Phong Nha – 30th March

Phong Nha – 30th March

I had spent 590,000vnd (£18.30) yesterday I noted, when I got up on Tuesday 30th March and I was conscious that the spending was creeping up again. Wine is just so expensive here and I really didn’t want to have to drink beer or cider instead so maybe I would just need to limit myself a bit more. That was easier said than done as there was another girls night booked in for later. I put on lots of high factor suncream and packed a spare shirt and something to cover my head with, for the cycle to The Villas with Ania. She didn’t have a bicycle yet, or know the way to get to The Villas via our place, so I agreed to meet her for breakfast at the Farmstay so we could cycle together. Tatas had a day off and was keen to meet because she had a new bikini that she wanted to wear at the pool and get me to take photos of her for Instagram, as is the Vietnamese girl way.
When I arrived at the Phong Nha Farmstay I was a hot, sweaty mess and I started to think we might be a bit stupid to cycle almost 20km in a day in this heat. My journey only took me 8 minutes and 3 seconds which I think was my fastest yet but that was because I was desperate for some shade. I had a pho bo for breakfast and lots of water but then had a bad stomach straight after, with pain, even though it contains nothing I’m allergic to. Annette and Veronika had taken motorbikes for a jaunt around the national park for the morning, I said we might meet them at The Villas, along with Tatas for lunch but the more we thought about it the more it seemed a daft idea so we stayed where we were. Sonya joined us and we sat by the pool drinking water and chatting until lunch time.
For those who remember Keith, from Grimsby, he messaged to say he was back in Dong Hoi and would be coming to Phong Nha tomorrow. This settled the going to The Villas by bicycle conundrum as we could go tomorrow to meet Keith and so we had lunch at The Phong Nha Farmstay instead. Already having a dodgy stomach (for no particular reason) I chose a chicken salad without the cucumber which was really tasty but I was ill straight after and had to cycle home. It took me 9 minutes 40 seconds which was very slow but I felt quite unwell while riding Bluey back home. Veronika was already in the pool and after I felt a bit more stable I got my swimmers on and went to sit on the balcony. I noticed the pool had quite a lot of feathers and twigs in it from some sparrows who were building a nest in the eaves. While Veronika had to pop back up to the Farmstay for babysitting duties, I spent half an hour by the pool until it was time to get ready as Tatas was on her way over. She was going to stay at ours tonight and so had brought her overnight bag to drop off, then we got a lift with Duyet to the Farmstay.

Ania was still in an online meeting so we got a bottle of wine and started without her. When she arrived she brought yesterday’s spare wine and then Veronika came over to say she was already sat at a table in the dark with Annette and Sonya but they had already eaten. I decided to have duck a l’orange with rice and vegetables for my dinner, hoping my stomach could handle it and it was so good. Annette came to join us for a bit of wine and some girly chat before going to bed and we ended up drinking until gone 9.30pm again! It was a good night, less wine than usual and no shots this time so we would be ready for a full day tomorrow! My bill came to 610,000vnd (£19) as the duck dish is one of the pricier choices but I felt fine after eating it and I really enjoyed it.
Back in England today was the day that more relaxing of the lockdown rules took place and people were allowed to have 6 people in a garden without masks – it made no sense to me, as I couldn’t understand the rationale or timing, but a lot of my friends back home were going to be taking advantage of this new freedom. I read that the beer gardens in England would be opening next month so that socialising could begin again.

Phong Nha – 29th March

Phong Nha – 29th March

The tannoy this morning felt like someone had given it a service or turned the volume back up at 5.30am on Monday 29th March. Captain Caveman was on day 2 of his Son Doong tour, Tatas was on day 4 of her Son Doong tour and Hamish was about to do the Tu Lan Wild Cave 3 day trip, now that he had fully recovered from his hospital visit. For breakfast I ate the leftover spring rolls with some salad and I noticed the kitchen floor was soaking wet, like it had just been mopped – but it hadn’t and it was very damp. The humidity was horrendous so I opened all the doors and put the fan on but it made no difference. The floor was difficult to walk on as I took the laundry to the housekeeping room and noticed that even the floor outside was moist.
It was a very hot day as I ate my leftover Sunday dinner for lunch and arranged to meet the girls later at the Phong Nha Farmstay. Hamish had asked me to take Ania under my wing and make sure she wasn’t bored, or missing him too much, while he was gone for the next 3 days. When I got to the Farmstay I shared a table with Ania, Annette and Sonya, ordered a bottle of red wine and the beef in bamboo for dinner. Ania had banh xeo which always looks so good while Sonya tried the amazing chocolate fondant with icecream for her dessert.
The night was young so we ordered another bottle of wine but before we knew it the 9.30pm closing time was here so we paid, I requested my lift home and Ania took the remaining wine to her room to bring back out for tomorrow. It was a good night, no wild Margarita Monday for us, instead quite relaxed and I really enjoyed it Ania and I had decided to cycle to The Villas restaurant tomorrow where we would have lunch and then cycle back – I wasn’t looking forward to the journey but I needed the exercise!

Phong Nha – 28th March

It was an early start, the 5.30am tannoy blaring out, and I had a slight hangover, on Sunday 28th March. Captain Caveman was off to Son Doong but still had time to make me bacon and mushrooms for breakfast in bed. After Captain Caveman had said goodbye and left for Phong Nha I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t so I checked the news to see there was a report of a Phu Quoc Corona risk – more info here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210328/vietnam-s-phu-quoc-island-grapples-to-prevent-covid19-threats-from-border-jumpers/60015.html
I went to the Phong Nha Farmstay as Bluey needed to be retrieved after I had left her there over night. I had a second breakfast of pho bo and bumped in to Annette, Sonya, Ania and Hamish, some of who were hung over too. I stayed for a lunch of fried veggie spring rolls and an orange juice which resulted in stomach pains and a few visits to the toilet half way through, so had to take leftovers home with me. There was definitely something odd going on with my stomach which couldn’t be gluten or dairy related and I was beginning to wonder if I was allergic to booze! I eventually left the Farmstay to cycle the short route back home in 9 minutes 6 seconds, having agreed that white wine and tequila is not a good combo and to meet back tonight for Sunday dinner.
I had to have an afternoon sleep because I was feeling fragile so when I made it back the the Farmstay, Veronika had already almost finished her meal, Annette and Sonya were just about to start, Hamish and Ania didn’t make it out for dinner. We were sat at the darkest table and so I only ate a bit of mine and took the rest home, along with a piece of frozen cheesecake. I’d spent a total of 460,000vnd (£14.26) for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a glass of house wine.

Phong Nha – 27th March

Phong Nha – 27th March

Captain Caveman was up early and off to Phong Nha, by bicycle, on Saturday 27th March while I got busy doing stuff. We had a plan to meet up at the Lake House before 1pm as Captain Caveman had a friend arriving from Saigon, who was staying there. There was also a returning Farmstay customer and friend, Annette, arriving on the same flight for her third stay and we would be meeting her and her friend later. If I didn’t hear from Captain Caveman by noon my instructions were to set off cycling on Bluey, up the hill. I was almost ready to go when Captain Caveman arrived and decided to make himself a peanut butter sandwich before going for lunch. It took me a little over 9 mins to get there, which included about 2 minutes of walking when it got to the steep part and I had to get off and push Bluey.
Captain Caveman tried to order a shandy but they had ran out of beer so he had 7up and I had soda water. We were getting hungry so ended up ordering lunch – a sweet and sour chicken for me and a steak sandwich for him. The food came, and was really tasty, Tony returned and joined us for a chat, then David and his family arrived. It was a nice afternoon until I had to cycle on to the Phong Nha Farmstay, I found it a bit hilly in parts and difficult to navigate the turn off of the main road. The whole journey was just over 18 minutes and I was pleased to have made it there in one piece, so I celebrated with a cider!

Annette and her friend, Sonya, were both happy to be away from work and the hectic pace of their life in Saigon. We sat at a table by the pool and rice paddies at the Farmstay and Veronika joined us briefly while still supervising the grandkids. Matty joined us while Captain Caveman was still there, followed by Hamish and Ania. I decided to leave my bicycle at the Farmstay and ended up drinking lots of white wine and some tequila shots while Captain Caveman was at his briefing. For dinner I ordered chicken with fried rice which was really good, Hamish ordered spring rolls but didn’t eat any of them as he was too busy with the wine. Ania ordered a veggie curry and helped Hamish out as she ate some of the spring rolls still in front of him. All seemed to be going well and everyone was having a good time as we kept on getting more white wine. Annette even got in the pool fully clothed – twice! Captain Caveman rejoined us, he had cycled back from Oxalis and was sober so had a shot and some white wine. The last thing I remember of the evening was me following Captain Caveman home in the rascal with Duyet, as he cycled back. I remembered to put my phone on the Do Not Disturb mode before going to sleep and the alarm was set for early the next morning.

Photo credit – Captain Caveman

Phong Nha – 26th March

Phong Nha – 26th March

After only 6 hours of sleep the tannoy woke me up at 5.30am on Friday 26th March. I caught up on another one of Heather’s Untangled by Tingle decluttering challenges which was an easy one for me. Sorting out spices is something that would have taken me longer back in England but here, the humidity means even salt doesn’t keep long so we don’t store much of anything, mainly black pepper corns which are produced locally. Here’s the Facebook group for anyone interested in finding out more:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/springclearing2021/?ref=share
I didn’t bother with any breakfast, Captain Caveman, who had stayed at the Glass House last night, was too hungover to come home just yet and seemed to be in a bit of a tangle.
In the news it mentioned that Vietnam was looking to open up to tourists from July for 3 countries (Japan, S Korea, Taiwan), see more here:
https://vietnaminsider.vn/vietnam-will-receive-foreign-tourists-from-some-countries/
There were also some concerns in Vietnam that there could be the start of the next wave soon due to more border jumpers, which was still a problem, more info below:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210326/vietnam-confirms-2-new-coronavirus-infections-who-are-border-jumpers-from-cambodia/59975.html
Interestingly, there wasn’t too much information about it, but the first commercial flights in Vietnam restarted today, read more here:
https://e.vnexpress.net/news/business/companies/vietnam-airlines-resumes-international-commercial-flights-4254235.html
Captain Caveman recovered just enough to send me his work schedule from 1st April onwards. We were hoping to have a couple of trips away in April but he did have 5 Son Doong tours to do, and I had the same issue with passport being submitted for most of the time, so we would see how that worked out. He was still in a mess when he returned about 4pm and got straight in to bed for a nap before pizza night.
Ben called to check we were outside waiting for the car pick up which was leaving the Farmstay at 6pm and we went outside where I spoke to Duyet to say we were going for pizza night. He said to wait 10 minutes so we thought that Ben and the bus were coming for us. He left in a car and returned 15 minutes later with Matty, who had come back from Saigon this afternoon, in the passenger seat, then took us to The Villas, where everyone else were already sat and had ordered drinks. Hamish and Ania were at the far end of the long outdoor table, opposite a new Farmstay couple, next to them were Karl and Sue, new long term Farmstay customers who were from England. Then there was Veronika and Ben opposite them, I sat next to Ben, Captain Caveman sat opposite me with Matty sat next to Captain Caveman. Hamish, who we were too far away to chat to, came to have a tequila shot with me and Captain Caveman but ended up doing 2 because of the fragile state Captain Caveman was in. This was the first time Captain Caveman and Hamish had met apart from when they bumped in to each other on their Son Doong and Hang En trips. Captain Caveman drank 2 litres of water and ate 9 slices of pizza and I only managed 7 slices and a soft drink. Unfortunately the Croatian couple had left already to Saigon so Captain Caveman wearing his Croation football shirt had been wasted and I was sorry he didn’t get to meet them. The pizzas were great, as always, I realised I’d not missed a pizza night in a long while and was getting to be an expert on which pizza had what toppings. As Ben had left his seat free, Hamish sat down for a chat with Captain Caveman until we came to leave. A fragile Captain Caveman was so glad to be back home and in bed that I’m sure he started to snore before he even lay down! As neither of us had drank tonight we only spent 300,000vnd (£9.30) which was great, but we had a hectic Saturday planned.

Photo credit – The Villas restaurant

Phong Nha – 24th & 25th March

Phong Nha – 24th & 25th March

The first thing I did on Wednesday 24th March was listen to a live chat from Untangled by Tingle on her second decluttering task – pens and pencils. I remember back in Sheffield I had loads of both, but here I have 1 pen which I keep with my notebook and a pencil for my diary (there’s no point having pen for diary events these days). I also have a spare pen and pencil in the bedroom so that was an easy challenge for me. For breakfast I decided to indulge in some sausages which are from Hue and are meant to be gluten free but they made me so ill that I had to go back to bed. I really hoped the after effects wouldn’t last long because we had arranged for Tatas to come over to mine and we were meeting Hamish, Ania, Matija and Daria at the Phong Nha Farmstay later for drinks and dinner. Tatas had just arrived when Veronika came back from the Farmstay, a bit frazzled after looking after the grandkids. She had a bottle of white wine in the fridge which she had been unable to open and was insistent we had some with her. We invited her to come to the Farmstay too but she was really looking forward to having a quiet night in for a change.
Tatas and I arrived at Phong Nha Farmstay before 6pm and everyone arrived ready for a good night, sat by the pool. Hamish and Ania had just arrived back from Danang and so they were celebrating being back in Phong Nha. Tatas and I started with a margarita each then we shared a bottle of red wine while Hamish and Tatas encouraged a few tequilas for everyone (sambuca for Ania). We ate food, had a good laugh and got a bit merry, Matija has a particular sense of humour that had us all laughing until our cheeks hurt and when Daria got out the rice wine which smells of farts we knew we may have gone too far!
The bar closes at 9.30pm at the Farmstay and we were still there, the only ones drinking at 9.45pm, so I put another bottle of red wine on my tab, and took it home. Duyet came to get us and we said goodbye with a plan to see everyone again tomorrow night. Tatas was staying at mine and we had more wine to drink because it was my mom’s birthday and we were going to call her. My mom was celebrating her second birthday in lockdown and it made me feel bad that she couldn’t even go out for a meal or drinks, while here in Vietnam we were so lucky to have our freedom.
I decided we should invite Duyet in for a glass of wine and we were all going to sing Happy Birthday to my mom via Facebook video call. I bet my mom was really pleased that we were celebrating more than she would be! We never thought about how much noise we were making and that poor Veronika had been looking forward to her early night. Tatas decided she was going to bed so Duyet left and we didn’t finish all of the wine.

I was so hung over on Thursday 25th March and if Tatas hadn’t have been staying at mine I would not have got up for breakfast at the Phong Nha Farmstay with Hamish and Ania. I ordered Pho Bo but couldn’t eat it and when I paid my bill I had the bottle of wine from last night on there too! I went back to bed after I got home and didn’t get up for lunch until 4pm, eating the left over shepherd’s pie from Tuesday. I did another of the Untangled by Tingle decluttering challenges which was an appropriate one – medication/first aid kit. It took me just a few minutes and I needed a paracetamol anyway for my sore head. When I messaged Veronika to apologise for being so noisy she surprisingly had not heard the renditions of Happy Birthday and things were all good. 
The Croatian couple (Matija and Daria), Hamish, Ania and Tatas were alcohol animals and had arranged to go to Momma D’s that night but I was too old to keep up with them all and declined. I had hoped for an early night but there was a wedding a few doors away and so the karaoke got progressively louder and worse until the crescendo at midnight. I was grateful that it stopped and to have spent only 500,000vnd (£15.50) today, 430,000 of it was last night’s wine! I was a bit disappointed that March should have been my month to get a bit fitter and thinner – I was running out of time!

Phong Nha – 22nd & 23rd March

Phong Nha – 22nd & 23rd March

Captain Caveman went off to Son Doong early on Monday 22nd March while I had buttered toast for breakfast and got on with some work from my To Do List. For lunch I ate some Banh Ep rice crackers and drank jasmine tea. It was the one month anniversary of Margarita Monday and I had got a message from Luc to ask if I was going, I wasn’t going to bother since we had drank a few impromptu ones the day before, but if Luc was up for it, I was. I tried to get a car to take me to The Villas and also to take me to the Glass House to retrieve my bag but the rascal was at the garage being fixed and there was no shuttle service available. Instead of The Villas, I went to the Farmstay and ate Aussie meat pie, chips and gravy which then made me have a dodgy tum (it must be gluten)! I’d spent 140,000vnd (£4.34) on my dinner and I was grateful for a quiet day.

I managed to sleep in until 8am on Tuesday 23rd March and was ecstatic about that. At 9.30am I went to the Glass House to get my bag back and the shopping. It was the first day of a friend’s challenge on Facebook for decluttering in which the task was sorting socks. Seeing as I’d just picked up more socks I checked them all and resorted them before getting carried away and doing my knickers too. I had buttered toast for breakfast, with a mango and a kiwi fruit I’d brought back from the Vinpearl Hotel. I was left with a big guava, which I chopped up and took outside for Duyet and the girls to have. Because it was shepherd’s pie night and I’d put my pre-order for one in, I just had dates and walnuts for a lunch/snack.
At the Farmstay that evening I got chatting to some English guests and it had got a bit chilly again so we sat by the fire, also with Veronika, who had lent one of the ladies some warm clothes. I treated myself to a glass of wine with my shepherd’s pie and vegetables but couldn’t eat all my meal and took half home. My stomach was fine again, I was glad to be feeling ok for a change and had only spent 235,000vnd (£7.50).

Phong Nha and Dong Hoi – the 3rd weekend of March

Phong Nha and Dong Hoi – the 3rd weekend of March

There’s often a change of plan where Captain Caveman’s plans are concerned and so it was no surprise that he had decided to get an overnight train to Dong Hoi on the evening of Saturday 20th March. I decided that I would go to Dong Hoi to get some shopping in and have a nice rest. I asked Mik, Kendra and Bryan if I could get a ride with them when they went to the train station and they agreed and we arranged for me to join them for lunch at Phong Nha Farmstay before our departure. I had soda water and the beef in bamboo with steamed rice and vegetables (a firm favourite), Kendra had the banh xeo, Bryan the pork clay pot and Mik a rather tasty looking cheese and ham toasty which I had food envy over. The men had beers, Kendra had vodka and soda and I had a couple of Magner’s – well, I was almost on a holiday within a holiday.

Our driver arrived at Dong Hoi train station just before 4.30pm on Saturday 20th March and I said farewell to Mik, Kendra and Bryan. I arrived at the Vinpearl Hotel where I had booked for 1 night, the receptionist checked me in while another member of staff gave me a welcome drink and a temperature check. I couldn’t go to the room straight away though as I was waiting for Kimmie, my visa agent, to drop off my passport. It was very humid today and so my face was so sweaty from wearing the mask.
In the room I had my usual fruit plate which I had the apple of while I ran a bath. The room I had been given was on the 7th floor and had ropes hanging outside our window, perhaps for window cleaning – Captain Caveman would be interested in that, being a rope fan! One of the great things about the Vinpearl is they have good weighing scales and so I was able to get weighed. Amazingly, I was now 70kg so had lost 1kg and just needed to lose 3-5kg more to be considered normal weight instead of overweight. I’d brought my own bottle of Lindeman’s sparkling white wine which was now warm and the fridge was not particularly cold. I decided to go healthy(ish) for dinner and had pumpkin soup, vegetables with garlic, spring rolls and steamed rice – a feast! I couldn’t finish all the fizz so I popped a teaspoon in the bottle and left it in the fridge for tomorrow. The room had cost £24 via Agoda, including breakfast and I spent 500,000vnd (£15.50) on room service. I was grateful to be having a break away and to have my passport back so that I could perhaps have a trip to Saigon  with Captain Caveman.
While I was sleeping in a comfy bed, Captain Caveman was on the overnight train from Hanoi which would arrive in Dong Hoi at 5.30am, I’d left him a key at reception so he could get in and would be able to join me for the buffet breakfast.

Captain Caveman arrived just before 6am on Sunday 21st March but the concierge wouldn’t give him a key to the hotel room. Instead, they came with him to escort Captain Caveman and let him in, thus waking me up. As I expected he was excited to see the ropes outside the windows and we wondered if we would see the window cleaners in action. The buffet breakfast awaited us and even the staff remembered me and asked about my leg, which was nice. Captain Caveman started us off with the pho ga each and then I moved on to fruit, then croissants each, an omelette for him, a bacon sandwich, a pancake and a waffle for me but I avoided the cheese and had no dairy, just gluten! I was fine and when we got back to the room the plan was to go shopping but we didn’t have much time before our taxi was arriving. We also had half of the bottle of Lindemans to drink so Captain Caveman knocked up a couple of mimosas at 10am! We also got to see the ropes being used as 2 window cleaners shimmied down to clean outside our room and we watched, waved and took photos while Captain Caveman observed the safety of their equipment – one of the workers dropped his cloth!
While I packed (he hadn’t unpacked) Captain Caveman nipped to the shop to get me coconut cream and mushrooms, he also bought gherkins but they had chillies in. I took the rest of the fruit home and when I came to check out, the food bill was given a 30% off, which was great.

Our next stop was Tree Hugger where Captain Caveman had iced black coffe and a smoothie, I had a Tree Hugger hot tea. We weren’t hungry after such a big breakfast and so we just chilled out for a bit. I read in the news that there was a possibility of Vietnam working with vaccine passports in the future – see below link:
https://en.thesaigontimes.vn/tinbaichitiet/81055/
By 1pm we could manage a lunch so Captain Caveman went for his favourite, egg salad sandwich, while I chanced a ham and cheese toastie. The car arrived at 2pm, as arranged, and there was already an Oxalis customer in it who was going to Chay Lap before her tour the next day. I felt absolutely fine until just less than 5 minutes in to the journey when I got the excruciating stomach pain, hot sweats and a desperate need to go! Captain Caveman was not amused as we headed for the train station squat toilets which I had real trouble with because of my injured leg, I still can’t squat! Actually, I got down fine, it was the getting back up which was tricky and painful. We deduced it had to be the cheese that had affected me and, after apologising to the customer and driver, we were on our way back to Phong Nha with no further issues and a pretty ‘cheesed off’ Captain Caveman!

By the time we arrived in Phong Nha on Sunday 21st March, Captain Caveman didn’t have too much time before his next Son Doong briefing. He dropped me off at The Villas so that he could go to the Glass House, unpack and repack his bags for his next tour tomorrow and then cycle back down to meet me. I made the mistake of letting him take my bag too because we had thought we might stay at the Glass House that night.
Captain Caveman came to The Villas before I’d drank my cup of tea and he ordered a beer and he asked if I’d let Tatas know we were there and that maybe she might want to join me for a margarita. Luc, a friend who was leaving to go to work in Malaysia on Friday and who had missed last week’s pizza night had said he might stop by to say farewell when I last spoke to him but he didn’t make it. Tatas came and we had a couple of margaritas while Captain Caveman went to his briefing, then she ordered french fries and I asked for the confit duck leg without chillies but I got it with chillies in the lentils so I just ate the duck, which was very tasty. Captain Caveman came back from Oxalis Home and I told him I had decided I wasn’t staying at the Glass House as it made sense for me to go home with Ben, who had kindly offered a lift back to Elements. Captain Caveman decided to come home too, so after another margarita, we left with Ben late and I completely forgot that my bag was still at the Glass House.