April had an exciting start and on Thursday 1st April I was lucky enough to be able to join Captain Caveman on his weekend trip to Saigon. My visa agent had agreed to let me hand in my passport for the next visa extension on a Sunday so as long as I was back by then, all was good. Captain Caveman was up early and off to Phong Nha to do a few last minute jobs and have breakfast at The Villas. I packed my bag and then went downstairs to see if we had anything in for breakfast. I checked our fridge to find that there were quite a few things which had gone off, including a completely green block of cheese! I had the last of the 2 dates for my brunch and avoided bread in case it set me off for travelling later.
In the news there was hope of direct flights from Vietnam to the UK being put on, could this news mean I could go back to the UK this summer?
Reports mentioned a potential reopening later for the UK but there was nothing definite as yet. More info here:
Captain Caveman got picked up from the Glass House at 1.30pm and then came to pick me up at Elements with an Italian customer, Mauro, who was also on the same flight as us. He was nice and chatty and even gave me some recommendations of places that he liked to eat at, in Saigon. At the airport we bumped in to Annette and Sonya and we even ended up sat near them on the plane.
Captain Caveman and I landed at Ho Chi Minh airport at 17.10 and I was really excited to be visiting again. This trip was mainly because Captain Caveman was cycling in a ‘fun’ event with some friends but I had took the opportunity to join him so that we could meet up with friends we hadn’t seen in a while and one in particular who we really didn’t know when we would get to see again. Ali, the filmaker, had finished the work on his film about Phong Nha so would be going back to Japan with no imminent plans to return. Both Captain Caveman and I really like Ali’s company and we always have a good laugh with him, I think it’s the passion that they both share for Phong Nha (the people and the caves) which makes them get on so well – it’s certainly really refreshing to see. We had agreed to meet for a cocktail (or two) around 6.30pm and this meant we were in a rush to get our bags to the hotel and then to the venue I had suggested. Captain Caveman dropped me off at Racha Rooms while he took the bags and checked in to our hotel in District 1, the Amanaki Saigon Boutique. After hand sanitizer usage and being escorted to my table by a masked waitress I ordered my first cocktail, noticing it was 50% off most drinks until 8pm. I was also extremely hungry, having only had 2 dates to eat that morning, so I ordered a couple of snacks. The Bellini cocktail was good, the duck dumplings and the wagyu beef gyozas were delightful and I’d scoffed the lot before Captain Caveman or Ali arrived. Captain Caveman was surprised to see a full martini with olives in front of me when he arrived, but I reassured him I’d drank a cocktail and had 2 starters already. He looked relieved as he knows I get hangry very easily and he ordered his cocktail. Ali arrived and he ordered a gin cocktail, we ordered more dumplings and the waitress remembered I had said I couldn’t eat chillies so she told me the pork dumplings’ sauce had chilli in it – impressive service. Captain Caveman and I decided to have the same cocktail as Ali when he ordered his next one and then we had to think about dinner.
As it turned out, the restaurant Captain Caveman and I wanted to try was the place Ali had been to the night before but he said it was great and that we should go again. Captain Caveman and I got the bill in Racha Rooms, mainly so that Ali didn’t see what a pig I’d been by eating so much before going for dinner, but I knew we would be drinking and didn’t want to get hammered.
When we arrived at Quince it was around 7.30pm and they were busy, being in Phong Nha we weren’t used to the city life where you should book a table at a restaurant – especially one that came recommended. Ali stepped in and was able to secure us a table at 8pm and we went to the upstairs lounge, Madame Kew, for a pre-dinner bottle of red wine. Ali and Captain Caveman were like happy little kids when they saw the leather Chesterfield sofa and I got a couple of photos of them messing about. The wine was really good and the next time I’m in Saigon I would like to try the food at Madame Kew’s as it’s a really nice place.
It was about 8.30pm by the time we got seated at our table in Quince for dinner. I managed a progress milestone by being able to sit on a high chair, which I hadn’t been able to do before very easily, because of my injury. We completely over ordered on the food but it was absolutely delicious and I would definitely go there again (no wonder Ali agreed to go 2 nights in a row). We had another bottle of wine, shared starters including some really good hummus, the service was excellent. For main courses Ali and I had the duck dish which was lovely, and a half baked cauliflower which we loved. Captain Caveman had a fancy version of pork with black pudding and mash, we had more wine and had to leave the side order of buttered lettuce as we were all too full. When Ali was given the bill, a plate of jelly teddies with a twist came too and they were very different!
Just as I was getting ready to go to our hotel for a much needed lay down, Captain Caveman had a message from his friend, Hung, who invited us for a nightcap at the Cork and Bottle. Ali got us all a Grab and we moseyed over there, where Hung was with his friends, An and Huyen. We were made very welcome, despite the bar being ‘closed’ and you could tell we were drinking expensive wine with VIPs when I noticed they had a member of staff constantly on wine top up and photo taking duties. Chugging glasses of posh red wine and shouting ‘một, hai, ba, dzo!’ which means 1, 2, 3, drink, is not how I expected the evening would end – but I managed it. We even met a famous Vietnamese TV actor, called Minh, who was very nice and had a lovely assistant who was very friendly.
We rolled in to the hotel after midnight and had to put the Aircon on to sleep, it was still hot!
Photo credit – Captain Caveman, staff at Quince and Cork & Bottle