Monday 1st August was Yorkshire Day and I hoped all my Yorkshire friends and family were having a nice day. My Yorkshire Day was definitely not ‘Yorkshire’ in any way, I didn’t even have my usual Yorkshire tea in the morning. I had fruit for breakfast; pineapple and Dragon fruit which are amongst my favourite fruits, with yellow kiwi fruit. Hien, the owner of Elements Collection had given us 3 yellow kiwi fruits which are a lot sweeter than the green ones and I really enjoyed them. I heard from Anna and Katie, the Irish girls, who I had met on the Lynn Visa trip to the Lao Bao border last Wednesday. They had arrived in Phong Nha and had checked in to Tuan Garden House, we said we would meet up during their stay and I sent them a few recommendations for while they were in town. It was extremely hot so I had a pool afternoon and chilled out a little bit. It was just after 3pm when the rain came so I had to get out and shut all the open doors. The rain was great and started to cool the air a lot, it did mean that the plan for Andrea to cycle down to Elements wouldn’t go ahead. As I was going in the spare room to get my clothes, one of the housekeeping staff were in there ‘borrowing’ the remaining 4 pillows. We made each other jump and I think she asked if it was ok to take the pillows. I shrugged and said ‘ok’ as I thought she needed them for some new arrivals. I’d seen a big group of Vietnamese girls arrive earlier. With Bich’s story before of the bedding woman in Dong Hoi and now the rain, they were obviously short on pillows. While Captain Caveman was away I was unlikely to need them and said I had enough in my room for sleeping. The big group’s arrival had also meant that there was a bit of a shortage of someone to take me to the Farmstay for happy hour and there was no jeep. After waiting 15 minutes, Duyet arrived and drove me, in someone’s fancy car, and I got there in time for 2 for 1 rum and cokes for me, gin and tonics for Andrea, Nick and Lottie.
Despite the rain showers, we got to see a bit of a sunset and I even remembered to take some photos this evening. Some mates of Ben and Bich’s were here and the men were all wearing their matching shirts as they talked about motorbike trips at the bar. Tonight was Andrea, Nick and Lottie’s last night so we gave the ball a right old kick, starting with an everlasting game of pool and finishing with great food and wine. I had the chicken and cashew nuts with steamed rice, Andrea ordered the Banh Xeo which is a rice flour pancake with seafood. Nick had Nem Lui which is pork on lemon grass skewers served with rice paper rolls, veggies and rice noodles, Lottie had the veggie curry with steamed rice. There was also some fresh spring rolls as a starter which were shared. All of the food came out hot and tasted delicious, we had a few more drinks but found the martinis were a bit out of kilter on the measures. They were still drinkable (just) but I offered to show Sau, the waitress, how to make a better martini later in the week. We finished the night with beers and so many funny stories from Nick – they had all been great company. I called Duyet to take me home at just after 10pm, which is late for the Farmstay. I got in the jeep with a beer still in my hand and I finished it when I got home.
Of course we were awake extremely early on Sunday 31st July, Captain Caveman was going in to the cave for another 4 days. This time when he got out, he would have 5 days off, which was amazing! I didn’t have breakfast with Captain Caveman as I wasn’t too hungry and went back to sleep for an hour after he said bye. I had a late breakfast of fruit and toasted teacake loaf and I spent most of the day by the pool, or swimming. I messaged Tony, from the Lake House, to see if we could arrange to go there for dinner and wine with him, Tham, Andrea and family. I was surprised at the response as he and the family were at the airport and were off back to Australia for a bit – we’d not even had chance to say goodbye. For lunch I had chicken with steamed rice, lettuce and gherkins which was healthy and tasty. Andrea, Nick and Lottie had gone to explore Phong Nha cave and then walked to Victory Road Villas for a cooling swim in the pool. I got a car at 6pm to meet them and it cost 200,000vnd (£7.20)from Elements to The Villas, which is just over 10km away, where the 4 of us would dine this evening. Again, we were too busy chatting for me to remember to take any photos but we all ordered a pizza and shared. I ordered The Showstopper, Andrea the Momma D, Nick chose a Classic and Lottie the Vegetarian – a great mix. Cameron, the consultant chef, was there and I introduced him to my friends. He joined us for a chat and was very welcoming and friendly, he gave us a complimentary new salad to try which was delicious. We had a few margaritas each, then a couple of bottles of red wine between us. The pizzas went down well but I had a couple of slices left which I had to take home. Cameron came to see how we were doing and asked if we would try the new brownie. We didn’t want to let him down and I’m glad we said yes as it was delicious.
While I stayed in bed with a hangover on Saturday 30th July, Captain Caveman was off to Phong Nha. He went to see Darren off at Oxalis and go to the phone shop to get their Vietnamese phones to work abroad. I managed to finish lesson 17 of my Turkish homework and was also doing a bit on Duolingo for practice. When Captain Caveman got back he was delighted with the discovery that texting CVQT to 138 enabled the abroad function, on his phone, which meant he could get OTP codes whilst in Turkey. He made us bacon sandwiches for brunch, which turned out to be breakfast. For lunch we had a chicken sandwich which was very nice, then Captain Caveman had to go back to work. His Oxalis briefing was at 6pm and would last an hour or so because he wasn’t eating with the group on this tour. Our friend, Andrea, was due to arrive at Phong Nha Farmstay at 8pm with her son and his girlfriend. Captain Caveman and I had arranged to meet them there for drinks. I had 2 slices of buttered teacake loaf to line my stomach, as I knew we might have a few drinks. When Captain Caveman returned we got invited to Khanh’s (one of the owners of Elements Collection) birthday drinks in the garage area, with all the Elements Collection staff, family and friends, including Ben & Bich. There was food but I was already full and found it easy to turn down a dunk in the blood soup dip. We got a lift up to the Farmstay, Andrea was delayed so Ben had informed the kitchen to stay open, which was nice. By almost 9pm Captain Caveman was peckish and ordered a pizza to share, Andrea submitted their orders via email while in the car from Dong Hoi airport. As we were waiting for our friends to arrive, Bich told me a funny story (she has loads of them) which was actually pretty tragic. The bedding woman in Dong Hoi had been threatened by gangsters, because her son is a gambling addict and they wanted money. That’s the short version, but it meant the bedding shop, where Bich buys all the bedding from, was no more and she was concerned where she would be able to buy bedding for her accommodation from now on. Could this be the reason our pillows had gone missing? Just as Andrea and her family were arriving a massive downpour came and the staff went to greet them in raincoats and with umbrellas. They didn’t bother checking in and came straight to the bar (our kind of friends) to meet us. Andrea introduced us to her son, Nick, and his girlfriend, Lottie, both of whom seemed lovely and I liked them straight away. We’d already polished off most of our pizza but it wasn’t long until everyone got there food and we shared some wine. We were so busy catching up that I completely forgot to take any photos but we had a great evening. Captain Caveman was going in to Son Doong tomorrow so wouldn’t get to see our friends after tonight but I agreed to meet up with them during their 3 night stay.
Friday 29th July was a very long but great day! The loudspeaker outside our home was back with a vengeance, on loud at 5.15am, and was playing dramatic music. I went out in to the living area to see if I could see any kind of reason why it may be on, but found no clues. There was a lovely sunrise and I went in to the spare room to have a closer look. Oddly, 2 medium sized pillows had been removed from the spare bed but I wasn’t sure why and could only deduce that the housekeeping staff had ‘borrowed’ them. Captain Caveman had his medical in Dong Hoi in the morning, hence why we had returned home when we did. He drove over to Oxalis, where he was told he would be leaving by car at 8am. Obviously this is Vietnam, where things rarely happen when they should, so by 10am he was on his way back home. No one had thought to let Captain Caveman know, but the trip to Dong Hoi had been moved to 1pm instead. He didn’t seem too cheesed off by that, I’d have been annoyed. As it was Friday I took my measurements and was pleasantly surprised; Bust no change, Waist -3cm, Hips -2cm, Right Thigh -0.5cm, Left Thigh no change, Right calf -1.5cm, Left calf -1cm. It did mean that I was back to having a difference in my good and bad leg measurements but only by 0.5cm. Even more shocking was that The Villas’ Friday Pizza Night was cancelled for this evening, we were looking forward to going but they were on hold for the time being. When Captain Caveman got back home we had an early lunch of chicken and vegetables. The car was due to pick Captain Caveman up at 1pm from Elements to drive to Dong Hoi. I got on with some Turkish practice while he was gone but the heat was making it difficult to concentrate, the AC was struggling to keep the room cool too – it was 35.5°C when it was set to 26°C! Captain Caveman did his medical and then got to call at the supermarket. When he got back he had some much needed provisions and I was pleased he would have more time off in August to eat food at home. What I didn’t realise, though, was that I had just 20 minutes to get ready because we were off to a party!
Darren, another cave expert with Oxalis, was leaving and we had both been invited to his farewell party at Oxalis Home, on Friday 29th July. Captain Caveman and Darren do the same job and get along very well. He was planning on being back in Phong Nha to work again from April but I was concerned this would mean Captain Caveman would be very busy in February and March of 2023, when he wanted me to be back in Phong Nha! Captain Caveman was the designated driver so we agreed he could have a couple of shandies and I could have a few more. We got there a little bit after the start time of 6pm and Captain Caveman was miffed that it took me too long to get ready. There were quite a few friends and colleagues who I knew and Oxalis had put on a lovely spread with lots of different dishes. I particularly enjoyed the homemade chips, eggplant with soy sauce & garlic plus the barbecue pork. Everyone was going to miss Darren and I think he had a good send off. We said our goodbyes and went home on Trigger, thinking that was the end of the evening. Just before 9pm Captain Caveman was in the pool with a beer and 10 minutes later I was in there too. We had a right old lark about but by 11.30pm we were drying off and enjoying a Ron Zacapa rum, one of my absolute favourite rums.
We were awake early, in Hue, on Thursday 28th July and still had a lot to pack in to our morning. The Purple Hue Homestay bed had been super comfy and it had been a nice 1 night stay for us. After packing our bags, ready for check out later, at noon, we went out for breakfast. It was unbearably hot in Hue and the sun and UV were so strong. Captain Caveman had decided on The Nook Eatery, where he’d been before, and it was lovely. The waitress was friendly and really sweet, with good English, she even gave us a card with some key Vietnamese phrases on and asked us to say them with her. Captain Caveman ordered a bacon, egg and tomato muffin and I went for a full fry up. I had a pot of earl grey tea and a juice, Captain Caveman had coffee and also juice. The food was very good and we enjoyed our breakfast. I gave Captain Caveman my sausage as I was full and didn’t want to be having a reaction on the long journey back.
Our next stop was to a coffee shop which Captain Caveman had been to before for salted caramel coffee, called Tan cafe. As soon as we walked in I had an overwhelming urge to get out; it was hot, smokey and stuffy and the smell of coffee was overpowering. I sat down, ordered a lemon juice and Captain Caveman ordered his salted caramel coffee. He messaged friends Vu and Ngoc to meet up and then we had to move tables as I was too hot. On the next table I started coughing, constantly and I felt like I needed to leave. Captain Caveman was disappointed and couldn’t understand what was wrong with me but he called me a taxi and off I went back to the homestay. As soon as I got outside I stopped coughing and felt so much better. I hate cigarette smoke anyway, but because I’m not used to it, I was coughing a lot. The taxi dropped me off somewhere near the homestay but it wasn’t obvious where, so Captain Caveman had to direct me to it over the phone. He had a great time and more salted caramel coffees with Vu, Ngoc and their daughter at Tan cafe and was back to check out, just before noon.
Captain Caveman had decided we would go to a cafe near to the train station where we could have another drink and wait until our train at 1.50pm. We got a taxi from Purple Hue Homestay to Mémoire Café, which was really lovely. It was open air so the heat was still an issue but there were lots of fans and we sat in the shaded area. The staff had been trained to be super polite and professional and kept themselves busy. On display was a violin and a cute canary, who was singing away. I ordered a drink which was one of the most unusual but refreshing cold drinks I’ve ever had and I couldn’t even tell you what was in it while Captain Caveman chose what he thought would be a simple orange juice but it came in a fancy bottle. We also got served and were topped up with complimentary water as we sat there for over an hour.
We walked to the train station which was just a few minutes away and were drenched in sweat by the time we got to the very full waiting room, where there were no seats left. There were 2 massage chairs available but if you sat on them the alarm went off so we stood and waited. The train got delayed but, by 2.30pm, we were on our way to Dong Hoi in our soft seats.
Aside from the guy across from us playing his phone loudly, which is now standard behaviour, the train journey was bearable. I messaged Maya at the Phong Nha Farmstay to let her know we were on our way back and I sent her a copy of my new visa stamp, for my last 30 days in Vietnam. When we arrived at Dong Hoi train station, it was the busiest I’d seen it for Western tourists, in a while. We even bumped in to Duyet who was herding tourists up the street and seemed very busy. Our Oxalis driver, Dung, was already waiting and I was glad it was him as I like his driving. When we got home, I unpacked my bag while Captain Caveman got on with making a Carbonara. We didn’t have much in stock but tomorrow Captain Caveman had to go to Dong Hoi for a medical and would call at the supermarket. It was just gone 9pm when we opened our last bottle of Primitivo red wine and ate our delicious dinner. The last 6 days, celebrating Captain Caveman’s birthday and me getting in and out of Vietnam, had been great fun but now it was time to have fun in Phong Nha for a bit.
I wasn’t too impressed when my alarm went off at 5am on Wednesday 27th July. I got ready quickly and made sure I had everything I needed. I had given Captain Caveman some of my stuff to make my bag a bit lighter but I made sure I had snacks, spare clothes, a travel towel and pillow. I hoped I would get some more sleep during the journey and was pleased we had paid 1,000,000vnd (£35) for the sleeper bus, rather than the 850,000vnd for the mini-van. I arrived at the Lynn Visa office, the Danang pick up point, in plenty of time and saw people getting in the mini-van. No one checked who I was or spoke to me but, as Lynn herself got in the mini-van, she shouted to a group of us that her husband was on his way. Within a few minutes Lynn’s husband was there, as well as a bright yellow bus. I was the second person to get on and I chose the second seat, bottom deck, behind the driver, hoping to avoid sunlight on the way there. The bus wasn’t full but there were still plenty enough passengers and I wondered how quiet it would be. By 5.50am I was comfortably reclined in my seat and as ready as I would ever be for the journey. The bus itself was comfortable, it wasn’t the spangly new blue bus depicted on the Lynn Visa Facebook page but it was no worse than the usual sleeper buses around. It could have done with a bit of a clean in between trips as there were bits of food on my window ledge but there was a blanket provided for each passenger and the AC was wonderfully cool. We were due to set off at 6am and we did so exactly on time, Mr Lynn Visa had us all check that we had our passports and that our visas matched the details on the passports. He didn’t check any of our names or count us so I wondered if anyone may have missed the bus if they were late. I had a little nap and then woke up at 7.20am for the toilet stop and to see we were almost half way to Hue. I let Captain Caveman know my progress and went back to the bus, remembering to remove my shoes (it is expected to take your shoes off on sleeper buses) then more napping. We didn’t stop at Hue to pick anyone else up so I wondered if that may have been the (logistical) reason to charge Captain Caveman so much for a drop off there on our way. By 9.40am we had another toilet break at a nice service station then were passing through Dong Ha, making good progress to be at the Lao Bao border before lunch.
At 11.30am we were minutes away from the border crossing when Mr Lynn Visa announced that we would be stopping for our lunch break. Now, I know we are in Vietnam and it is customary for Vietnamese people to eat lunch early, but I wasn’t bothered about a stop for lunch. Everyone got in the queue and it looked like a meal of chicken, rice, veggies and tofu was on offer but I can’t comment on the price or taste of it as I had a banana which I brought with me. I took advantage of a toilet break, which weren’t bad at the restaurant and they had soap. I got back on the bus before the others to find one of the passengers was noisily eating crisps so I had a cracker and a GF chocolate cookie. Once everyone was back on the bus, we drove 2 minutes and got off again. It was hot as we walked with our passports and visas to the immigration desks. I got chatting to a couple of passengers as we waited inside the main building, which was very hot. After about an hour, we were sent to exit Vietnam in small groups, once we had been stamped out of Vietnam and had our passports back. There was a bit of a wait and I was one of the last to do the walk in the hot sun to the Laos entry point. One of our group had bad legs and really struggled, plus the sun was relentless and no shade at all. The walk was only about 10 minutes but I wish I’d brought a hat and suncream as I felt my face burning.
As I walked in to the small immigration office on the Laos side, Lynn Visa was at the counter assisting people. We had to show our passport and give $45 in clean notes to the official. We also gave Lynn Visa 100,000vnd for the Vietnamese exit stamp. It was hot and there was a second fan which had the plug cut off. Everyone was extremely sweaty and there were not enough chairs for people to sit down while they waited. For those people who didn’t have their passport-sized photos, as requested by Lynn Visa, you could pay $5 to the immigration and they would take one for you. This would have probably been a cheaper option for me, given that I got a taxi to and from a photo shop to get mine, but sometimes it’s good to just be prepared and means we weren’t waiting as long. When I gave my dollars the $1 and $2 notes were not new, so they wouldn’t take them and I ended up giving a $50 note for my Laos visa. If you don’t have dollars or they aren’t in good enough condition, they will allow you to pay in Vietnamese Dong and Lynn Visa did inform me of this before the trip. After waiting a while, we were again given passports back in various batches and were told we could take the walk back to the Vietnam immigration point. We were also told a few times not to put any money with our passports or visa and, if asked, not to give any money and to say we were with Lynn Visa for the visa run. Again, I was one of the last and I got chatting to a couple of the other passengers. We noticed a golf buggy vehicle outside and discovered for 10,000vnd (£0.35) we could get a ride between the immigration points. Well, I was pretty surprised that we weren’t told about this, considering Lynn Visa does this trip once or twice per week. When we asked Lynn Visa about it, she said she hadn’t recommended it because her preference is to walk. A few of us got on the golf buggy and went back, shocked that the lady with the bad leg had struggled when she could have had transport so cheaply. Once back at the Vietnamese entry/exit point we had another wait for our entry stamp, the one which was going to allow us to stay in Vietnam until 26th August.
By 2.50pm I was finally through immigration and back on Vietnamese soil for another 30 days. I checked my passport and visa stamp to ensure they were correct then walked to the bus. I decided to go look for a place to get a cold drink and a toilet break and found a lovely cafe hidden behind a big lorry. It was clean and only 15,000vnd (£0.53) for a cold green tea. While I was there I saw 2 English passengers from our bus who had not been able to complete their visa run so they were going to be trying again tomorrow. It was not long after 3pm when we were all back on the bus, except for those 2 passengers, and heading back. Everyone but me and 2 Irish girls were going back to Danang, I’d asked Mr Lynn Visa if he knew where in Hue we would get dropped off, so that I could ask Captain Caveman to arrange a taxi for me. He said he didn’t know so when Lynn Visa herself got on our bus, to travel back with us, I checked with her. She said they weren’t able to drop off in Hue city but it would be near by. I couldn’t get the exact location from her but I explained I didn’t have access to Grab and wanted to arrange for my other half to sort out my lift. At 4.50pm we were back at the nice services again and making good progress to be back in Hue before 7pm. I asked again about the location of the drop off but I still didn’t get to find out where it was, just reassurance from Lynn Visa it would be as near to Hue as possible and there would be taxis available from there. At 5.40pm I let Captain Caveman know I was 28km away from where he was and looked like I would get dropped off shortly. Unfortunately, the bus suddenly stopped 22km away from Hue on the main road and dropped us off outside a phone shop at around 6pm. There was me and the 2 young Irish girls with all their luggage, I messaged Captain Caveman with our location and he would get us a taxi. There were 2 old guys on motorbikes telling us they could take us to Hue for 200,000vnd (£7) each and it would be about a 30 minute drive. They had no spare helmets and we had too much luggage between us so I politely said ‘no thank you’. Captain Caveman called me to say he was having trouble getting us a car and to go in to the shop to ask them to call a taxi, I could hardly hear what he was saying because of the noise of the busy road. None of us were too happy that we had been dropped off so far away, with no real plan of how to get to Hue but eventually Anna, one of the Irish girls, got us a Grab taxi and we went to their accomodation. It cost another 250,000vnd to get to the centre of Hue from where Lynn Visa chose to drop us off. None of us were expecting the extra expense but we were glad that there was 3 of us to share the cost. The motorbike drivers continued hassling us quite a bit and it was stressing me out.
Captain Caveman decided to get a taxi to come to meet me, and my new travel buddies, at Hue Backpackers. By 8pm we were in the bar having a (much needed) cold drink and laughing about the whole fiasco. I was definitely glad I had not been alone at the drop off point, somewhere not that near to Hue. We were also fortunate that it was still light and the weather was incredibly dry and hot. Captain Caveman and I were meant to be going out for dinner but I no longer had time to go back to our homestay to change and had to do so in the toilet of the restaurant. I was hot, sweaty, hungry and tired as we got to La Jardin de la Carambole and we finally got to eat (my first meal of the day) at 9pm. We both had the French onion soup to start and the duck for main and it was very enjoyable. We had a nice bottle of white wine and it was good to have done the visa run successfully, despite the 14 hours it took from start to finish. After our meal, we got a taxi to our accommodation, The Purple Hue Homestay, where we had a ground floor room with a separate bathroom outside of the room and adjoining the communal kitchen. The place was nice but I hadn’t brought pyjamas and the bath towels were not big enough for Western women to cover everything up at once. The shower was very good, with toiletries provided and it felt good to finally be clean again. The bed was comfy with great pillows and I was fast asleep in no time. Tomorrow we would go back to Phong Nha again, where we’d be until the end of August.
We had planned that Tuesday 26th July should be a no drinking day on account of the early start tomorrow. That was fortuitous because I was extremely hung over and I didn’t want to get out of bed. However, I had to get up because we had to go get my visa photos done and Captain Caveman was hungry. We got a Grab taxi to The Hummus House, Captain Caveman had found this place on Google maps and it didn’t disappoint. The owner was friendly and the place was spotlessly clean so we were expecting good food. Captain Caveman ordered a hummus plate and I ordered a falafel plate, both of which were excellent. The fresh pitta bread was very moreish and I loved the drizzle of tahini sauce on my falafel. I would definitely visit this place again and would recommend it if you’re ever in Danang.
Next, Captain Caveman suggested we go to the coffee shop across the road so he could have a double espresso. I had a hot ginger tea before we went on our next mission. We had been recommended (by Lynn Visa) a shop in Danang which charged 65,000vnd (£2.23) for 4 passport sized photos. Captain Caveman went off to find a pharmacy and a cash machine while I sorted my photos out. The lady even asked if I had something else to wear and the photographer messed with my hair. I looked like shit, they gave up on me after less than a minute and took the photos anyway. I was done in 5 minutes and we had to wait for a taxi to go back to the hotel.
Once back in the room, which we had turned in to a bit of a launderette, Captain Caveman got on with booking things for the next leg of our journey. He booked accommodation in Hue as well as a train for him to go from Danang to Hue tomorrow, after I had set off to Laos. Previously, I had asked Lynn Visa if Captain Caveman could get a lift on the same bus as me from Danang to drop him off at Hue. We were willing to pay but hadn’t agreed a fee so when she wanted 500,000vnd (£17.50), but it was only twice that to go all the way to Lao Bao border and back, we declined her kind offer. While all this was going on, I was getting constant messages on Instagram from a friend, Karen, who was on holiday in America so I thought it was odd. It turned out she had been hacked but the hacker was getting very annoying and I had to report and block them, plus get in touch with Karen. I popped to the shops to get some snacks for my trip tomorrow and saw a lovely shop, No Waste To Go, which promotes recycling and zero waste. I bought some gluten free chocolate cookies and some seed filled crackers, both of which were so tasty and fresh. The guy working there was lovely and really helpful and I wished we were in Danang longer to visit more.
My hangover had just about gone when it was time to have our last evening out in Danang with friends. We’d arranged to meet June and Steve, who live in Hoi An, at 7 Bridges Danang for drinks and food. As luck would have it Mik was riding his motorbike back to Danang and should arrive in time to join us too. When we arrived, Seamouse, our old Phong Nha housemate, was there as he’s the manager and he was having a meeting. It was lovely to meet up again with everyone and we had a few beers because they have a Tuesday offer on. We ordered food; I had a belly pork and pineapple pizza (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it) and the rest had mackerel. I went on to wine but they had run out of red so had rosé (I shouldn’t have). Lynn Visa was messaging me during dinner to tell me to email her my current and new visas so she could print spare copies for tomorrow. I already had spares and was a bit concerned she was asking for them so late. I hoped I wouldn’t regret doing the visa run tomorrow. In true fashion before a long journey, I ate a whole pizza, drank 4 beers and a couple of wines. It was gone 10.30pm when we said our goodbyes and got a taxi back to the hotel. The alarms were set for 5am tomorrow because I was off on a bus to Laos and back – I was dreading it!
Photo credit – 7 Bridges Danang Facebook page for some photos
On Monday 25th July we were up early and ready for adventure! Instead, we were about to embark on a bit of a mental Monday! I’d arranged for us to meet Caroline (who used to live in Phong Nha) at 9 Grains Bakery & Cafe in Hoi An, at 9.30am. She is now one of the 2 owners of it and they do great croissants so we decided we would meet her there for a civilised catch up. With our croissants I had a lovely pot of earl grey tea and Captain Caveman had a couple of espressos made with the freshly delivered Faifo Roastery coffee. The cafe soon filled up with expat families and Vietnamese groups and the AC was nice and cool. By about 11am Caroline had suggested we go to the beach but she needed to change, so we would go to her place, just around the corner. As we left, she gave me a bar of handmade coconut soap, which they make and sell in the cafe. My eczema had been playing up on my neck again so this would be good to use. Captain Caveman walked it, while I had a lift on Caroline’s Royal Enfield Himalayan motorbike.
When we arrived Vee, the dog, was barking and had a new friend, Bindi. The new friend was blind and was just here until she could go to her new home. Caroline’s new apartment was lovely and, once we had been given the tour round and got acquainted with the dogs, wine was ordered. We chatted loads and we took the piss out of each other, especially when we learned that Caroline had been the subject of a funny rumour. People had said that when she worked in the Australian Navy she had been a pastry chef, hence her now running a bakery – she wasn’t! Caroline made popcorn, well she is a chef, and we got through 2 bottles of wine with ice and soda before ordering more from the shop. Captain Caveman had arranged to meet up with some friends later but I was concerned we were getting a bit too merry to do that.
By 6pm Caroline had friends, Jake and Hawk, turn up and was almost setting fire to her own tea towel, while making more popcorn. I thought I’d met Jake before, he seemed familiar, but he said not. He then had to leave because he’d lost his wallet and his phone. Hawk, who we knew already, is a fitness instructor so didn’t have an alcoholic drink. Caroline can be a bit of a booze bully, a quality I like in a mate, so I continued on the white wine while her and Captain Caveman went on to beers. I took over making popcorn and I definitely shouldn’t have because Caroline had burned the pan already on the last lot and I almost set the towel on fire again. We were meant to be elsewhere at 5pm but at 6pm I was taking photos, still at Caroline’s place. I thought we left earlier but my camera said we were still there at 7.15pm so I think we may have upset Captain Caveman’s friends. We got a taxi and things were a bit hazy as to what happened for the next hour. I had wrongly assumed we had been back to the hotel to change to go out, but we didn’t.
By 8.45pm we were tucking in to starters of chicken livers wrapped in bacon and halloumi cheese, drinking a rather nice bottle of red wine and chatting to the restaurant owner. We were at Olivia’s Steak House in Danang, where Scott is the friendly owner of this place, as well as Dirty Fingers. For mains Captain Caveman and I both ordered an Australian steak which we had with macaroni cheese, asparagus, onions, cheesy jacket potato and pepper sauce. It was delicious and we both really enjoyed the food. The waitress was new and really lovely, she dealt with Captain Caveman well when he complained he didn’t get the drinking water quickly enough. After dinner it is customary at Olivia’s to be given a shot of ice cold chocolate vodka and this time was no different. We had to do it in 2 goes because we were already too drunk and I was trying to get a video of us doing the shots. When we called the Grab taxi and went out to get it, the car cancelled and was nowhere to be seen so Captain Caveman was cheesed off. In the end we paid 200,000vnd (£7) to go back to the hotel in one of those golf buggy type things. I was chuffed as I think they are cool and it stopped either of us risking being sick in a taxi. The whole of our Monday had been a tad mental, by the time I got in to bed I already knew tomorrow would hurt!
Sunday 24th July was the day that Captain Caveman and I had chosen to celebrate his 50th birthday, in style! We were booked in for the Sunday Champagne Brunch at Citron restaurant, part of the Intercontinental hotel in Danang. For those of you who have not experienced it, or heard about it before, the place is gorgeous and the food exquisite – we love it. For 3 hours it is an all you can eat buffet with free flow champagne, beer, wine, cocktails, water and soft drinks. The package we go for is 2,999,000vnd (£105) each but is totally worth it if you go hungry and don’t waste time talking to each other (you can see why Captain Caveman loves it)! The last time we went, was the day before it was closed down due to a guest at the hotel testing positive for the Corona virus, just as the lockdowns were happening everywhere. I took a risk and wore one of those baggy outfits which looks like a dress but it’s a trouser suit thing. I accessorised with my blue Hermes purse and red, handmade in Dalyan, sandals and I even had my hair down. I looked tired so I put my lovely Clinique eye cream on which Linda had bought me. Captain Caveman had brought a nice shirt to wear and a pair of trousers (he still had trainers on though). Captain Caveman also discovered that he had not packed enough trousers or shorts for our trip, but there was a washing machine in our kitchen at Camellia Hotel. We took a Grab taxi across Danang to the venue but we arrived too early. There were some building works so the lift to the beach wasn’t working, we took a 5 minute walk through the grounds and went to sit in the Citron outdoor entrance area. Unfortunately, there was a Vietnamese family who were scared of us foreigners so they put their masks on straight away and moved to all sit together. The mother of the family had the volume of her phone on very loud and proceeded to play a game or watch a repetitive sounding cartoon. This was very annoying and we tried to ask her to turn it down but she ignored us. I couldn’t take it any more and we went to sit in the foyer of the restaurant. It was only 12.15 (the Sunday brunch starts at 12.30) but the staff showed us to our table straight away. We never book one of the fancier outside tables, which are just too far from the buffet. We were pleased to get a good indoor table between the buffet and the band. By 12.20 our waiter was pouring us our Billecart Salmon Brut Champagne and making polite, welcoming chit chat. I instantly warmed to the guy and asked if I could take a photo and a video of him with the champagne.
By 12.30pm, Captain Caveman and I were selecting food from the antipasti and salad section of the buffet. The choice was massive and I wish I had taken more photos but I didn’t want to waste precious time. I also knew I could use ones from the past visits or the Facebook page as the Sunday Champagne Brunch at Citron is reliably consistent. The prawns were fantastic and the waiter was finding topping up our champagne glasses a full time job. He delegated our topping up to another waiter and we never had to wait for champagne, wine or water again. The meat station was great, I loved the pork, the duck too and we had a lot of steak. Captain Caveman had lots of oysters and some sashimi which he loved. I think we had about 3 servings of the beef fillet, which Captain Caveman had with fois gras and the chef put a face on it.
When we still had over an hour left to go, Captain Caveman went off piste and said yes to a flambéed crêpe. I thought I’d have the charcuterie and cheeses first, with red wine but then I had no room for crêpes. We left it a bit late for desserts but Captain Caveman managed to squeeze in a lemon meringue pie which he forgot to save me a bite of. I loved the macaroons but couldn’t finish the sweet stuff. At 3.25pm we were absolutely stuffed and quite tiddly. I noticed the band had just finished a rocked up version of Leona Lewis’s ‘Keep Bleeding Love’ which was very good. As the band played more tranquil songs we finished the last of our red wine and champagne before it was time to leave.
We got the shuttle to the main reception and then ordered a taxi to go back to the hotel. We always think we will be able to manage to go out on the evening after the Sunday brunch but, of course, we were fit for nothing and had an early night.
Photo credit – some by Captain Caveman, some from Intercontinental and Citron’s Facebook page.
We were in the car at 9am on Saturday 23rd July ready for our 6 hours (ish) drive to Danang. Captain Caveman did not have to be back at work until 6pm on the 30th July and he was super excited to be off (you can tell by the photos)! I had a very bad stomach and had to dose up on Imodium before I could leave the house, while Captain Caveman had made himself a hearty breakfast to keep him going until lunch. I took my travel pillow from Chung and Uy, I rarely travel without it now. Our driver was Dung, who I really like as he is careful and keeps the car at a good temperature. The journey, as far as Hue, was pretty uneventful and after 3.5 hours driving we were stopping for lunch at a cafe. Hue was super hot, no breeze at all and I didn’t want to eat too much because of my stomach. We had chicken and rice with cabbage, I think Dung had pork. It was very nice and the place was clean and hygienic.
Our next part of the journey was exciting for Captain Caveman because we went on part of a new road. So new, in fact, that it wasn’t actually officially opened and Captain Caveman, the engineer, got a bit giddy. The La Son – Tuy Loan road even had some squeaky clean tunnels on it which we went in and I joined in taking the photos. After we had finished with that road and got closer to Danang, Captain Caveman fell asleep and was snoring loudly. He was knackered from working so much recently so I didn’t wake him up.
We arrived about 3.30pm and checked in to the Camellia Hotel in Danang. Originally our idea had been to go to one of our favourite places in Tam Ky but the pricing didn’t work out in our favour and I had a trip to Laos to do. Instead we got an apartment in a nice area for 4 nights at a cost of 1,400,000vnd (£49). It was near a WinMart so we bought water and beers (which we drank) and then had a walk to a pub.
Dirty Fingers is a place we really like in Danang, I call it Sticky Fingers. It’s a sports bar with cold drinks and good food. We had quite a few beers and then ordered some food to share. I didn’t realise but they are a fan of sprinkling (unnecessary in my opinion) spicy powder on the food so I had trouble eating some of mine and gave it to Captain Caveman. I ordered more brisket which was amazingly delicious. It was so good that I forgot to take photos of the food on account of me being hungry and having sticky fingers from my pork ribs. We had another beer each then walked back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. On the way we passed a dried squid establishment, The Muc Shop, which had sold out of their product a while ago.
Photo credit – some of these photos were taken by Captain Caveman
I remembered to take my measurements first thing on Friday 22nd July and they weren’t too bad; Bust -2cm, Waist +2cm, Hips +1cm, Right thigh +2cm, Left thigh +0.5cm, Right calf +1cm, Left calf no change. Both my leg measurements were the same and I now had to try to maintain that. I had just 5 weeks left until my flight from Saigon to Istanbul and only 5 days until my plan to go in and out of Vietnam for the last time this year. For breakfast I had a buttered crumpet (this could be why I wasn’t getting any smaller) and finished off some Turkish lessons. I had managed to book Captain Caveman and I seats on the bus from Phong Nha to Danang tomorrow at 7am. Captain Caveman would be pleased when I told him to pick the tickets up on his way home. There were far too many tourists making journeys and it had led to the trains selling out. I hate taking the sleeper buses but we had no choice, we had to be in Danang by Saturday night. For lunch I had leftover BBQ chicken and rice followed by a pretty large White Russian by the pool – I needed to finish the milk off before our trip. Unfortunately this gave me a bad stomach, I’d already got a headache and was concerned I was getting sick. When Captain Caveman returned from his cave tour he was again desperately trying to get a haircut and shave before the gala dinner tonight at Chay Lap. When I told him I wasn’t feeling too good he said to cancel the bus tickets, then he changed his mind twice. It turned in to a bit of a fiasco and Captain Caveman was quite stressed but did end up getting a haircut, paying for my Laos transport then going straight to Chay Lap. I had a dodgy stomach for the rest of the day and night so I had some crisps which I had been trying not to eat for weeks. I ate a small amount of plain rice and chicken for dinner but didn’t feel too great. When Captain Caveman came home he still had to pack, repack his stuff for when we got back and sort out his laundry. He seemed a bit stressed and very tired but was pleased to be having a whole week off to come with me on my next visa run (well, kind of)! Captain Caveman had decided he would splash out and had booked a private car with driver to take us to Danang tomorrow and I hoped my stomach would be better. At 9pm I had a video call with my parents so that I could wish them both luck for my Mom’s hip replacement operation tomorrow. She was in good spirits, this was the second one so she was prepared for what was to come. Dad had been briefed on his duties as chief carer and was also ready.
I was very pleased that it was still raining when I woke up on Thursday 21st July. It meant that it was a bit cooler and I could get on with a few tasks I needed to complete before Captain Caveman got back out of the cave tomorrow. He had a week off starting this weekend and we had some exciting adventures planned. But first on the important To Do List was to check if I had got my e-Visa yet. I’d applied on a Saturday, the bank payment had not gone through until Monday and I’m told immigration only work Tuesday to Friday. They have been so busy with online tourist visa requests that, this month, they had stopped sending any confirmation emails. This wasn’t a problem for me as I had the reference number and could check on the official website. By midday I had been granted another 30 day tourist visa which would start on 27th July to enter at the Laos-Vietnam land border, Lao Bao. It would end on 26th August when I would fly out of Vietnam from Saigon to Istanbul, via Singapore. There was not much room for manoeuvre but I was hopeful all would work out.
It rained heavily all day and by 3pm I was making bacon and Stilton pasta for my lunch. In the afternoon I checked flights from Dong Hoi to Saigon but didn’t book anything. Captain Caveman had said he might be able to swap a tour and come with me for a few days in Saigon before I left. He would leave Vietnam, for the first time since before the pandemic began, on the 30th August. For dinner I made a nice chicken dish in a BBQ and honey sauce with sweetcorn and steamed rice. I treated myself to a Strongbow apple cider and was settling down for another early night. My left glute had been playing up again so I did some pilates stretches, just in my pants, before bed. My phone rang before 9pm and I saw that it was Kate (in Dalyan) so I went to answer it, while pulling on a playsuit. It’s a good job I did as it was a video call from outside River Terrace and there were a few people there having a drink with her. One of our friends from the DBL group was over from Rhodes, looking at properties to rent which allowed pets so it was nice to see her, as well as the usual gang. I also got to say hello to everyone, including Penny and Phil who were off back to England very soon. I wished I was out with them having a few drinks but I would be back to see them in just under 6 weeks time, all being well.
I had 2 pieces of leftover Showstopper pizza, from Monday evening, for breakfast on Wednesday 20th July. It is just as good as eating it at the time and I was glad to have another 2 pieces still in the fridge. My visa was still in processing but the equivalent of $25 had left my Turkish bank account. I was hopeful I would hear something soon and I’d confirmed my place on the visa run with Lynn Visa in 1 week’s time. I had a bit of a swim and did some chores before eating the rest of the pizza for lunch with a can of Coke. By 3pm the rain was quite heavy and everything was getting a thorough soaking. I did quite a bit of Turkish as I was conscious that today was the Turkish class in Dalyan. Vanessa and I were still trying to keep up with them from afar and we had booked in a video call. At 5pm we had a good catch up and realised we were slightly behind with our homework but we definitely were doing ok, considering. We shared our efforts and it was nice to have a catch up too. I had egg fried veggie rice for dinner and then did more Turkish lessons and homework. I submitted my homework to Sioned and would wait to see if I had got it right.
I was so hungover on Tuesday 19th July but I made myself get up early with Captain Caveman. We had breakfast at The Villas together; I had a tasty Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) and he had Bo Ne which had surprise tomatoes in, but he likes tomatoes. Captain Caveman said goodbye and went to work, off back in to the cave again for 4 more days. I went to have an extra nap as we didn’t need to check out until noon. I’d hoped to catch up with friends while I was in Phong Nha town so I checked out and went to sit in the aircon at The Villas. I ordered a mango lassi instead of having any bottled water, it was really good. I’d been trying to book a bus to Danang as there were no trains left for when we wanted them but the bus ticket lady was not replying. Lan told me it was because she was getting married today so the bus tickets were on hold while she did her nuptials. I stayed at The Villas for lunch and sampled the infamous Aussie meat pie with chips and gravy. It was actually even better than I remembered it being, the pastry was proper crusty and there was a generous and tasty filling. Some of my plans for later changed so I was still there for an afternoon ice-cream too and then, when I’d come round a bit, I had a cold beer.
After leaving Victory Road Villas, I walked to A Little Leaf homestay to meet Phuong. I’d not seen him since I’d been back and I’d promised to go see him and his newly improved homestay. A Little Leaf looked wonderful and was full of guests from all different nationalities and he even had a family with cute dogs staying there. He plied me with beers and food; fried pork spring rolls, Banh Loc and Banh Te so I got rather full. Banh Loc is a small, clear, chewy tapioca dumpling type of snack food. They are usually filled with shrimp and pork belly, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed to cook, then served with sweet chili fish sauce. Banh Te is a variety of small steamed snack made of rice flour, black pepper and herbs, then wrapped with Dong leaves into a long, thin cylindrical shape. Dong leaves are common here and are also said to be used by locals as antidote to drunkenness and snake bites. The food was delicious and had been made in Phuong’s village by his mother so I gave them a good go, while avoiding the chilli fish sauce. We video called his wife who is still working abroad and was about to do her 12 hour night shift. The beer kept on coming and Phuong insisted I had ice in my drink, which I try to avoid in Vietnam as most people use their hands to pick it up. I was also meant to be meeting Chung at the Phong Nha Vegan restaurant but by this time I was drunk and Phuong had ordered me a taxi home. On the way down the tricky metal steps I asked Phuong to carry my bag so I didn’t fall and then we said goodbye. He invited Captain Caveman and I to come to his village with him when we had chance. As I was going to the car, I saw Thu, the lady who used to work at Jungle Boss and is amazing! We had lots of hugs and were so happy to see each other again after all this time. I left with a female taxi driver (a novelty in Phong Nha) and Thu blowing kisses to me through the back window. The taxi driver had no clue where she was going and we drove most of the way dangerously slowly on the highway with her phone in her right hand and very close to her face. I directed her in my best Vietnamese and we made it home at a cost of 200,000vnd (£7). I unpacked my bag and put the laundry bag in for tomorrow’s housekeeping then went to bed for an early night.
I was quite excited on Monday 18th July to be getting to see Captain Caveman on his birthday, even if it was for just a few hours. I had arranged for us to stay at Victory Road Villas tonight and Lan, the manager, had given us a good deal. I asked her to put some fizz in the fridge and Captain Caveman was going to be due out of the cave in the afternoon. He would try again to get the shave he desperately needed before his briefing at 6pm tonight and then he would come to The Villas restaurant as soon as he could after the briefing so we could have a romantic birthday meal. That was the plan, anyway. Captain Caveman messaged when he was 20 minutes away from Phong Nha, I got a nice bottle of Primitivo wine out of the fridge to take with us and packed the last of my stuff. When Captain Caveman had showered in Phong Nha and got to the hairdresser’s it was closed so he still couldn’t get a shave and a hair cut. He came home so that he could put his laundry in and pack for the next trip then we drove to Victory Road Villas on Trigger, the motorbike. Captain Caveman didn’t even come in to Victory Road Villas, he just had time to drop me off so that he could go to Oxalis, ready for the briefing. I bumped in to Darren, Captain Caveman’s colleague, who was going to have dinner at The Villas at 6pm. He mentioned that Captain Caveman had messaged him earlier to say to meet after his briefing for birthday drinks. I went to check in to the room and chilled out with a glass of water in the Aircon for a while. The room, or should I say villa, which Lan had allocated was impressive and it was my first time staying at Victory Road Villas. I unpacked my things and got ready for dinner, I wore my nice orange dress.
At 8pm Captain Caveman came back from his briefing, knocked on the door of the room, dropped his bag off and went to meet Darren for a birthday drink. By the time I’d got my shoes on and locked the door the two cavers were talking about caves and work. I asked for three glasses and we had a birthday toast with the Lindeman’s sparkling white wine. At 8.45pm Darren said his goodbyes so we could sit down to eat the birthday meal. I took some photos and we ordered fried spring rolls to share as a starter, then a pizza each for main. Lan also gave us a complimentary glass of red wine with our dinner as a birthday treat which was a really nice thing to do. We finally got to eat our Classic and Showstopper pizzas about 9.20pm and polished off the fizz. By 10.20pm we were back in our gorgeous room, lounging on the couch and we opened the Primitivo. The wine was very nice, we had been saving it for a special celebration. We were pretty merry, despite Captain Caveman having to be up early for work tomorrow. He’d barely had chance to read and reply to all of his birthday messages, of which he had lots. At gone midnight we got a nice surprise when John, Andrea, Mark and Kate called, from Dalyan, to wish a Happy Birthday to Captain Caveman. It was so nice of them and we had a chat, I got a bit emotional as I was rather inebriated but we were all looking forward to catching up next month. We went to bed and I had another birthday surprise for Captain Caveman, I’d brought my red lacy Ann Summers number which I hoped would still fit after all the booze and food!