It was great weather here in Phong Nha on Thursday 18th March and I had my bikini on for the second time this week. It was the first time I actually swam in the pool too, even though it was still a bit too chilly in the water. Our garden was looking really good and I admired all the pretty flowers around the place. I heard from Captain Caveman to say he wouldn’t be back as he thought and would probably go straight to his briefing on Sunday 21st so I might not get to see him much before his next tour. I had a Snickers which gave me a bad stomach and so I was convinced it was the lactose in it. For dinner I had chicken, salami and pasta with onions, green beans, and olives in a tomato sauce with spaghetti and a couple of small glasses of the wine I still had from Tuesday. I was able to spend no money at all today which made up for the previous day’s expenses!
There was a quieter loudspeaker announcement on Friday 19th March but it still woke me up! I had a bad stomach before I even ate anything and could only put it down to the pasta having gluten in last night, perhaps. I’d had toast for breakfast, my stomach was back to normal and, because tonight was pizza night, I just had popcorn for lunch. I was on the balcony, shade bathing, when the cleaners came – they were now on to afternoon visits instead of the morning. I wasn’t prepared for them and so all I could do was sit on my sunlounger and finish off the rest of the wine from Tuesday. The minibus for pizza night picked me and Veronika up – there was already Hamish, Ania, Mik, Kendra, Bryan, Matija and Daria on it and we were off to The Villas to celebrate the last night as a group. It got messy, we drank loads and ate so much pizza I thought I might need a lay down! Kendra and I shared 2 bottles of red wine which Matija said was shit (it’s my favourite one) and he was hilarious at being a Croatian wine buff. We all had pizza except for Mik who attempted to eat the confit duck leg and a portion of french fries. I told him the chocolate almond cake was better than sex so he had a piece and had to agree, as did some of the others who had a taste too! We didn’t have a late night as Hamish and Ania were booked on a 5.30am train to Danang the next morning, while the remaining three were leaving in the afternoon. I had spent 650,000vnd (£20 ish) and was sad that my new friends, who made me laugh a lot, were leaving. We made plans that Captain Caveman and I would go to Danang to meet up with them in the next couple of months. Hamish and Ania already had plans to return to Phong Nha and had been thinking of staying longer.
St. Patrick’s Day this year was one to remember and the Phong Nha Farmstay certainly did their best to help with that! On Wednesday 17th March the tannoy was going off at 5.30am and we had put in a complaint to the tourism board to get it turned off, or at least down. It was hot and very humid as I had my toast for breakfast then got ready for our Bong Lai Valley trip at 11am. Ben drove the jeep with Hamish, Mik, Kendra, Bryan, Daria and Matija and finally me in it. On the way there Ben likes to give the jeep a good go through the river and at one particular spot where we were about to cross, there was an old fella on his motorbike, stuck in the river. We waited but then Ben got impatient and decided to try to cross and we got stuck. We had to climb out into the water as the back of the jeep started to sink in a bit and then the engine wouldn’t start. Quy from the Pub with Cold Beer came and they sent a truck for towing us out. It was really exciting and then I got special disabled rights of a lift to the pub on the back of Quy’s motorbike, while the others walked the last bit of the way. As always the BBQ chicken, pork, nem lui, sticky rice and peanut sauce were amazing and I ate quite a lot. We saved some for Ben, who had gone to get the vehicle fixed and I chatted a lot to Daria. I managed to drink 2 Saigon beers and had no ill effects while Hamish, Kendra and Bryan went in the pool.
Ben arrived with a fixed jeep and the owner insisted on extra chillies in his sauces and a coke. When we got back I had a shower and got changed so we could meet back up for the St Paddy’s Day pool party, organised by Ben and Bich at the Phong Nha Farmstay. It was too cold for me to swim so I had a couple of ciders and chatted with Mik. Hamish had been a bit down because his girlfriend, Ania, had told him she couldn’t make it to Phong Nha as she needed to stay in Saigon to sort out her work permit but Kendra had been keeping a secret all day. Ania was on her way here and would be arriving at the Farmstay at 8pm. We had all ordered food but Bich told us the kitchen had some issues so we had to wait but it was really so that Ania could join us for dinner. While Hamish went to plug in his phone Ania arrived and hid behind the bar, Kendra sent him over to order another drink and we were all shocked at how speechless Hamish was when Ania was stood there! There was a special menu of sausages, chips and curry sauce/gravy which I had, some of the others had meat pie instead. And the lovely Ania had even brought some homemade cheesecake for us all. I had such an exciting day, full of laughter, food and drink (my favourite things) but tomorrow I would need to stay in and watch the money a bit more carefully!
Things got out of hand on Monday 15th March, and what should have been a boring Monday morning was quite stressful. Hamish was meant to have been going on an Oxalis tour but was taken to Dong Hoi hospital because of a serious asthma attack. I had a couple more issues to deal with which were an unnecessary waste of time, before I’d even had time to eat breakfast of toast, and it was a rather hot day that I was missing out on! I turned my phone off and decided to get the new bikini on and have a dip in the pool – the water was freezing! I had carrot cake for lunch, which made me have a bad stomach and then I just lay on the sunlounger while learning Vietnamese on Duolingo. Later that afternoon Hamish discharged himself and came back to The Farmstay, luckily looking like he would live! For dinner I just had hummus and rice crackers as my stomach was still iffy, so no more cake for me!
Tuesday 16th March started early again with the loudspeaker at 5.30am. In the news today there were reports of a possibility of allowing foreign tourists in to Vietnam in July but still nothing concrete to go on, read it here: https://vietnamnews.vn/economy/904845/viet-nam-needs-to-open-borders-for-tourism-recovery-experts.html I took Bluey, my bicycle, to the Farmstay via the French Road and it took me exactly 20 minutes. I sat by the pool where there was a good breeze and ordered pho bo, green tea and a soda water. The cycling was getting easier and I wasn’t as thirsty and out of breath when I arrived. Hamish came to join me, he still really didn’t look too well. Mik came over with Kendra and Bryan, two of their Danang friends, who had just arrived and were heading out on motorbikes for a look around Phong Nha. I liked them both straight away and I knew we would all get on well. Hamish added me to their Facebook chat group so that I could be included in any activities with them all, which was nice. When I got back home it had only taken me 18 minutes 38 seconds, Veronika and Howie had gone for lunch at The Villas and I had leftover Sunday dinner for my lunch. Later I made popcorn and ate 6 of the expensive dates that I still had. I put in my order for shepherd’s pie at the Farmstay that night and went up a bit earlier so that I could meet Kendra and Bryan properly. I was out of red wine at home so I bought a bottle and would take what I didn’t drink home, I had also taken tuppaware with me for leftovers but there were none. Hamish, Mik, Kendra and Bryan were booked in for a trip to the Bong Lai Valley the next day and invited me too. As I was leaving Ben said I should come on the trip tomorrow as we would be going to the Pub with Cold Beer for lunch and I do love it there!
After a busy start to the weekend I planned to have a relaxed and easy going Saturday on 13th March. I had buttered toast for breakfast and had suffered no ill effects of that, or the pizza from the night before. I decided to make pork and sweetcorn fried rice for lunch and made far too much so saved the rest for dinner. Captain Caveman and Quyen had returned to Phong Nha from their Hang Va cave trip but I didn’t meet either of them. Captain Caveman went to The Villas for food and then got on the bus to Hanoi at 7pm, he was off on an exploration holiday for a week with our Sapa friends, Phil and Hoa, in Tuyen Quang. Quyen had still to find herself somewhere to stay so went for Tropical Homestay. We arranged to meet the next day rather than for dinner because of either one of us having to cycle in the dark, which wasn’t a good idea.
On Sunday 14th March it was Mother’s Day and so I tried to make sure I was busy enough to avoid worrying about my mom not being able to have a Mother’s Day celebration, back in Sheffield. My parents were still staying at home and now the celebrations were coming back around again – who would have thought a year later it would be like this! Captain Caveman had arrived in My Dinh (Hanoi) bus station around 5am and had 3 hours to wait for another bus to Tuyen Quang, while I didn’t wake up until 7am. Quyen and I had arranged for her to borrow a bicycle from Tropical Homestay and cycle to my place so that we could then ride the long way to the Farmstay for lunch. Quyen arrived, later than expected, after it took her almost an hour to get here and she got lost a bit. The ride to the Farmstay was really nice and we took it easy so that she could admire the country side and rice paddy views. My friend absolutely loved it and I was pleased because I was worried she would find the route too easy. We sat by the pool at the Farmstay and ordered some wine, where I introduced Quyen to Veronika, Bich, Matty & Hamish and their friend from Danang, Richard. Our food came and it was really good; Quyen had the seafood banh xeo, Matty chicken quesadillas with chilli jam, Hamish a chicken salad and I had nem lui. Both Richard and Quyen were going to Dong Hoi that afternoon so they arranged to share Quyen’s car which she had already booked and we got ready to leave so she could get back in time. I was going to pay but Quyen wouldn’t have any of it and paid for our wine and lunch which was really kind and unexpected. On the cycle back we took some photos, it was a lovely day and I even caught the sun, despite the factor 50 suncream. I decided I would go to the Farmstay to eat Sunday dinner with Matty, Hamish, Mik and new guest, John. John had already met Captain Caveman when he came to Phong Nha before and had been cycling with him so we chatted about that. I shared the bottle of white wine which Matty had bought while the others had beer or water. The Sunday roast was lovely, as usual, and I took some home with my carrot cake that I couldn’t manage. I stayed up late so that I could video call my mom and dad and we had a good chat, luckily they are keeping safe and staying at home but I was definitely missing seeing them a lot. By midnight I realised I might be a bit noisy so we finished the call and I went to sleep.
Being woken up by a massive cockerel crowing at 6am on Friday 12th March is not how I had envisaged my weekend starting. There were many reasons I didn’t really want to stay at the Glass House including; no longer being registered there for immigration purposes, not having my trusty shower shoes, still being unable to get down stairs easily and most importantly wondering how on earth I would get home once Captain Caveman went off on his trip to Hang Va. Captain Caveman gave me his keys so I could get out of the building and suggested I cycle on my old bicycle to The Villas and just stay there until pizza night, when I’d then get a lift home. I had an extra hour in bed after Captain Caveman left, with a rough plan for me to see him on the 20th March. I managed to find my rubber sandals which I used as shower shoes and I found a few items that I could take home with me, including contact lenses. I managed to get down the stairs of the Glass House with my rucksack fairly easily compared to how I used to so I was definitely improving. It was a bit tricky getting the old bicycle out of the door and then it started to rain a little. I didn’t like riding my old bicycle at all, the right pedal was sloping downwards and my bad foot kept slipping off. It took me 13 minutes to ride the 2km distance as I had to go so slowly. For breakfast I decided to treat myself seeing as I was at the nicest restaurant in town and I ordered 2 servings of bacon, hash browns and baked beans with a camomile tea. The bacon was great, crispy, the beans were hot but I wasn’t a fan of the new hash browns which were more like balls of mashed potato with a thin crust, like a potato croquette. I caught up on some blogging, using the spacious back room to work from and then when Tatas stopped by for coffee I (stupidly) decided to have a hot chocolate with cream. Since being able to tolerate eating gluten again I am really struggling with uncooked dairy and I think egg, although it’s still difficult to tell. I spent the next few hours in and out of the toilet and feeling rubbish. Momma D was back in Phong Nha after a couple of weeks away looking after her sick friend and was keen to meet up. We arranged 2.30pm so she could get to work at her rooftop bar later and she brought her cute dog, Kevin. Momma D was a bit disappointed when I told her I was only drinking water because of my stomach as she had hoped to share a bottle of wine, I told her to go ahead without me but instead she had a coffee.
Feeling a bit weak and drained, I quite fancied just going home for a lay down but I couldn’t do that for the following reasons: Tatas was on her way back from caving, Mik was on his way back to Phong Nha, both of those plus Veronika, Hamish and Matty were on their way over to Pizza Night, and there was no way I was cycling my old bicycle any further so I had no transport. I bought a bottle of wine for me and Tatas to share (it was my turn) but didn’t start drinking it and we sat at the usual table inside. Mik arrived and they were all on G&Ts when Hamish decided Tequilas were in order. I explained I didn’t want to join in, I was struggling to even take a sip of wine until after a bit of pizza and I sat out on the shots. Veronika decided to sit outside with the other Farmstay guests and even Ben wondered why Hamish and I prefer indoor dining when it’s warm – the mozzies love to bite us too much. The pizzas were as good as usual, with my favourites being the Showstopper (blue cheese, proscuitto, fig jam and spring onion) and the Momma D (salami, mushroom, feta and olive) – yes Momma D has a pizza named after her! Hamish, Matty, Mik and Tatas were really getting down the tequilas and everyone was laughing, joking and in good spirits(!) Some of Tatas’ customers arrived, as expected, at The Villas so she went to eat with them and I insisted she take the rest of the wine with her. We decided to get the first pick up service back home and the blokes spoke of getting more drinks when they got back to the Farmstay. I needed my bed, it had been a long day!
I was awake at 5.20am on Thursday 11th March and was just about to fall back to sleep when the loudest tannoy announcement ever, came on! I know it’s meant to be to tell all the villagers the news, instead of newspapers or the internet, but it really does go on and I’m convinced some of it is totally not newsworthy. Today I think they had either turned up the volume or erected another speaker nearer to Veronika’s side of the house. I got up, it was still dark as I had my buttered toast and jasmine tea back in bed. I had saved some pork fat and scraps of lamb for Ky, the dog, so I gave them to one of the housekeeping staff and then decided to make an omelette, chopping half of it up for egg fried rice and saving the other half for Captain Caveman to have for breakfast before his next trip tomorrow. For my lunch I had my leftover shepherd’s pie and in the afternoon I was meant to be meeting Captain Caveman and Quyen at The Villas and needed to arrange transport. Quyen who lives in Saigon was coming to do the Hang Va trip with Captain Caveman and would be staying at Chay Lap that night. At The Villas I had time for one margarita before the pick up car arrived which only just had room to fit us all. Quyen had kindly brought us several packets of the masaman curry paste from Saigon which we love and would make us lots of meals. We still had no plans as to how I would get home as I had made it clear I would not be walking in the dark, going on a bicycle or a motorbike once I’d had a drink and Captain Caveman agreed this would be fine!
When we arrived at Chay Lap Captain Caveman made sure I got a hand to get up the big step to the bar and I ordered a Margarita. Quyen had gone to check in to her room then borrowed a bicycle to go for a bit of exploring of the local area. Captain Caveman’s gala dinner started and I sat sipping my margarita at the bar and I ordered some sweet potato fries to nibble on so that I didn’t get too drunk as I was already on my third margarita. Last year Chay Lap had some nice vegetarian options and even some western choices but now it was mainly Vietnamese food. We ate pork ribs, chicken skewers, cabbage and rice and most of it came without chillies as requested, except for the aubergine on the chicken skewers which was very spicy. Captain Caveman came over to say we needed to rescue him soon as they were nearly down a bottle of rice wine but he had another tour to go on tomorrow and didn’t want to be drunk. Quyen and Captain Caveman were off to Hang Va for 2 days the next day and, although Quyen was staying for longer, Captain Caveman would be going straight to Hanoi, by the overnight bus, then further north for a week. Captain Caveman picked up the tab for both me and Quyen and we left her talking to the rest of her Hang Va group, who seemed a nice bunch of people. I would have preferred to go home but Captain Caveman said we would go to a belated Women’s Day celebration at Bom’s place. When we arrived the only woman there was Quet, Bom’s wife, everyone was drunk and they insisted on Captain Caveman and I chugging warm beer while some bloke sang terribly loud karaoke songs. We walked, in the dark, holding hands for my balance, back to the Glass House to sleep there for the night. It was surprising to see how easy it was to get up the steps and it wasn’t nearly as difficult to do all 4 sets of stairs to our room. Captain Caveman still has a room there with all his caving gear and luckily I still had a few things in a drawer so had spare clothes. Even the bed was made – it was like we were camping for the night, but I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow’s arrangements for getting out of the Glass House.
Having had a restful day yesterday, it came as no surprise that Wednesday 10th March was likely to be a bit livelier! I woke up with the loudspeaker noise (again) at 5.30am and I was really hungry. I had toast and arranged with Bich to get a lift to The Villas to attempt to retrieve my bicycle, Bluey, who had been abandoned there since Margarita Monday. At The Villas I joined Veronika, Matty and Howie while Bich did work stuff. Howie and Matty ordered ice-cream, I ordered some lunch from the vegetarian menu, the potato, artichoke and edamame bean salad which was an old favourite of mine. Unfortunately there was a bit of a mix up when I ordered this dish from the vegetarian menu but the waitress knows I’m not a vegetarian because I eat meat, so I initially got the fish version, which I couldn’t eat. Veronika ended up eating it while I had a new one made and they all went back to the Farmstay by car, while I finished my delicious veggie food while contemplating the cycle back. I realised it was getting hotter and windier which would make my cycle home harder so I paid my 130,000vnd (£4) and set off. The cycle ride was hard work but I tried to focus on keeping my leg in line and applying equal pressure with each leg. As I wiped the sweat from my eyes and wished I’d brought my sunglasses I came to a bit of a hill and I was finding the pedalling very difficult when Jack rode past on his motorbike as I neared a cafe and saw Vinh who I used to work with a few years ago too and had to shout to both that I couldn’t stop, mainly because I wouldn’t get going again if I did. When I got back home it had taken me almost 41 minutes (4 minutes slower than on the way there for Margarita Monday) and I was so purple everyone at Elements looked worried. I went straight in the shower to cool down and found I was very hungry after my almost 9km bike ride against a head wind and in hot sun. I had bread and hummus as a snack, realising I still hadn’t eaten my left over dinner from Sunday. I decided to stay in that night as I was knackered and couldn’t sit very well. I had leftover Sunday dinner and an early night after a busy (for me) day. I was just pleased to have managed to cycle home without getting off the bicycle, abandoning Bluey or have to call someone for help!
The first things I did when I woke up at 7am on Tuesday 9th March were; drink water, double up on oresol and check my purse to see how much money I had spent last night. Captain Caveman was away for over a week so my day 1 of managing my ‘housekeeping’ had gone a bit mad. I’d spent about £17 (530,000) yesterday and didn’t even have any dinner! I was starving so I had some toast then went back to bed. I was hungover all day, my stomach was really bad and I didn’t do anything or go anywhere. There was no chance of me going to get Bluey, especially when Veronika said the journey back had been terrible, much harder in the opposite direction. I eventually managed to get myself sorted and go for Shepherd’s Pie night at the Farmstay where I learned that Matty had still made it to work and Mik had managed a train back to Danang. I was feeling rough and so had water and half my shepherd’s pie before I had to go back home. I forgot to pay the 160,000 vnd (£5) but thought I would go up for breakfast tomorrow. I was grateful for being in bed by 8.30pm that night and had a word with myself not to get too giddy on Margarita Mondays in future!
Monday 8th March was rather exciting for me as I achieved a couple of my progress goals. First I had to contend with the loudspeaker noise and waking up soaked in sweat at 5.30am! Captain Caveman was off to Son Doong for 4 days and was up and out earlier than he needed to be. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I watched more Amazing Hotels, ate carrot cake for breakfast which I had a bad reaction to!
Matty was due back from Saigon, Hamish and Mik were due back from their Hang En trip and it was Margarita Monday so arrangements were made to meet at The Villas later. My dodgy stomach had gone by 1.30pm when Veronika and I bravely set off on our bicycles to cycle the 8.9km to The Villas. This was about to be the first attempt at cycling this distance all in one journey and it was quite a hot day for it. Matty had messaged to say he would get his taxi from the airport to drop him straight to The Villas. The news in Vietnam reported that discussions have started about international tourism and the potential reopening of the country, but it still seemed a while off: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/business/20210308/vietnam-eyes-stepwise-plan-to-reopen-to-foreign-tourists/59656.html Meanwhile back home today was the start of the new UK plan to come out of lockdown. Today, back in England, everyone is allowed to meet one other person in a park and I genuinely wondered how the logistics of that would work and wanted to ask everyone I knew in England who they chose and why – had the person you chose already chose someone else perhaps?
Veronika was faster than me on her bicycle and there were sections where she was way ahead as we cycled along the road passing what used to be The Bomb Crater Bar and Sy’s homestay. I saw a bright yellow and green snake as we neared the underpass not far from Magic Fingers massage place and homestay. My knee didn’t hurt but my bum certainly did by the time we arrived at our destination 37 minutes later with a bit of a sweat on! Bluey was parked up with the intention I would get a lift to come ride her back tomorrow but I seriously wondered if I would be able to even move tomorrow. We sat at a table by the river hoping for a peaceful rest and we ordered juices from a new waitress, Van, who I wished Happy Women’s Day in Vietnamese, while we waited for Matty. Veronika had already eaten lunch so she ordered a panacotta while I decided to try something I had never had before – a chicken, bacon, lettuce and gherkin sandwich with chips.
By the time Matty arrived the next door place to The Villas had the karaoke blasting out and so Veronika decided to cycle home while Matty and I moved to sit at the back of the The Villas, near the pool. We ordered margaritas and got free popcorn but Matty had to work at 6am the next day so didn’t want to drink too much. That went out of the window when we moved to another table, nearer the bar but still outside, and Hamish and Mik arrived. They were straight on the Gin and Tonics, we got another margarita and then the tequilas made an appearance. It sounded like they had an exciting Hang En trip and gave us an update of their 2 day adventure. Vu and little Ngoc, were also at The Villas and they insisted on buying me another margarita for Women’s Day and we decided to test out the dancefloor. I even had a dance with the security guard who is always really nice and helpful to me – my first dance as a duo in almost 11 months. Poor Manu, the manager, was a bit nervous I might fall and so was there looking out for me. I was quite safe though and I was so grateful to have cycled nearly 9km, including getting over a bridge, and was able to dance again – progress indeed. We had such a good time but we all forgot to order any dinner and I think the Margarita Mondays might be getting out of hand a bit!
Knowing that I’m going to snaffle as much pizza down me as I can every Friday night has made me conscious that I need to get more active. Friday 5th March was one of those days, there was no tannoy noise but I was up and doing my writing by 5.30am so that I had enough time to fit everything in I needed to do. I decided to cycle to the Farmstay for breakfast and chose the long way, taking just 18 minutes 15 seconds to get there, which I was pleased about. I had a soda water, a big bottle of water and a pho bo. There were a couple of new guests arrived, who were friends’ of Matty and I met one of them, Hamish. I chatted to Bich and Ben who were getting ready for a busy group booking at Phong Nha Farmstay and I said bye to Matty who was off to Saigon for the weekend. It started to look like it might rain, thunderstorms were predicted, so I cycled back home the long way again. I managed it in 18 minutes 49 seconds and was delighted with that, although the Elements Collection staff thought I might be dying because of my purple face and sweatiness. It is definitely harder on the way back. I had lunch of masaman curry with leftover rice and was looking forward to pizza night!
I love The Villas’ all you can eat pizza night and so on that evening I had agreed with Matty to look after his friends, Hamish and Mik. When I arrived Colin and Mark were sat together outside but there was a lot of mosquitoes so I went inside. Tatas came to join followed shortly after by Hamish and Mik then we rearranged the indoor table to fit Colin and Mark too. Tatas and I shared a bottle of wine, the new blokes in town were on the G&Ts and before we had each eaten more than 1 slice of pizza I knew it was about to get messy! Hamish is a fan of tequila and so he insisted on us having a shot. Luckily for Tatas after eating her spaghetti and having 3 tequilas and almost half the bottle of wine she got summoned to go deal with something work related and left early. Hamish and Mik turned out to be really good company, very funny and we got on well straight away. I don’t know what it is but when I meet English and Irish people when I’m so far from home it’s refreshing to have that banter that I miss and for us to be able to understand each other so easily when we are speaking. The pizza was great but a surprise anchovy and chilli one caught Hamish off guard and more tequilas had to be consumed. Mik, from Ireland, who also has a wicked sense of humour struggled to keep his last shot down so, alas our taxi was summoned and we all went home followed by the adding of each other on Facebook.
Saturday 6th March began with only a slight hangover, considering how much we all drank and there had been some loud storms in the night. It was Captain Caveman’s final day of his trip and the second day that the tannoy had not been active – hopefully it was broken! I checked my purse to see how much of my budget I’d blown and was pleasantly surprised, thus establishing that Tatas paid for the wine and Hamish had paid for most of the Tequilas, meaning I had easily spent less than £10 on my night out. I cycled to the Farmstay for my pho bo and soda water breakfast and took the long route which took me 20 minutes and 5 seconds but it was a strong wind. I had not arranged to meet Hamish but when I arrived he was in reception with his luggage. It turned out he was changing rooms as he was off on a trip to Hang En the next day so we had breakfast together. Mik joined us and we decided to take the piss out of him as he is a fussier eater than me, apparently. I left, taking the long route again in 19 minutes 58 seconds – the second day in a row of doing 9km. I chose some swimwear and a pair of shorts from Mommy Shark in Hoi An, arranged delivery and asked Captain Caveman to pay for them later that afternoon. I had just toast for lunch then some popcorn in the afternoon while I watched more of Amazing Hotels. Veronika had come back from Dong Hoi but was at the Farmstay so I still had the place to myself. I took off my bra, got comfy and settled on the sofa for a quiet night on my own, or so I thought!
As I was watching another episode of Amazing Hotels and having a pre-dinner glass of wine on Saturday 6th March, I heard the door open. I knew it wasn’t Captain Caveman as he had gone straight to his gala dinner at Chay Lap after his tour and was staying at the Glass House tonight. Footsteps came up the stairs and I could smell a faint fishy smell as Duyet’s smiley face appeared. He couldn’t really explain in English and I didn’t understand what he meant but he had brought me a plate of squid and prawns because they were having a party outside with the owners of the place, Hien, Khanh and their guests. Next, I heard Hien shout hello and she came in with a bottle of (sweet) red wine which she had already started. Because Women’s Day was coming up they were celebrating and so she insisted we have a drink together but, as is usual in Vietnam, she was chugging the wine with every cheers. She taught me how to say Happy Women’s Day in Vietnamese (chúc mừng ngày phụ nữ) and she asked if we were still enjoying living here. Next at the door was Hien’s daughter, Han, and more wine was drank, followed by Duyet returning with pizza. We were sozzled and when I asked what date Men’s Day is they thought I was quite the joker – apparently it is every day! By the time they left, the karaoke was booming outside, the party was in full swing and I could barely hear the TV so gave up. It was actually a good night and at least I got to have a small celebration with Hien and Han. On the budget front I had managed to spend less than £18 on food and drink these last 4 days as well as about £28 for 3 items from Mommy Shark, let’s hope they would fit!!
Without speaking to Captain Caveman I had arranged for us to have lunch with Uy and Chung in Phong Nha on Sunday 7th March. The weather wasn’t great though and in the end it got cancelled as both Uy and Captain Caveman had to get prepared for a tour tomorrow. Chung had bought me a gift of Banh Ep from Hue, which is rice cracker with pork and spring onion and is such a delicious snack – she remembered how much I love it. I didn’t have any breakfast as I was waiting for Captain Caveman to come home so we could go for a cycle to the Farmstay. We went the long way and managed it in under 20 minutes and then we ordered a big lunch each, despite it being Sunday roast tonight. I had a pork clay pot with steamed rice and vegetables, Captain Caveman had a salami pizza and I had a couple of orange juices. While we were sat there my delivery of swimwear arrived and I was astonished that it had took less than a day to travel 350km. I was excited to see if they fit so we cycled back home in 20 minutes and 2 seconds so I could shower and try on. OMG they fit! I can not describe how excited I was especially as my current swimming costume is over 5 years old and falling a part and my bikini is about 10 years old and a bit too big for me now! Even Captain Caveman was impressed with my 3 purchases for less than £30 including delivery. I now had 4 pair of shorts in total, including a pair of cycling shorts I’d found mixed in with the washing. Captain Caveman went off to his next Son Doong briefing and I caught up on a few chores before going out. I joined Veronika and Ben for the Sunday dinner with the kids having Vietnamese food. Later Captain Caveman came for a beer and paid for another month’s rent, as well as the laundry and the food and drink for today. He also gave me some money for while he would be away again.
Photo credit – Ben & Bich, Phong Nha Farmstay, The Villas, Mommy Shark, Hien, Han.
Monday 1st March started off as quite an ordinary day for me, here in Phong Nha. I’d decided that March was going to be a good month to get a bit fitter and healthier but I still had carrot cake in the fridge from last night so I had buttered toast for breakfast with a pot of jasmine tea before eating the cake as my lunch! It was quite warm out and felt very muggy but I didn’t let it put me off going for a ride on Bluey. I cycled to the French Road and back, which took just 9 minutes 44 seconds and, when I got home, I made popcorn. Captain Caveman came back from Son Doong and was off to his usual gala dinner at Chay Lap at 5.30pm so he suggested I meet him at The Villas. It was Margarita Monday and I arrived first, Captain Caveman arrived shortly after me and we ordered a couple of margaritas. Matty arrived next and Captain Caveman had to leave before Tatas arrived, Matty and I had another margarita and a pizza each – he had a prosciutto and tomato one, I had salami, mushroom and pineapple. Captain Caveman sent me a few messages to say he was drinking rice wine with his customers, that he was on his way back to The Villas, that he was late, and that he was just setting off but never arrived so I took a lift back home with Matty and Bich. I didn’t know it at the time but we probably drove past Captain Caveman who was drinking with his colleagues at a cafe that used to be Yummy’s. For once I was the sensible one and didn’t have that many margaritas compared to last week.
Captain Caveman was extremely hungover on Tuesday 2nd March and didn’t remember much of the previous night. He had to sort himself out, though, as he had his next briefing tonight and was back in to Son Doong tomorrow. I made him cheese on toast, I had jam on toast and I ordered myself a shepherd’s pie for tonight. The weather wasn’t great either so I didn’t do any cycling. I booked a bus ticket for Captain Caveman to go to Hanoi in a couple of week’s time as he was off to see our friends, Phil and Hoa in the north for a week. In Saigon they ended lockdown restrictions and in Hanoi they reopened restaurants and bars. I got peckish in the afternoon as I’d had no lunch but didn’t want to spoil my shepherd’s pie eating abilities so I had a date, some walnuts and a rice cracker. Captain Caveman set off early to his briefing so that he could pick up his bus ticket, on the way back he picked up three loaves of bread from the Lake House and he got back in time to join us for shepherd’s pie, after all. Bich had also got Veronika and I two sourdough loaves of bread and so now, Captain Caveman was about to be away for most of the month and I had 5 loaves of bread. I restricted myself to just one glass of wine with my shepherd’s pie while dining with Captain Caveman, Veronika and Matty – I even took home some left over pie and veg to have tomorrow.
Captain Caveman went off to his next Son Doong tour on Wednesday 3rd March so we were both up early as I also had some work to do. As the ‘being frugal with the housekeeping’ mission seemed to be working well and Captain Caveman was impressed that I was trying to save money, I decided that each time he was in the cave I would do the challenge and see how I did, even though this time he left me 2 million Dong (£62)! The idea behind it being that we had more to spend on my monthly visa extensions, trips away and to keep living somewhere with a pool so that as it got warmer I could afford to replace my very old swimwear and get fitter by swimming. I was downstairs slicing bread, all 5 loaves, and boxing them up for the fridge or freezer when Veronika came downstairs, dressed for winter and a bit hurried. She had decided she was going to ride her motorbike to Dong Hoi with Ben and told me not to worry if she didn’t come home as she may stay over. I had a very quiet day working through my To Do list and managed to polish off most of the crusts from the bread, the leftover shepherd’s pie, 3 satsumas and a small chocolate bar (bought for us as a Tet gift from Ai, landlady of the Glass House). Instead of going out on Bluey in the rain I did my exercises and then started watching Amazing Hotels on Netflix. For dinner I had hummus and rice crackers and a couple of small glasses of wine while watching the TV
I woke up at 7am on Thursday 4th March, I had toast for breakfast and decided to take myself out for a ride on Bluey to incorporate lunch out at the Farmstay. I cycled the short way there in 9 minutes 43 seconds but it wasn’t a pleasant journey because there was quite a lot of mud on the road. I ordered a ginger beer and some fresh pork and prawn spring rolls for lunch and had a good chat and a laugh with Bich. I only spent 130,000vnd (about £4) and would be eating at home later. I chilled out a bit and contacted Mommy Shark in Hoi An to enquire about swimwear in western sizes as I was desperate for new swimmers. On the cycle back I decided to do the longer route, along the French Road, by the river and it took me 21 minutes and 37 seconds. I was knackered when I got in and had to have a little rest while watching more Amazing Hotels. That evening I had chicken in a tomato and olive sauce with green beans and steamed rice, washed down with a glass of wine. A friend who had also watched Amazing Hotels had commented how nice Brando’s in French Polynesia was – it reminded me of Le Domaine in Tam Hai during it’s early years, a lovely place. The housekeeping staff arrived to clean the balconies and windows and brought some lovely flowers and I had an early night – I even set my alarm to get up for cycling.
I do love a good list! I think you can sometimes get an idea of a person’s psyche from what they Google. Here is my list for February, in reverse alphabetical order: 1. World Life Expectancy Corona virus 2. Weather 3. Vietnamese holidays 4. Uniqlo women’s shirts 5. Turkish to English 6. Tet visiting traditions 7. Potatoes in a rice cooker 8. Kevin Bridges 9. Kulminator, Antwerp 10. Hillsborough park gig 11. English to Vietnamese 12. Dong Hoi flight departures 13. Delegate synonyms 14. Covid calculator UK gov 15. Cotton buds in Vietnamese 16. Body Shop 17. BMI calculator 18. Antihistamine fexofenadine 19. All about that Base cover 20. Adele songs
Captain Caveman was off on his next Son Doong tour on Friday 26th February which meant he would miss another pizza night at The Villas. He was up early, gave me some cash to tide me over and had gone by 7am, so I lounged in bed for a bit watching more Behind Her Eyes on Netflix. The weather was very muggy and so I wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere this morning. For breakfast I decided to cycle to the Farmstay where I had a brunch of pho bo, soda water, and a fruit salad – all healthy and a cost of 140,000vnd (£4.34). The cycle ride took me 10 minutes 27 seconds on the way there and 9 minutes 40 seconds on the return journey. That evening Veronika and I met Ali for pizza night, we shared a bottle of red wine and the pizzas at The Villas were incredibly good with some new toppings this week – I particularly liked the ham & mushroom and the smoked duck & peppers. It was a great evening, the new staff were doing so well tonight and the venue had seen a bit of an improvement on their indoor dining layout – was that a dancefloor I saw? I wasn’t actually on a budget as such but when Ali insisted on buying the bottle of wine it was a nice gesture and my total bill, plus tip, came to 300,000vnd (£9.30) for the pizza and an extra glass of wine. I always have to rely on Ben’s video or photos for pizza night at The Villas as I’m usually too busy eating (or drinking) to get any quality ones of my own – check this out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=176449197585277
On Saturday 27th February I slept until an amazing 7.15am and felt very refreshed so I decided to walk to Kuong Ha market with Veronika. It had been said it was less than 1km from our place and although it had been raining the last few days it was now just a light drizzle. At just after 8am we started the walk and Veronika said the road way would be less muddy but a bit longer so we took that route, I meant to press my stopwatch but forgot. When we arrived Veronika checked her phone and thought we had walked 1.4km in about 15 minutes but that’s a rough estimate. The market floor was slippy and uneven but at least the area was small and no steps as we went in the back entrance. Veronika bought some vegetables and fruit while I did the ambitious move of buying dragon fruit followed by eggs. On the way back we did time it and, because Veronika said we would try a short cut through fields, I was incredibly slow on the muddy path. It took 21 minutes and 50 seconds to do what was apparently only 1km. I had to have a shower as soon as I got back but had buttered toast for a late breakfast. I had tortilla, dates and some crisps for lunch and had some pre-made (by Captain Caveman) masaman curry defrosting for dinner. Veronika and I shared some wine, which both of us took a long time to get in to, but the persistance paid off before eating our respective dinners of curry or meatloaf. On day 2 of Captain Caveman being in the cave, I had spent just 60,000vnd (£1.86) at the market on 2 dragon fruit and 6 eggs – I was getting good at being a bit more conservative with money.
I woke up at 4am and again at 7am on Sunday 28th February, it was day 3 of Captain Caveman’s 4 day Son Doong tour and I was tempted to stay in bed. For breakfast I had a dragon fruit and then decided to restart my exercises from Ruth, my UK physio, by incorporating them in to a bit of a routine to some music. Some were proving to be a bit tricky and I really shouldn’t have eased off them in favour of the walking and cycling. I ate the other dragon fruit, 6 dates and 2 pieces of tortilla for lunch and spent the afternoon, upstairs doing some work. In the evening I went to the Farmstay for Sunday dinner with Veronika, Ben and Bich. I ate all of my delicious dinner (no pork and veg left over today) but I did have to take half of the delicious carrot cake home. I was grateful to be off to bed as I was really tired and it would be my last night of having the bed to myself. I’d only wracked up 300,000vnd (£9.30) for my wine and food but was told to pay for it on Tuesday, again – being more cautious with money was helping me drink less wine too.
Captain Caveman was up at 5am on Thursday 25th February and off to the beach with Ben for some surfing. Surprisingly there was no loud announcement on the tannoy this morning! There was some great news in Vietnam as it was reported that there would be enough vaccines for the country in 2021!!! See link: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210225/vietnam-says-to-secure-90-million-covid19-vaccine-doses-this-year/59458.html Unfortunately there was another variant of the virus found in the dead Japanese man in Hanoi, see below: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210225/5th-coronavirus-variant-in-vietnam-found-in-japanese-who-died-in-hanoi/59464.html and some not so good news of a woman in Hanoi who had been released after 3 negative tests but then was positive again 4 days later, more info here: https://vietnaminsider.vn/hanoi-woman-tested-positive-again-for-covid-19-after-released-from-hospital/ I was meant to be meeting Captain Caveman for breakfast at the Farmstay so I cycled the long way round to get there, my confidence was getting stronger and I managed to overtake a man who was walking his cow. This time it took me 20 minutes and 31 seconds to do about 4.5km – a whole 2 minutes quicker (and it was hotter than the previous day). I ordered a soda water, an orange juice and pho bo for breakfast and there was no sign of Captain Caveman so I started without him. When he arrived he ordered a beer which I thought was a strange breakfast choice but it turned out he had already eaten smoked salmon and scrambled eggs at The Villas. After chatting to Bich and Howie for a bit I decided to set off because Captain Caveman was on his motorbike anyway and it was getting hot and sticky. I did the short route back and was 1 minute 21 seconds quicker. I had some rest on the sunlounger, we had chicken salad for lunch but in the afternoon I felt ill (a bad stomach and I felt really cold) so I had an afternoon nap. Around 4.30pm Captain Caveman woke me up to tell me he was off back to Phong Nha and I thought it was the next morning already. He was booked in for a shave at the hairdresser’s and then was off for his next Son Doong briefing at 6pm. In the evening I still didn’t feel too good and couldn’t eat any dinner so I had some popcorn and started watching Behind Her Eyes on Netflix. This week I was glad to have exercised more and consumed less, in fact this was the best week of the month!
Captain Caveman’s alarm went off just before the loudspeaker at 5.30am on Wednesday 24th February and, while he went off surfing, I did some French Duolingo studying in bed, until the noise stopped at 6.30am. I did an hour of editing blogs and then went back to sleep until 10am. I had toast for breakfast while Captain Caveman went straight to Oxalis Home for coffee then The Villas for breakfast, where he bumped in to Veronika and gave her a lift home. When Captain Caveman returned we decided to cycle to the Farmstay, which I think is further than to the French Road, but apparently it’s the same distance. It was definitely a bit more difficult because there is a bit of traffic and more things to concentrate on but I made it in 11 minutes and 12 seconds. We had lunch at the Farmstay and I was quite thirsty so had a soda water with my Bun Cha, Captain Caveman had chicken quesadillas with chilli jam and a beer. On the way back Captain Caveman suggested we take the long route and go to the French Road, cycle along the river and come back to our place via the road I usually walk – the scenic route! It was hard work and I worked on trying to keep my bad foot from turning out and my knee going in! It took me 22 minutes and 39 seconds but I was a bit disappointed because Captain Caveman reckoned it should take about 20 minutes. He had sped ahead and I had hoped it was to get video or a photo of me but it wasn’t.
In the afternoon Captain Caveman braved the pool while I caught up on more tasks (on a sunlounger) and read some interesting news updates. Is it just me that thinks it’s a ridiculous idea for medical staff to not have their uniforms provided and cleaned within the facility that they work in? It was no surprise that this had been proven: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-56171006
I was still feeling quite lively and so I suggested we go for a walk to the French Road to try to catch the sunset over the paddy fields and mountains. It was a lovely sunset walk and Captain Caveman managed to get some great photos and videos. I did time the walk but we kept stopping and looking at the great views so it was 41 minutes and 46 seconds. We are so lucky having such amazing scenery on our doorstep and I never get bored of looking at it.
I was hungry when we got back and had some tortilla, made by Captain Caveman, and a Strongbow. That evening we shared some wine with Veronika and Captain Caveman cooked us a chicken spaghetti while Veronika had homemade soup and toast. We watched a couple of Breaking Bad episodes and went to bed early, ready for another get up before sunrise!