we had last met. Like most years when we have been abroad over the festive period I wouldn’t even see a mince pie, a Terry’s chocolate orange, pigs in blankets, turkey, Christmas pudding/cake or even a cheeseboard, but I could cope with it! Captain Caveman and I went by motorbike to The Villas for our Christmas Day breakfast, I got dropped off and ordered a hot chocolate with cream while Captain Caveman went to the Oxalis office to take some biscuits we had picked up from the Shop ‘n’ Go in Phong Nha for the staff. Christmas Day here is just another day and so everyone is at work as normal. Captain Caveman came back from work and we ordered breakfast – him the smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and I had bacon, sausage, beans and buttered toast. I’d not had the bread at The Villas since my intolerance to gluten had disappeared and was going to enjoy my breakfast.
Unfortunately the bread did affect me but we had a house party to go to, we went back home to get some drinks to take to Shannon and Stu’s. Even though I wasn’t feeling well I managed a glass of fizz on arrival. Captain Caveman had a plate of food and a couple of drinks, we had a chat with a few guests as well as the hosts, who kindly gave us a tour of their amazing house.
That evening we had a glass of sparkling wine to welcome us to the Farmstay with friends and then sat at a table for our buffet dinner. It was busy and at our table was me, Captain Caveman, Matty, Tatas, Bich, Michael and Ben. Melissa and her family were on the table behind us while Veronika made a middle of the room table of 3 with Annette and her friend. The food included a delicious selection of pork, lamb, duck, chicken, pasta, salad, roasted veggies, and spring rolls and I managed a couple of plates before going for the brownies which were lovely. Back at our place, Veronika gave Tatas a spare blanket as she settled in for the night on our sofa and we had a bit more wine – overall it was a fairly sensible and early night.
For Christmas Eve we were lucky to still have choices as to what we might do, here in Vietnam. I wanted to do something simple and nice, without any drama – not always as easy as it sounds in Phong Nha. I was so conscious of friends and family back home, and in other countries, who were having to make some very tough choices about their festivities this year and so I felt it was even more important that whatever I did, it should be what I wanted to do. Of course it was sad not to have been able to travel back to the UK or Turkey to spend Christmas with friends and family, or at least have seen them this year, but I was reassured that my parents were being sensible and would be safe. Both The Villas and Phong Nha Farmstay had a special Christmas menu that evening, and the Vin Pearl in Dong Hoi was only £33 for the night (including breakfast) for each night over the holiday period. Captain Caveman had gone to work in a cave for the day but was going to be back by 6pm at the latest so we decided we would meet at The Villas for dinner, just the two of us, when I got back from Dong Hoi. After my breakfast of gluten free cereal and UHT milk Phuong picked me up at 11am and, as it was raining, we picked up Melissa and Aaliyah at the Farmstay, where they were staying. We had a good chat on the way to Dong Hoi and then went for lunch at Earth cafe where, although I’m not vegan, I had started to get excited about going to. We got a lovely, warm welcome from Mo, the owner, and the place was very busy with lunchtime diners so we did have to wait a little for our lunch. I ordered both the cháo bánh canh (local udon soup) and the pineapple fried rice (without chillies), Aaliyah ordered fresh tofu rolls and a cashew nut milk. Melissa wasn’t hungry as they had a late breakfast at the Farmstay but they tried both of my dishes too. I really enjoyed mine and it was the best I had eaten there so far, definitely a new favourite place, and very healthy. While I went to physio, Phuong took Melissa and Aaliyah for a shopping trip as they needed a few things for Christmas, tomorrow, then we headed back to Phong Nha. It did mean that Phuong was late getting back to his family on Christmas Eve but he is so accommodating and flexible, always making sure he looks after me very well.
Captain Caveman was already by the fire when I arrived at The Villas, attempting to warm up after his day of being cold. The staff welcomed us and they had a rather nice table for 2 set up in the bar area ready for us to sit at. I got changed into a dress in the toilets (classy, as always) then I had a margarita, he had a beer while we checked out the special festive menu – we even put our phones away and enjoyed a romantic feast. To start we both had zucchini ribbon salad (the other choice was prawn and squid salad), we got a glass of wine included and we chose red to go with our main course of steak with potato gratin. Other choices were Salmon or Duck and we usually have duck so decided to go with something different. The food was so tasty and I also had a chocolate almond cake for dessert, served with a dessert wine, Captain Caveman didn’t have pudding although I hoped he would go for sticky date pudding so I could try some. While we were there we saw some friends and work colleagues of Captain Caveman and it was nice to see more Vietnamese locals out celebrating Christmas Eve at The Villas – the ladies looked so beautiful in lovely clothes and the men had made an effort – I was lucky to have Captain Caveman take off his hat. We had a lovely evening and didn’t drink much because we had to tog up with our warm clothes for the motorbike ride back home in the cold, but it had been worth it!
Tatas and Captain Caveman were having coffees by the time I was ready to leave the house on Monday 21st December. I was a bit hungover and so I had sausages and beans for breakfast, Tatas had peanut butter on toast while Captain Caveman had the infamous eggs benedict at Phong Nha Farmstay. I finally got my visa extension through and it was renewed until 9th January, but now it was too late to go anywhere in Vietnam for an anniversary or Christmas holiday so we abandoned that idea. I had been hoping we might go to Hoi An or Danang instead but money was tight and we needed what we did have so that I could go to Dong Hoi for the never ending physio! I couldn’t be bothered to make myself anything to eat for lunch so I made popcorn in my room and ate that. We decided to go to the Farmstay for a quick drink before deciding to have a (rare) night at home. Captain Caveman had made a delicious Coq Au Vin for dinner with the rest of the wine we hadn’t finished. Tomorrow was a special day but we still hadn’t decided if we were doing anything to celebrate.
It was 9 years since Captain Caveman and I met, on Tuesday 22nd December, the legendary ‘Cheese Night’. In the past we have celebrated our anniversary with trips away but of course, because of Corona, we weren’t going anywhere. Even to fly to Hanoi or Saigon I would need my passport and although I had got my visa extension stamp I didn’t have my passport back in my possession yet. Captain Caveman made me a brunch of bacon, mushrooms and toast which I had with jasmine tea. We had a walk and I completed it 1 minute quicker than last time but 12 minutes to walk 500 metres isn’t great! The evening consisted of us celebrating our anniversary at the Farmstay with some Lindeman’s sparkling wine, by the fire, and chicken quesadillas to share. The highlight of the evening was a shepherd’s pie each at a table with other Farmstay guests. The shepherd’s pie was pretty tasty and I’m sure they improve each week!
On Wednesday 23rd December I was looking forward to spending some time with Captain Caveman as he had a day off and I had moved my physio for a Thursday appointment this week. However, it wasn’t what Captain Caveman was thinking as he planned to go on a 10km exploration walk with Veronika, Bich and Matty. We went to the Farmstay for breakfast and I had pho bo (my favourite) while the route and finer details of the walk were discussed. Back home I set about getting on with some tasks and immersed myself in my To Do List, I had buttered toast for lunch and I should have gone to meet the walkers at the Pub with Cold Beer but there was some confusion when Captain Caveman called me and I didn’t go. I had a message from Melissa who was on her way back to Phong Nha, from Hue, for Christmas with her family, at the Farmstay. When Captain Caveman got home later that afternoon they had walked almost double the amount he had planned and he was so full of delicious BBQ chicken, pork, spring rolls and rice with peanut sauce that he decided we were staying in for dinner. He made spaghetti with salami, green peppers, mushrooms and parmesan (no sauce) which we had with a bottle of fizz.