Phong Nha – 8th February

Phong Nha – 8th February

By Monday 8th February Vietnam was facing it’s 4th wave of the Corona virus and with a lot of concern as the holiday was only 4 days away. Many people had already finished work and had chosen to travel back home early and so it was a difficult job for the authorities to ensure prevention of the virus here. Shocking news came first thing in the morning that 4 of the people who tested positive yesterday are baggage handlers at Saigon (HCMC) airport, today they closed down an alley where they live in District 12;
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210208/ho-chi-minh-city-blocks-neighborhood-alley-as-local-residents-infected-with-covid19/59203.html
The total number of reported cases in Vietnam had now reached over 2,000 and people were definitely getting worried.
Despite the increase in cases recently there still hadn’t been any more Corona deaths reported and Vietnam was still on just 35 in over a year. An interesting article stating how low the death rate is over here compared to USA and UK can be found here:
https://vietnaminsider.vn/why-covid-19-death-toll-ratio-per-million-remains-extremely-low-in-vietnam/
Later that day we realised just how lucky we were coming back from Saigon when we did as more airport postive cases in HCMC were reported:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/871679/airports-nationwide-on-highest-alert-following-30-new-local-covid-cases-at-hcm-city-airport.html
By 5pm more cases linked to Saigon airport were reported and we suspected Tet could get cancelled:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/871724/govt-orders-hcm-city-to-strengthen-covid-preventive-measures-as-25-more-test-positive.html
One of the good things here in Vietnam is that swift, decisive action is taken to prevent as much spreading as possible and by the end of the day more lockdowns in specific areas were implemented:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210208/ho-chi-minh-city-seals-off-dozen-of-locations-amid-covid19-concerns/59210.html
Meanwhile, in our Phong Nha world, we were carrying on as normal…….

With Tet holiday coming up the loud speakers around the village had been fixed and were very much in use from 5.30am each morning now. On Monday 8th February extremely loud and distasteful music echoed around our building from 5.30am. Captain Caveman left for Phong Nha at 7am and had decided to go to Dong Hoi at 9am for a pre-Tet shopping trip. I wasn’t invited because it was raining and I would slow him down moving from one place to the next so I stayed at home. I had an apple and a gluten free cookie and then was ill with a bad stomach for most of the day. I did a lot of French on Duolingo, a few crossword type puzzles and some blogging, once the noise had calmed down a bit. For my lunch I heated up my leftover Sunday dinner and then the afternoon was even noisier so I tried to chill out by using Captain Caveman’s noise cancelling headphones which still didn’t completely block everything out. I watched The Dig, a film on Netflix and it was pretty good but a JCB had started ripping the banana tree garden up outside our living room window and I could still hear it. I’d got out some frozen meat for Captain Caveman to make pasta with for dinner but he forgot and made an incredibly salty French onion soup which I hardly ate any of. He had bought loads of stuff in Dong Hoi and had managed to meet up with our friend, Trang, at Tree Hugger for white russians and sandwiches.
That evening we settled down to watch some Netflix in the living room only to find the account was no longer accessible and the account had suffered an attempt at being logged in from Nghe An, a lot further north than we are.

Phong Nha – 7th February

Phong Nha – 7th February

I was woken up by Captain Caveman’s loud sneeze at 6.45am on Sunday 7th February. I didn’t get back to sleep and only an hour after he had left to go to Phong Nha, the housekeeping knock came for cleaning our room. I ate bread and butter and an apple for breakfast then sipped jasmine tea in the living room.
Captain Caveman picked up our order from Vananh, and he also brought back gluten free biscotti made by LyLy which was amazing! Our hummus order looked great and also contained some mung bean chips a couple of gluten free cookies to try and some chocolate protein balls for when I get peckish.
I had a bad stomach (again!) In the afternoon and so ended up having crisps and diet coke before my evening meal.

When we went up to the Farmstay for Sunday dinner our new motorbike helmets from Saigon had arrived and they were really snazzy. Captain Caveman went in the sauna while I chatted to Veronika and some guests who were staying at The Villas. It was a warm evening, everyone was sitting outside and Phong Nha Farmstay was quite busy – it was nice to see the pool with guests in too. The Sunday dinner of roast pork, lamb, pasta bake, roast potatoes, vegetables and thick gravy was extremely tasty and of course we couldn’t miss the included beverage and cake. We had the house red wine, which is a substantial portion and while the others had chocolate fondant cake I went for the carrot cake this time and it was fantastic – the whole deal cost just 300,000vnd and, as always, definitely worth it!

If you want to buy a safe and snazzy motorbike helmet I can highly recommend Saigon Motorcycles, they are very helpful and were able to deliver to Phong Nha within a week! Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SaigonMotorcyclehireandsales/

Phong Nha – 6th February

Phong Nha – 6th February

On Saturday 6th February I awoke to a hangover and a telling off from Captain Caveman for being a bit drunk last night when we got home. He was up early and went to Phong Nha to pick up the Tet biscuits I’d ordered from Moon at Funny Monkeys.
In the Vietnamese news there were more localised lockdowns where the virus was present and an update on when Vietnam might be able to start vaccinating their people (see links below);
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/870730/binh-duong-seals-off-apartment-block-as-new-covid-19-infection-detected.html

https://vietnamnews.vn/society/870239/astrazeneca-vaccines-prove-safe-effective-will-be-delivered-to-viet-nam-by-mid-year.html
It was all going on where Corona was concerned and one area had quarantined 10,000 people because of 1 positive case.
I was informed by a mutual friend that an ex Aviva colleague back in Sheffield had died from Corona and I was upset and angry – I’d not seen her for years but I remembered her as being such a great member of the ‘Mum’s’ call centre team in Sheffield when I worked at Pomona.
For lunch we had cheese and ham sandwiches and I had an apple. Vananh, owner of the temporarily closed Phong Nha Underground, was making various items so I ordered a couple of tubs of hummus and some chocolate protein balls for Captain Caveman to pick up tomorrow. Late afternoon Captain Caveman went off to the Farmstay for a sauna and when he eventually came back at 8pm he ate the first microwaved portion of masaman curry and rice so fast that he had finished his dinner before I had even heated mine up. I was a bit grumpy as I was waiting to eat with him and then I sat and ate by myself.
I missed my family and friends a lot today even though I still knew I was so much safer from the virus here and I felt very lucky to be out of the UK right now.

Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 5th February

Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 5th February

At 5.45am on Friday 5th February Captain Caveman was off surfing with the Farmstay gang, I couldn’t get back to sleep and so I was also up too early for my liking. We had booked Phuong for a day trip to Dong Hoi so that Captain Caveman could go shopping and I could go for physio.
In the news here there was an update that all the Corona tests completed on Saigon airport staff were all negative, so far! Here’s the link:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210205/all-employees-of-saigon-airport-four-other-airdromes-test-negative-for-covid19/59168.html
A post on Facebook confirmed what I expected, all schooling was to be stopped immediately to prevent the spread of the virus.
We arrived in Dong Hoi about 10.30am and went to Earth cafe for a vegan brunch. Kimmie, the visa agent, came to collect my passport again for another month’s renewal. I had my favourite udon soup and the kumquat and daisy tea, Captain Caveman had pumpkin soup and we ordered 2 takeaway dishes for our friend. We tried a biscuit, made by Moon at Funny Monkeys, and I decided to order some for Tet. Our next stop was Tree Hugger to quickly pick up a smoothie before we went to Dong Hoi – Cuba hospital, where Trang was with her mom who was having some sort of transfusion. I had a dodgy tum and needed to use the hospital toilets which were absolutely disgusting. We went to a little cafe next to the hospital for a quick drink and a chat.
After we went to the Co-op Mart supermarket which was heaving with people buying stuff for Tet and I needed the toilet again (and imodium) so that I could go to physio at 1.30pm. When I was at the clinic they told me they will close for Tet in a couple of days, the therapy today was really good and the therapist pinpointed the painful part of my ankle which was at the back of my foot near my ankle bone. At the end of my session Captain Caveman came with a gift basket for the team and we left around 4pm to go back to Phong Nha.


We dropped off the shopping at home, I went to the loo (again) and had no idea what was making me ill, then we went straight to The Villas for happy hour. Granted a happy hour and a half with all you can eat pizza was not going to help my stomach but, of course, I carried on regardless. I had 3 margaritas, we met with our new friends, June and Steve, we chatted to Vananh and Jason (visiting from Danang) and our friend Hannah joined us. June and Steve ordered off the menu, Hannah had a veggie pizza, Matty arrived and joined us on the all you can eat pizza. I then proceeded to have wine, my stomach was now fine and I managed 8 slices of pizza. It was a great night and we said we would keep in touch with June and Steve, who were such good fun, and we hope to visit Danang in the next few months.
On the fun bus back home we got chatting to two Farmstay customers, 2 young girls – 1 from Salford and another from Liverpool and it was nice to meet people from near to where I’m from.
I was also pleased to now have a full fridge and cupboard again, ready for the forthcoming Tet holidays.

Phong Nha – 4th February

Phong Nha – 4th February

Things were getting even more concerning over Corona here in Vietnam as the government responded quickly to any new cases. On Thursday 4th February the news of medical staff who were doing the massive amount of testing were being overworked, here’s an example:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210203/medical-worker-collapses-on-duty-in-covid19-epicenter/59140.html
But the leaders of the country were firm in their actions and were able to give the go ahead to take measures to prevent a further spread.
Captain Caveman had gone to Oxalis early for breakfast, Veronika had gone to the beach and I’d done some blogging. An old friend of Captain Caveman’s was passing through Phong Nha, Hung and his wife Ivy were driving from Ha Tinh that morning and going to stop off for a quick hello at Phong Nha Farmstay before carrying on to Danang and eventually back to Saigon. I met Captain Caveman by the pool at the Farmstay and Veronika was already there after her beach trip. Hung and Ivy were really nice people and it was too short a visit really as they got whisked off to look at the accommodation at the Farmstay, ready for next time. Luckily we did have time to ask Maya the receptionist to take some photos of us all together. We had pho for breakfast and, as the weather was nice, we sat outside for our lunch. Captain Caveman went wild and had a pizza (the day before pizza night!) and I had some fresh spring rolls. I filled up by having 1 slice of Captain Caveman’s salami pizza and 2 glasses of white wine. Back home I portioned up the masaman curry in to 6 containers and popped 2 in the fridge and 4 in the freezer (ideal for a rainy or ‘no spending’ day). That night we were going to stay in but Bich was cooking a lamb shank soup which Captain Caveman really wanted to try so we headed back to the Farmstay that evening. Captain Caveman, Matty, Ben and some customers were in the sauna and swimming pool while I joined Veronika who was chatting to a lovely couple from London, June and Steve. We clicked straight away and from the first laugh with June I don’t think we stopped. They knew Seamouse, lived in Danang and were staying at Victory Road Villas so with a bit of wine for the ladies and beer for the men, we went inside to try the soup which went down a treat. Steve tried the Bang Xeo and June had the smoked duck salad with egg while I had the pork clay pot – all the food was outstanding and the conversation was flowing, in fact we had such a great night we said we would see June and Steve tomorrow at The Villas.

Photo credit – Captain Caveman, Hung, Maya.

Phong Nha – 3rd February

Phong Nha – 3rd February

On Wednesday 3rd February, with just over a week until Tet eve, some people in Vietnam had started to cancel or change travel tickets, or even get refunds, due to fear of getting stuck somewhere or being at risk of catching Corona. You can read more about it here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210203/railway-passengers-in-southern-vietnam-return-tickets-en-masse-for-fear-of-virus-outbreak/59120.html
Captain Caveman arrived home from Phong Nha at 10.30am with some vegetables, as we had none in, and made us a nice sausage brunch. We decided to go for a walk to the French road and we managed 1.8km in 41 minutes, slightly slower than my round the block pace but not too bad.
Our friend Ali had now been in quarantine in Saigon for 1 week and was looking forward to getting out and coming to Phong Nha in another week, all being well!
After our walk I had a piece of cheese and some peanuts while Captain Caveman got on with making another one of his masaman curries with enough for us to freeze/refrigerate a few portions. We had a bottle of the Lindeman’s sparkling wine and had a chicken in tomato sauce with spaghetti for dinner (and the spaghetti did not give me any gluten problems whatsoever). That night we had an early night ready for Captain Caveman’s early outing the next day.

(Most photos & video by Captain Caveman)

Captain Caveman’s video of my walking progress

Phong Nha – 2nd February

Phong Nha – 2nd February

By Tuesday 2nd February the news updates here in Vietnam were certainly bringing more concern over whether the next wave of the virus could, or would, remain under control. That morning the news told us that they were to test all staff at the airports, this would later turn out to be a good idea, see more here;
https://vietnaminsider.vn/hcm-city-conducts-covid-19-test-on-all-staff-at-tan-son-nhat-airport/
Worryingly, there was also confirmation of the UK variant of the virus having got in to Vietnam and of course it was so much faster to spread – the authorities were acting quickly to put measures in place to prevent as much damage as possible, more below in the link:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210202/vietnam-confirms-latest-virus-outbreak-is-more-contagious-uk-variant/59117.html
It was also a sad day for all my UK Facebook friends as they posted that the 100 year old Sir Tom, who had raised a lot of money for charities supporting the NHS by walking round his own house, had died from Corona. I was so busy reading up on all the news that I almost forgot to have breakfast and, as it was the last day of my 4 day challenge to not spend any cash, I had peanuts from the cupboard that I had forgotten were there – easily a first time for me in breakfast options. For lunch I had the remainder of the pork casserole and put in my order for a shepherd’s pie for dinner with the Farmstay later. I didn’t order Captain Caveman one because, although he was due back from Son Doong today, he would be attending his gala dinner at Chay Lap with his customers.
Captain Caveman and I had planned that he would come home after his tour however that had changed because Captain Caveman decided he would stay in Phong Nha tonight and come back tomorrow.
At 5.50pm Veronika and I went for Shepherd’s Pie night at Phong Nha Farmstay with Matty. I just had cider with my shepherd’s pie, which was as delicious as always and I really enjoyed my food. I’d taken my bank card so I could pay for my Sunday dinner as well as tonight’s dinner, which I did. It came to less than £20 in total for both nights and so I had managed to go for 4 days with only spending that amount, if Captain Caveman had been back as planned he would have paid cash for it and I would have spent nothing. Sometimes it’s easy to not really take any notice of how much money I’ve spent in a week, or a month, and so it was a good challenge to try – I think I might do some ‘no spending’ days again and see if I can plan better and improve on it.

Phong Nha – 1st February

Phong Nha – 1st February

It was day 3 of my ‘not spending any cash’ challenge on Monday 1st February and day 3 of Captain Caveman’s first customer Son Doong tour of the season. Having had a big dinner the night before and not having anything in for breakfast I just had raisins! I’d taken the pork casserole out of the freezer to have for meals later and I noticed we had 3 eggs left which meant I could make fried rice and use some of the leftover Sunday dinner veg to throw in, for another meal.
Before lunch I had done some blogging, learning languages, all my exercises and even been for a short walk with my sticks. I had a big lunch so that I wasn’t as tempted to snack and really enjoyed the pork casserole with potatoes, broccoli, green beans, bak choi, carrot and mushrooms. I finished off the frozen berries (now defrosted) as a dessert and had a pot of jasmine tea while I did more work then watched a couple more Breaking Bad episodes on Netflix.
I still got peckish in the afternoon so I had 20g of cheddar cheese and 4 squares of plain chocolate, which would have gone well with a red wine but I resisted. I prepared all the remaining veg and made 2 of the eggs in to an omelette, which I chopped up for the fried rice later.
The fried rice with garlic, pepper, carrot, green beans, peppers and sweetcorn turned out to be really tasty and got rid of all the spare veg we had left, tomorrow Captain Caveman was due back for dinner so I had almost completed my challenge and was glad to be using up some stuff from the fridge, freezer and cupboards.

Phong Nha – 31st January

Phong Nha – 31st January

I had set my alarm for 1.50am on Sunday 31st January because I wanted to attend a surprise birthday zoom call for a friend’s 50th who is in Sheffield (Vietnam is 7 hours in front of the UK). Unfortunately, despite staying up watching Breaking Bad until gone midnight, I slept through and missed it so when I woke up at a normal time I was cheesed off about it.
I spent the morning catching up on some writing then I finished off the popcorn and had some dried prunes that had been in the cupboard for ages, for a late breakfast. I warmed up some chicken masaman for lunch and made some rice pudding with jam for dessert which I had later that afternoon. I decided that even though I had no cash to spend for 4 days (and I can’t get to an ATM easily) I couldn’t miss the Farmstay’s Sunday dinner and so when Veronika asked if she could share a ride up there I took my bank card to pay on card. When we arrived Matty was waiting for us and it was his turn to buy wine so we all shared a bottle of the Farmstay’s robust red. Veronika wanted her food a little earlier than us as she was hungry but Matty and I decided to enjoy some wine first. This week all three of us went for the healthier version, with no pasta or bread, just meat, veg, potatoes and gravy (and I purposely didn’t have much of the gravy). It was excellent but when I saw Ben’s normal Sunday dinner I wished I had chosen the same. Knowing I didn’t have any vegetables in at home, except for half a yellow pepper and some frozen sweetcorn, I saved some of my veg and took it home in my tupperwear box. I was hoping to take home my piece of carrot cake but just as I went to order it there was a game changing suggestion from Ben; how about we have the chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream as our included dessert!? I’ve had that particular sweet treat before so I already knew how delicious it is. Of course all 3 of us said yes, obviously it wouldn’t be suitable to take home so I just had to eat it. As it turned out I still didn’t physically spend any money as by the time we left the girl who takes the card payments had already gone home, so I had successfully not spent any money on day 2 of the challenge (sort of). The Sunday dinner costs 300,000 vnd (for the meat version, the vegetarian one is cheaper) and includes a generous glass of wine and a choice of dessert – a bargain!

Phong Nha – 30th January

Phong Nha – 30th January

Captain Caveman was up early and off on his first customer Son Doong trip of the season on Saturday 30th January and I had a bit of a challenge on my hands. He had not been able to leave me any money and I didn’t already have any in my purse so I had to survive 4 days without spending any cash – it was going to be tough! There was only one thing for it, I would have to start watching Breaking Bad and staying in!
I’d still not had breakfast when it was announced in the news that they had found 1 positive case in HCMC (Saigon) who arrived at 3pm on the 28th, we left via the same airport 24 hours earlier – how lucky! Here’s the info:
https://vietnaminsider.vn/vietnams-ho-chi-minh-city-records-a-suspected-positive-case-of-covid-19/
The authorities were all over the testing and tracing by 3pm that day and they had even adjusted the quarantine time from 14 days to 21 days, because of the new variants perhaps having a longer incubation period, here’s the link:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210130/vietnam-to-extend-covid19-testing-to-thirdtier-contacts-quarantine-time-to-21-days/59068.html
My brunch was a bit of a make do one of 2 Italian sausages (from Hue), the remaining 3 slices of bacon, a cup of sweetcorn, 4 cups of jasmine tea and an apple. I got peckish in the afternoon and had the rest of the popcorn (no butter) and some frozen berries as we were almost out of fruit. In the afternoon I got on with my languages and did a quick review of where I am up to; I was doing well on Turkish and was just in to Checkpoint 3 on Duolingo, Vietnamese was 4 topics away from Checkpoint 3 but it was taking me a lot longer to learn, with French I was only halfway to Checkpoint 3 and finding that one too easy. I watched a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad, which has been on my Netflix list for over a year, and I thought I might like it. For dinner I had some sticky rice with peanuts and some of the leftover masaman curry which Captain Caveman had made. I succeeded in spending no money at all on the first day of the challenge!

Phong Nha – 29th January

Phong Nha – 29th January

On Friday 29th January there was some excitement in Phong Nha as Smiley, a former waitress at Namaste Indian restaurant, had been given a job at The Villas restaurant and she was being put through the paces of coffee training with Manu at 10.30am. A few of us were invited to try free coffee in exchange for a bit of feedback, not drinking coffee didn’t stop me attending though – it was a good excuse to go over for a hot chocolate and a catch up with the gang! There was Bich, Ben, Howie, Veronika, Captain Caveman, Matty, Tatas and me.

Captain Caveman and I decided to stay and have brunch after, with Tatas. She ordered the big breakfast which was huge, I had a smoked duck salad and Captain Caveman ordered a pizza because, although it was pizza night later, he wouldn’t be able to come as he was working. In the afternoon Captain Caveman popped off to Oxalis to get prepared for his Son Doong briefing later while Tatas and I sat by the fire chatting with Veronika, who was staying at Victory Road Villas in the Penthouse – she even gave us a guided tour and I was impressed because it was extremely luxurious and had an oven.

I had a an oolong tea and then it got to happy hour and a half so I started with a margarita, Tatas had a sangria and Veronika had a bottle of wine she had started the previous night. We ate popcorn and I probably shouldn’t have because this hindered my pizza consumption later on – I only managed 6 slices! It was Smiley’s first shift on the pizza night and she did very well, we even got some photos of all of us together. Captain Caveman popped back later and sent Raj (previous manager of Namaste) a photo of us all, fans of Raj will be pleased to know he is now back in Vietnam but in Tam Coc, further north, with his new restaurant The Curry King. Momma D stopped by with Kevin, the dog, and we all got to pet the little cutie!

Phong Nha – 28th January

Phong Nha – 28th January

While Vietnam was possibly on the verge of their next wave of the pandemic, things were carrying on in Phong Nha as normal on Thursday 28th January. Captain Caveman had gone off to work in the morning just before heavy rain came, he had prepared a masaman curry in the rice cooker for later, using the whole chicken given to us by Thuy. For lunch he made us a pasta dish and then we went for a walk round the block with my new walking poles. I was a bit disappointed with them at first as they felt like they were not really helping, they were too light, compared to my crutches, and seemed to get in the way. I persisted under Captain Caveman’s direction and eventually cracked it. My 500m walk was completed in 9 minutes, a whole 3 minutes less than my quickest so far!
We hadn’t got anything on our Netflix lists which we both wanted to watch together and so I had asked Josh for some recommendations, to our surprise we ended up watching numerous episodes of Blown Away which was highly entertaining in a surprising way. The masaman curry was amazing and there was plenty left over for me to have while Captain Caveman was away.

Captain Caveman’s video of my first walk with my new poles

Saigon to Phong Nha – 27th January

Saigon to Phong Nha – 27th January

Captain Caveman didn’t want any breakfast on Wednesday 27th January so I went down to the dining room by myself for the usual buffet breakfast. While I had my last bath in Saigon, Captain Caveman went out to buy some essentials like Vegemite and curry paste then we checked out and got a Grab taxi to the Eon Mall, not too far from the airport. The shopping centre was huge but did have temperature checks on entry and decent toilet facilities so I was happy. We went to the top floor where all the food places are and we went to Thai Express, Captain Caveman’s choice, obviously! There were just 2 things on the menu that didn’t have any chillies in and so I reluctantly ordered honey chicken and Captain Caveman had a masaman curry which he shovelled down and then left to go to Decathlon while I was still eating. I wouldn’t recommend the honey chicken, nor have it again but I did eat it all as I wasn’t sure if we would eat again later or not. On return from Decathlon Captain Caveman had managed to buy me some lightweight walking poles for about 500,000vnd (£16) and I was happy about that, he bought himself 2 water bottles for cycling and some string for just over that and I think my purchase was the best value!

We masked up and got a taxi to the airport for our flight back to Dong Hoi and to my surprise we were allocated the Emergency exit row seats despite my limping, but no one checked our capabilities. We landed 15 minutes early and An was waiting to pick us up with his shared Grab taxi, which by the time we got dropped off was a full car! When we got home the cleaners had been in and the place smelled like lemongrass, we learned that our friend Ally, the filmmaker who lives in Japan, had made it to Vietnam and was in Saigon to do his 14 day quarantine and Captain Caveman rustled up some grub. We had spaghetti with bacon, peppers and tomato sauce and it tasted really good – finally a meal without chillies!

Saigon – 26th January

Saigon – 26th January

As some of you will know by now, I sometimes like to indulge in a second breakfast and Tuesday 26th January was one of those days, it was also our last full day in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). After the hotel breakfast of pho ga we headed over to District 2 by Grab car to Saigon Motorcycles in Thao Dien. The shop is owned by a friend of Ben’s at the Phong Nha Farmstay where we last met Trevor and his brother, Mark. Captain Caveman wanted to buy a full face motorbike helmet as the ones that come with the hire bike are basic at best. Gabrielle gave Captain Caveman some great advice and the first helmet she recommended fit perfectly so he got that, I fancied one of the bright orange helmets instead of wearing a cycling helmet when I’m on the back of Captain Caveman’s bike so I went to check them out. Trevor advised me that, while they looked good, they only offered a certain amount of protection and I would be better protected with a fancy black one that he got me to try on, it had a flip down sunglasses visor and a rain shield as well as protecting the face, it looks the business so we added that to the order – it would be my early Valentine’s gift! With arrangements made to post our helmets back to Phong Nha we had a little walk to Marcel’s Cafe where Captain Caveman had heard they do amazing croissants. They did indeed and Captain Caveman polished off 2 with butter while I had just a plain one and hoped I wouldn’t regret eating gluten.

We had a bit of a stroll to our next spot which was a rather fancy french restaurant, called P’ti Saigon. Andrea had managed to squeeze us in after her meetings and before her working from home afternoon so we met her there. I chose a salad expecting it to be small, Captain Caveman and Andrea both had prawn starter and duck mains. We shared a carafe of red wine and I observed a dressing up section, near to the upstairs toilets, ideal for party nights.
After lunch we walked in the hot sun to a bar called Bia Craft to sample a couple of their various beers, including an Oreo stout, I had a couple of ciders. It was a really nice afternoon and I could have stayed out longer but we needed to get ready for meeting Trang and Tan later, plus I was going to meet Lil Spud for the first time.

We arranged to meet at Tan’s new rooftop bar (which he warned me of the steps) at 6.30pm. It’s called Hippie Beer, in a great location, opposite Liberty Central hotel in District 1. The stairs were challenging because the first 2 sets were through the Thai restaurant on the ground floor and didn’t have a handrail, the next ones were ok but the handrail had loose bits and then the next to last set had neon tube lights down the sides of the stairs which meant it was hard to see the actual steps in the dark, the last set wasn’t too bad. The air on the roof was not fresh and I started having a cough thinking there was something burning in the kitchen but it was just the bad pollution. Lil Spud is Tatas’ younger sister and, although Captain Caveman has met her a few times, I had never met her. It was freaky how similar they were and it was like I was talking to Tatas! Trang finally arrived and ordered some food, we all tasted some gin made from Dragon fruit which was pretty strong but tasted nice. I needed to be sober when I went back down those stairs and so we said our goodbyes to Tan and his mates, hoping to see him next month in Phong Nha, I managed the stairs back down and we went to Tandoor Indian restaurant for a curry.

Captain Caveman wasn’t doing any sharing and ordered a tandoori plate to himself, I went safe by ordering a chicken tikka masala, mild, with steamed rice and a glass of wine. Lil Spud ordered a fish curry which was spicy and Trang ordered something that never arrived. When mine came it tasted rather spicy and I thought it smelled like it had fresh green chillies in it. I had one piece of the chicken and was sweating and when the girls tried mine they said it was too hot, even a load of yoghurt didn’t help and I left half of it which Trang took home. Captain Caveman was not impressed and for some reason seemed to think it was my fault and that I was stupid to order that dish, knowing it would be too hot for me, even though it’s my usual choice. Back at the hotel I was still a bit hungry but there was nothing I could do about it and Captain Caveman still had the face on with me about the curry.

Some photos by Captain Caveman

Saigon – 25th January

Saigon – 25th January

Our breakfast was included at the Silverland Charner hotel on Monday 25th January, I had dragon fruit and water melon to start with and a peach juice followed by 2 bowls of very tasty pho ga. Captain Caveman, wearing his new football top, had fruit, an omelette and coffee. I had arranged to meet Tan, a guy I met 6 years ago on a Tu Lan 4 day cave expedition with Oxalis, who is from Saigon. Our good friend Trang, who has businesses in Phong Nha and is from Dong Hoi, now lives in Saigon so we invited her too.

Tan chose a pasta place called Sap Gourmet Corner which was very close to our hotel and we arranged to meet at 12. Trang is always at least an hour late but she arrived before our food came and I was enjoying a very good margarita. I’d not seen Tan for about 3 years and it was nice to see him again, he even moved seats before Trang came so that she could sit next to me! Both me and Captain Caveman ordered the chicken meatballs with our pasta and enjoyed watching them cook it, both Trang and Tan ordered duck dishes which looked fantastic. After a delicious lunch we arranged to all meet the next day and off we went back to our hotel.

I decided to try out the free afternoon tea, which the hotel advertised in the room directory, while Captain Caveman looked at his phone for a few hours. It was a sorry excuse for afternoon tea; there was just me, a choice of breakfast or earl grey tea and the hot water machine had a lock on it. There was no cake or other sweet treats until I eventually got a couple of biscuits. It was a sign that the hotel was probably suffering the effects of loss of customers due to Corona and no international travel.In the evening Captain Caveman was in charge of entertainment and we were off to meet his friends at Rico Taco, another Mexican restaurant. We walked there and called for a drink in a pub called Malt, on the way – a proper beer place which also sold a nice Chilean red wine by the glass. I managed the short walk then 3 flights of stairs up to dinner where we met Quyen, Andrea, Bruno and Rob and I had such a good time that no photos were taken of the whole evening because I was too busy enjoying it. I had pork tacos and tried to order without chillies but the waitress said it wasn’t possible, I just had 2 and the sauce on the side and that was hot enough, Captain Caveman had nachos, shared the guacamole and black salsa dip as well as burritos for his main. I had 2 margaritas but was conscious of having to go down the stairs again safely so left it at that. It was a good fun evening and all the dinner guests were lovely. On the way home we decided to call back in to Malt to break up my walk and it was pretty full. Captain Caveman decided to stare at a bloke who had walked in with a pretty Vietnamese woman and a younger man – I had to tell him to stop in case he started a fight as he was really gawping! Luckily Captain Caveman’s suspicions were correct and he recognised Neil from the cycling event on Saturday, who was a friendly guy but looked like he worked out!! I’d really enjoyed my second full day in Saigon and had packed a lot in, tomorrow would be our last full day in the city.