My first full day in Phong Nha on Friday 10th June was a little surprising. It was before 6am when Captain Caveman was up, packing and rustling about with the laundry bag and getting something that he needed sewing. I said goodbye to him as he went off to work on his first trip of several this month. Unfortunately, the time off I’d hoped he might have in June, was not as much as I had anticipated. I started to realise I would be spending a fair bit of time in Phong Nha without him, for the rest of this month. It was a cloudy day but still too hot for me to cycle the 10km in to town. I went to see Bluey but Captain Caveman had left the seat too high for me and I couldn’t free the leaver to change it.
I put some of my stuff in the bathroom, where there was some space for me to use. I sent my passport to the Phong Nha Farmstay receptionist to register me as staying there, as the villa we are staying in is in their private villa portfolio, ideal for longer term stays where you want a home from home. It was nice to see the Elements Collection villa in the daylight again and it did look really lovely in the bright sunshine.
For lunch I cooked half the defrosted pulled pork and put the rest back in the fridge for a second meal. I didn’t even get half way through my food before I had a bad reaction, it had chillies in it! I rested up, mostly in the bathroom or drinking water until I started to feel better. Later in the afternoon, I got my swimmers on and had a bit of a dip. The pool was as warm as bath water so I only did about 20 lengths before getting out for a lay on the sunbed in the shade.
Just as I had resigned myself to having a very sedate weekend I was invited for a lift to a night out. Ben and Bich, the owners of the Phong Nha Farmstay, were back from their Australia visit and had relaunched the infamous all you can eat pizza night, from 6.30pm to 8pm this evening at The Villas restaurant! I was up for that and was looking forward to not having to eat 2 portions of spicy pulled pork in the same day. I sat outside while waiting for my lift with Bich, which gave me time to sit and admire the matured gardens, getting bit by mozzies at dusk. I watched the staff saturate the garden with a hose and wondered why all the Christmas decorations, including a 5ft tree, were still up.

When I arrived at The Villas restaurant I was so happy to see lots of people I hadn’t seen in ages, some since before the pandemic had started. Ben, Bich and the boys were excited to be back in Phong Nha and we were all delighted that international tourism was back in Vietnam. Stu was with his kids and a friend, who I had met once before. Next to them was a guy who said hello but I didn’t know him, I would get to meet him again. At a table up the steps was Hanh who sat with her son, some female friends and Drifter. I said hello to all of them but Kat and Dung were already waiting for me to go join them by the river. After welcoming hugs we ordered margarita cocktails (50% off on pizza night) and sat down. Dung used to be my boss when I worked at Jungle Boss and it was great to catch up after so long! I was pleased to see Kat, a really smart American girl with great hair, who I had become friends with during the pandemic. Her boyfriend, also a friend of mine, is a cave guide for Jungle Boss so she and I had automatically formed a cave widow appreciate group (aka CWAGs, formerly Cavers Wives and Girlfriends). We joined a table with Leo, who I am good friends with and worked with at JB, and his girlfriend Su, the new manager of the Sales team. All the staff were still there and it was good to see them again, they looked like they were happy to see Phong Nha welcoming back more people and were ready to see some busy weeks and months ahead, hopefully. We had a great laugh and I had about 8 pieces of pizza and 3 margaritas. It was only day 1 and, so far, I had spent 160,000vnd (£5.76) on the pizza and 225,000 (£8.10) on the cocktails. Bich was giving me a lift back so I had to leave my friends, which was a shame because I was just getting in to the swing of it. I was invited to the Jungle Boss event tomorrow night where they were having live music and a mobile bar in the town centre.
I was home and in bed before 10pm, feeling very full and happy to have seen quite a lot of my Phong Nha friends tonight. I was so distracted that I forgot to take any photos of my own, I’d have to go again next week and try harder!

Photo credit – Victory Road Villas, The Villas restaurant, Hanh, Dung.

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