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!

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