Our stay in Hanoi was almost over but on Sunday 10th July we had one last friend to see. Lien used to be our Vietnamese teacher and we arranged to meet her at Oriberry cafe. I’d mentioned we should probably get something for breakfast first but Captain Caveman said we could eat later. It was nice to see Lien and she looked really well as we chatted about work related topics. Captain Caveman ordered himself a chicken and pesto salad sandwich but I really didn’t want to eat lunch at 10am and they didn’t have breakfast items.
On our way back to check out we bought a croissant for me from the supermarket. We had a car booked for the airport at 11.15am and we were off. Hanoi airport was very busy and the self check-in counters were broken so Captain Caveman had a bit of a to do. He went to complain at the staff member behind the new ticket sales counter. We were likely to miss our flight because the check-in queues were horrendous so she helped us by pushing us in to the front and getting us our tickets printed. The airport was noisy and stressful, we didn’t even get an alcoholic beverage. The flight was on time and, before we had even took off, Captain Caveman was working, the holiday was over! When we landed it was Captain Caveman’s job to meet and greet his customers which he did. When we went to get in the organised transport there were 2 cars which we were allocated the one with the Vietnamese customers in, while the English speakers were in the other car. They dropped me off, with both bags, at Elements and Captain Caveman went straight to Phong Nha to drop off customers then to his briefing for the tour tomorrow.
Shannon, was in town and we’d organised a soirée at the Phong Nha Farmstay. I snaffled down a toasted teacake and passion fruit snack, then got ready. I met up with Shannon, Veronika, Ross, Trang and Andrew for some dinner and a drink. I had a couple of beers and ordered a pork clay pot while the others had pizza or snack food. Mine took a bit longer to be served but it was really good and I had some rosé wine with Shannon. It was a pleasant evening and good to see Shannon passing through Phong Nha after a year away. Captain Caveman was back home before me and the rain had started to get heavy when I got my lift back home.
We had breakfast on Saturday 9th July at a place in Hanoi which Captain Caveman had told me about. I’d been looking forward to trying 7Frydays for its fish and chips, which are meant to be ‘the business’, but a good English fry up would do me. The rain in Hanoi was pretty heavy so we had borrowed an umbrella and taken the shortcut through the alleyways to get there. I think Captain Caveman was hoping to prove where I went wrong on getting lost yesterday, but we got lost again and it made me laugh. At 7Frydays the staff/owners were friendly and hard working and they dried off a table for us to sit at. As soon as I saw the breakfast menu I was happy and went for the build your own, while Captain Caveman ordered a Full Monty, of course. I had a lovely pot of tea with cold milk and a proper mug too. Something I have noticed that seems to be increasing is using chillies as garnish, as I’m allergic I find it unnecessary, but Captain Caveman had the bit that was on top of my hash brown. The food was absolutely wonderful and I would definitely eat there again when I’m in Hanoi. I was very full and wouldn’t need any lunch.
In the afternoon we went to meet Gary in a Bia Hoi, the weather had fined up so we walked. To be honest I’m not a fan of the Bia Hoi places because, although now I can drink the beer, the ones we usually go to are aimed at Vietnamese men. The toilets are always basic at best, no one has heard of soap and there’s lots of smoking (cigarettes and weed) on most occasions. Nevertheless, I do love Gary and his wife, Hanh, their friends are often good company too, so I put up with it. I usually end up having a great time and just get drunk so I worry less about having to use the piss drenched, stinky toilet. Joining the group today were Matt and Darren, both of who were also fun and we talked about a load of random topics. Captain Caveman got his beer served in a wonky glass which I wanted to see if we could buy but Captain Caveman wasn’t interested in doing that. I enjoyed the humour and having such a good laugh, which we always do whenever we meet up with Gary and his crew. The time went too quickly, I was very merry but it was time to say farewell. We had a dinner booked for our final evening in Hanoi together, tonight.
On the way back to Euphoria apartments Captain Caveman pointed out that the Bia Hoi next to where we were had a small Frydays within it. We stopped off and I tried the fish and chips, Captain Caveman had a fish sandwich. Unfortunately they didn’t have the Atlantic Cod, probably as they had been busy last night, so we settled for the red snapper. Our bill came to just 255,000vnd (£9), the portions were good and that included 3 beers. It was very tasty and hopefully helped soak up some of the alcohol before I had to go back to get ready for our last night out in Hanoi.
I decided to wear my orange dress with a bit of cleavage on show and had my hair down despite it being a bit warm still. Captain Caveman booked us a Grab taxi and texted his friend, Mr B, to let him know we were on our way! It would be a romantic table for three at the Drunken Duck. When the car dropped us off it was a bit of a walk down some alleys to find the place, it is on the canal by the Intercontinental hotel. As we walked in to the Drunken Duck it definitely looked like the type of place you’d go on a date. I noted it would definitely not be a place my Dad would like, though, on account of it being very dark and there were absolutely no menus whatsoever, not even for cocktails or wine! We sat at the bar, where the extremely young bartender was making cocktails and we chose ours. I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed with my Old Fashioned but it was spot on. My next cocktail was a dry martini with olives, by which time Mr B had arrived and we sat at our ‘table pour trois’. I think I preferred a menu rather than the waiter telling us we could have ‘chicken, pork, beef or fish’ and then Captain Caveman and Mr B asking for lamb. I ordered chicken in a rush and regretted it instantly. My food was good and came with 5 spice sauce on half a chicken, served with salad and pickled white carrot. The guys got what I thought was one portion of lamb to share but the waiter assured us it was two portions but on the same plate. We asked if they had wine and he directed us to the wall where I asked the price of a Primitivo. It was a reasonable cost at under £30 so we went for that and enjoyed it.
The night was delightful, we saw Mr B off in to a taxi before walking back to our accommodation. On the way back we inadvertently ended up in 7 Bridges Taproom bar, again! It had been great to see Captain Caveman as well as him be able to have some time off to see friends. Tomorrow we would be back in Phong Nha, we were both looking forward to it.
Photo credit – some at the Drunken Duck taken by Captain Caveman
My first job on Friday 8th July was to book myself on a trip to Laos for my next visa run. I had found an agent who did organised van/bus trips to the Vietnam-Laos border to be able to go out and in again with a new e-Visa. They were based in Danang and were doing at least one trip per week so I made enquiries, leading to a provisional booking for the end of the month. Captain Caveman’s train was running a bit late but he was on his way. I took a walk to Republic in the West Lake area of Hanoi and had a pot of earl grey tea. When I asked for some milk for it they brought me hot frothy milk which was a bit strange but I used it. Captain Caveman arrived and we had to leave straight away because he had arranged a lunch appointment with a friend. I’d particularly wanted to visit Con Heo Beo (The Fat Pig) as I hadn’t been for so long. It’s primarily a pork restaurant, a short walk down the hill from Republic, and where we went when my parents were visiting a few years ago. When we arrived the place had been done up a tad and looked very nice, Captain Caveman’s friend was already sat at an upstairs table, we ordered beers and pork scratchings for starters. We listened intently to Mr B sharing tales of his life since he and Captain Caveman last met up, 15 years ago. We ordered a sharing platter over more interesting updates. I was just getting to find this guy entertaining when it was informed to me that Mr B and Captain Caveman had to leave as they had arranged to be somewhere else at 2pm. Captain Caveman gave me his rucksack, put a shortcut on my phone of how to get back to Euphoria apartments, through some back alleys, and sent me off. It was not quite the romantic ‘welcome back to Vietnam’ reunion I’d imagined but, honestly, it was not unexpected – Captain Caveman has form for this sort of thing.
Google maps told me it was a 3 minute walk through some alleys back to Euphoria apartments. I followed the map for about a minute then my map told me I was stood in the middle of a lake and stopped directing me. It was hot, humid, I was lost but I was definitely not in a lake. I decided to go right and when I saw some building works, which Captain Caveman had mentioned, I turned left thus ending up in a school playground. It was 2pm as Google directed me to walk through the school, which I did and was back on track. I did some Turkish practice and lolled about back at the apartment for a bit. Captain Caveman had said he would meet me at the Moose and Roo at 5pm where I’d also rearranged to meet friends from our cancelled plans yesterday. I walked the 10 minutes to the pub and arrived at 5pm, just as Captain Caveman had got off a Grab motorbike. He hadn’t brought his friend so just the 2 of us went inside the Moose and Roo. Leonard made it and was doing well, I’d not seen him since before the pandemic, when he lived at Funny Monkeys, Phong Nha. We ordered some beers and the service wasn’t super quick so we weren’t going to be getting drunk. Leonard is a pensioner, and not too steady on his feet, so he just had the one beer. We happened to notice a guy we knew from a few years back, Declan, and he joined us for a drink too. We got talking to him about mates we had in common and had a bit of a laugh. Once Declan left, we decided to have some food and checked out the extensive menu. Leonard ordered the topped nachos, Captain Caveman and I shared a cheese board, both were nice but not the best ever. We had another beer (or 2) then said our goodbyes to Leonard and stopped traffic to get him in to a taxi, back to his hotel, in the old quarter. As we were leaving I started petting a customer’s dog and we got talking to the owner, they knew Mark and Lesley from Phong Nha and were coming to Phong Nha soon, so we exchanged details on Facebook. They needed information on what to do in Phong Nha and would message us with questions. We set off walking home and decided to call for one at the 7 Bridges bar. We ended up staying a little longer than expected and even had more food. Captain Caveman had a slice of pizza and some onion rings, I had the most amazing mac and cheese with bacon in. We left when a big group got too noisy – they just happened to be British! Captain Caveman and I had just one more full day in Hanoi tomorrow so he was going to make the most of it!
Thursday 7th July was particularly rainy in Hanoi so I stayed in the apartment. Kat was up early and had stuff to do so we said our goodbyes, it had been a really great couple of days and I was going to miss her company. She’d already had a croissant for breakfast, I had mine a little later. By lunch time I was eating left overs and doing a spot of Duolingo Turkish. Captain Caveman was due out of Son Doong today and would be going to his gala dinner tonight. His train was leaving Dong Hoi in the late evening but would arrive at 10am (approximately) tomorrow morning. We had arranged to meet up at a place I could walk to for lunch. I helped my sister, in Dalyan, organise a private boat trip with Kaan and breakfast at Çandır Resort for this coming weekend and then I did some blog editing. I couldn’t be bothered to go out in the rain as I didn’t have the clothes for it so I stayed in. I was meant to be meeting some friends at 5pm but, because of the rain, we postponed to when Captain Caveman was here. I drank the peach cider and finished off what was left of the picnic. It was all very nice and the peach cider is definitely worth a try. It was a lovely relaxing day, one I should have appreciated more because our weekend was going to be busy!
I had a bit of a funny turn at about 2am on Wednesday 6th July. Kat turned the light out for us to go to sleep and I lay down. I got an overwhelming feeling of not being able to breathe properly and my chest was very hot to the touch. I scared her as she wondered if I was going to need medical attention and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. When I sat up I seemed to feel better but when I lay down I got worse, I turned my head toward the Aircon and we left the torch, on Kat’s phone, on until I calmed down a bit and eventually fell asleep. Thinking about it, it was the same thing I had when I got on the plane in Singapore so I wondered if it was just from lack of sleep and a bit of stress. When I woke up, Kat had already been out to buy us some local food for breakfast. She had got me xoi ngo (or xoi bap), which is sticky corn rice with mung bean and fried onion. It’s very filling and tastes great. Kat had xoi xeo for herself, which was similar to mine but without the corn. We ate it with kombucha, which I didn’t particularly enjoy but it did cut through the stodge of the breakfast well. After breakfast I got ready and we decided to go over to West Lake so we could grab a drink at a cafe. Our first stop was at Mystic cafe where they put up a parasol for us to sit by the lake. It was hazy but hot and I borrowed a sun hat from Kat. I had a fresh iced tea and the menu looked good so we ordered lunch there. I had a chicken taco and Kat had chicken salad, both were great value for money. Next we stopped off at Huy Long cafe on a nice corner spot, Kat had a coffee and I had a fresh lemon juice. Kat had stuff to do in the afternoon so she kindly dropped me off at the accommodation which Captain Caveman had booked from tonight. We loosely said we would meet up later and off I went, to the Euphoria reception desk to check in.
I was excited to find we had been upgraded to a snazzy 2 bedroom apartment at Euphoria. I roughly knew the area too so, after unpacking and taking some photos, I had a walk to the shopping centre next to Fraser Suites. I was surprised to see that the Annam Gourmet shop sold Yorkshire tea bags but 80 were 450,000vnd (£16.20). I found that wine was cheaper and bought 2 bottles of screw top red and some croissants for breakfast tomorrow. I wasn’t sure if I would be eating out tonight but noticed the pizza place had 2 for 1 offers on Wednesdays which was good.
Back at Euphoria, I chilled out a bit and worked out how to operate the TV so that I could put my Youtube playlist on. Kat was coming over later but I got peckish and thirsty so I ordered pizza and started the wine. Kat arrived with treats of cheese, olives, Korean chocolate nibbles, some pastry things and peach cider. We had a bit of a picnic for our dinner, with wine and some great tunes. At first I was reluctant to try the Ricco Tiramisu gluten free sweets, but Kat insisted. I’m glad that she did because they are life changing and I need to have more if them in my life. We went to bed late and it was pretty luxurious to have a bedroom each tonight.
It was only just Tuesday 5th July, as I stood at a phone charging station in Changi airport, Singapore, at 12.05am. I’d found a currency exchange shop where the woman was finishing her shift and she swapped me five $20 notes for one of my $100s. She also told me that all the places to get food and drink will close and not open until morning so to stock up on anything I needed. She was helpful and it was nice. There is so much to do in Changi airport, but not after 10pm at night. I was eating plain crisps and dairy milk chocolate while trying to ignore the ignoramus next to me. He was watching very loud and violent clips on his phone while laughing. I’d not been able to have any sleep yet so I’d decided to come to make sure my phone battery was at 100% before my attempt to check-in. Given that my ticket had my surname spelled incorrectly, and I couldn’t change it, I was genuinely worried. All helpful posts on the internet gave the same answer that I wouldn’t be allowed to travel with it. I was situated right next to the Scoot automatic check-in machines which were open for flights to Australia, South Korea and Indonesia but there seemed to be a bottle neck of customers. This proved to be very useful as I overheard a member of staff who had come to help people get through quicker. It seemed that the Australians had more discrepancies than the South Koreans, who still needed PCR tests to enter their country. I decided I would try my luck and wandered slowly towards the queue. On the way there, I bumped in to a lovely older Australian lady, heading for Sydney, and we got chatting in the queue. She couldn’t work the machine and I noticed her passport was upside down and I copied her. Because we were causing a jam, the Scoot staff member sent both of us over to the in-person check-in, giving us both a slip of paper to say we required manual check-in due to a fault! That was the first hurdle. I let the Aussie lady go first and I waited behind a large South Korean family who were half way through repacking their bags and arguing at being denied check-in. This Scoot staff member looked stressed so when it was my turn I smiled and tried a bit of sympathy. As she was checking my passport and printing the ticket I asked if she needed to weigh my hand luggage (I knew it was under) then proceeded to pop it on the scales. I was through to departures just before 1am!!! I had just 8 hours to kill before boarding my flight so I was heading straight to do some damage in a lounge for 3 of them!
Once through security at Changi airport, I trotted off to the SATS Premier Lounge, Terminal 1, and I was so excited. It had 24hr food and booze and should have been even better than the one I was in last month, at Terminal 3. The guy on the reception desk was super friendly and informative and told me that he would remind me when my 3 hours was up but if I wanted to do another 3 hours after that, I could! This would mean paying on my Priority Pass for an extra visit but if the food and drink selection was good and it was a nice place to relax I would do that. I didn’t even sit down first, I went straight to the booze selection and poured myself a prosecco in a wine glass, who cares if they had no flutes! I took a couple of selfies so I could ‘brag off’ to Kate and Mark, who also have a Priority Pass, that I was in a lounge and then I went to check out the food options. There were some delicious looking curries with hardly any left but the staff seemed to be replenishing the containers. I grabbed a pumpkin and spinach sandwich, some cheese and turkey ham and another prosecco. I told one of the staff that I would need another bottle of prosecco and handed him the empty bottle. Despite the sandwich selection being the only choice available I had 2, they weren’t too bad and I poured myself a third glass of fizz. There was still no hot food left so I asked the bloke who was in the kitchen area if I could get some chicken curry and rice, he said yes. It never appeared and so I asked the reception staff why there was still no hot food. They said they would find out what was happening but after twice of me checking nothing appeared. By now, all that was left of the cold food was a bowl of cucumber and tomatoes (which I don’t eat) and I was very hungry. I got some nuts but they had wasabi peas in them and I didn’t chance eating any more than the first mouthful. I got out my own crisps at one point and told the staff this was not acceptable. I was now quite tiddly but soldiered on with more prosecco and kept asking how long the food would be. After another 2 hours of waiting and asking I was told my time in the lounge was up and there was still no food, I was flabbergasted. I complained, asked the reception guy for a solution and he told me they were changing from dinner to breakfast food hence the delay. I could not believe my ears when he suggested I go to find the 7-Eleven shop to buy some food in the airport. Outrageous! Incidentally, it was closed. I spent the next 3 hours just wandering around the airport, drunk, looking for snacks/food (in shops, not in bins) but had to eat the rest of my crisps. I found an empty seating area and made a bed from my travel pillow and towel, took my Volleys off and tried for a nap. It was still only 5am!
By the time I was boarding my flight from Singapore to Hanoi, I was exhausted and pretty hungry. Although not hungry enough to have eaten the Bounty and a Dairy Milk fruit and nut bar, which I was saving as a treat for Kat. Between us, we had completely got the details of when I was staying at her place, in Hanoi, confused. She had thought it was yesterday and I’d obviously known it was today but may have not corrected her on our messages. This meant she was busy when I intended on arriving but was still happy for me to stay over and sent me a video of where she lived in Hanoi. The least I could do is take her some chocolate! I was nervous because I still had to show my boarding pass and passport to the staff at the gate – what if they noticed the name error? I got to the front of the queue to board and, as the staff checked my documents, I asked if the plane was full. She looked up and told me it was, but if I needed to request a seat change I should ask once I got on the plane. And, just like that, I was through! We waited on the air bridge for quite a while and when I got on I was feeling hot and a bit jittery. I put it down to having been wearing a mask and my eczema flaring up, a lot. I sat down in row 7, in the window seat allocated to me, but I really wanted an aisle seat. I started to feel unwell so I asked the guy in my row to swap. As luck would have it his wife was in an aisle seat 5 rows back so I then swapped with her and I was very grateful of their help. I was lucky to not have anyone sitting next to me and we took off on time. On Scoot airlines they have free WiFi and you have to order any food or drinks online. At first it didn’t work but eventually I ordered a red wine and some fried rice! It cost 19 Singaporean dollars, which was good as I had 20 left, about £11.50. I was so hungry I would have eaten anything, despite any allergy warnings and I expected the worst! The mixed fried rice was great (I left the crab claw) and I enjoyed the appropriately named wine before we landed at Hanoi. It was not long after midday when I got into the lengthy immigration queue to re-enter Vietnam.
I was very tired as I waited, then got moved to another queue. After what seemed like too long I was allowed back in to Vietnam! It was 24 hours since I’d taken off in Danang, but 35 hours since I had left Phong Nha. I felt it was a bit of a chore for a visa run and wouldn’t choose to do this journey again in a hurry. I was meant to get the number 86 bus to Hanoi train station, where Kat would send a taxi for me. Considering I was knackered, and I’d not spent hotel or extra lounge money, I splashed out on a taxi to Ba Dinh. It cost 400,000vnd (£14.40) and took less than an hour to get there. I got out of the taxi at the WinMart, Kat came to meet me and I bought a couple of cold beers to celebrate being back in Vietnam. Kat was very welcoming and her studio apartment was a delight – I loved it. She told me to help myself to anything I wanted as she had an appointment she needed to get to. I unpacked, had a shower and then tried to sleep. I woke up a few hours later to a horrendous noise. It was a monsoon style storm and the thunder and lightening was right above me. It went on for several hours and when Kat eventually got home, she’d had to push her broken down motorbike through thigh deep water to get to her place. I was so lucky to not have had to leave the room and we planned to get a takeaway for a late dinner. It was around 10pm and we struggled to get a delivery with the flooded streets. Our burgers arrived at 11.30pm and we were so hungry that mine was snaffled quickly. I was so excited to be safely back in Hanoi and was grateful to have a safe, dry, friendly place to relax after a very long day.