Phong Nha – 15th July

Phong Nha – 15th July

I wasn’t hungry when I got up on Thursday 15th July but I was aware that there were quite a few things that I still needed to eat up out of the fridge before starting on the new stuff. I had to salvage pieces of banana from the 3 blackish ones for my pancake and, because the housekeeping staff were in our room, I decided to roast the jackfruit seeds. Once they were cooked I began the laborious task of peeling them while Veronika sat down opposite me with a cup of tea and watched the process. I gave her some to try, she liked them and I put some in a jar for the Elements Collection staff to eat, I froze the rest to put in a curry another day. The housekeeping staff took almost 2 hours (they are very thorough and do a great job) and so I sat drinking jasmine tea with the fan on, Veronika went to the Phong Nha Farmstay for her coffee fix. I had an amazing lunch, the leftover BBQ jackfruit, which I reheated in the slow cooker, served on a baguette with shredded red and white cabbage, carrot and gherkins – it tasted much better than the last time we had it too.

I was having a cold beer by the pool, I didn’t go in because of my eczema, when Veronika came to tell me that tonight’s pick up would be earlier if I wanted to go for fish and chips at The Villas at 5.10pm – not one to miss out on a Happy Hour I got ready for an early bar. My current visa had expired 6 days ago and I hadn’t heard to say if my passport was back in Phong Nha yet so I decided to see if I could pick it up from The Villas, if it was back. You need good patience here because it just so happened that it was already at the Phong Nha Farmstay reception but I’d not been told – I was a bit more chilled out than previous passport encounters and said I’d pick it up tomorrow, happy to have got it back in a week this time. Ben was taking the Phong Nha Farmstay guests’ kids stand up paddle boarding before dinner, hence the early pick up and when we arrived I bumped in to Moon from Funny Monkeys. She was doing her delivery rounds of cookies made at Bella Cafe, within Funny Monkeys. A dishevelled Stu came out to collect 2 big jars and had just woke up and had hardly had time to put his shirt on before Moon was taking his photo and calling him handsome as she buttoned his shirt. Veronika had been interested in buying some cookies for some time so she arranged to walk and get some this evening when Moon was back from her deliveries. These cookies really were going down a storm and were a popular addition to the treats we can get in the town now. I sat in the Aircon at The Villas with a margarita and did some blogging as I had the whole room to myself. One of the cavers told me that he and Tatas had got back from their cave trip earlier than planned so I messaged her to say to come for a drink. When Tatas arrived Happy Hour had finished but she still had a couple of margaritas. Stu came to join us while I had fish and chips and the food took a bit longer than usual to come because of all the guests at The Villas tonight – I didn’t mind as it was good to see it busy again.

Photo credit – The Villas restaurant

Phong Nha – 5th July

Phong Nha – 5th July

While Captain Caveman had a day working in Hang Va on Monday 5th July I was awake at stupid o’clock wondering if I would actually be booking that flight to Hanoi or unpacking my suitcase today. I didn’t bother with any breakfast because I had arranged for a group of us to go to my leaving lunch at East Hill at 11.30am. I didn’t get a message about my visa so I messaged Bich, to see if she could help find out what was happening, she replied to say that there had been no further update and so I was to go ahead and assume I had to leave. I was a bit shocked because I had hoped for a few more days at least but I started sorting through my toiletries and bits and bobs to add to my packed luggage. At 09.02am my phone rang and it was Bich, I’d answered it within 5 seconds and was listening carefully as she said that she had got a call back, but then went on with a little story about someone not having any signal and the WiFi being rubbish. Apparently somewhere in the conversation she said I could stay a bit longer and that I should send my passport off to request another visa extension. I went downstairs to make a cup of tea and Veronika came in, when she asked how it was going, and I told her, I think we were both a bit shocked, but pleased! After chatting for a bit I realised I’d probably better cancel the East Hill leaving party but it was already 10am and some people had arranged to come in their lunch break. I decided we should go ahead as planned but I updated the Facebook invite to a ‘staying’ do instead!

I had rather foolishly chosen to cycle to East Hill for my ‘staying not leaving’ lunch and the heat was pretty relentless. I’d turned down lifts because I had planned on it being Bluey’s last trip out and I even chatted to her as I pumped up her tyres, reassuring her that she might be going on short rides for a bit longer, all being well. Astonishingly, I was almost the first to arrive despite Tatas saying her and the Funny Monkey’s mob were going there early for some photo taking. Phuong, Hong and his 2 little kids had all come on the one motorbike and were just getting off when I got there and I parked Bluey in the shade. We went up the steps and had a bit of trouble finding a big enough table with a fan, Tatas was there next closely followed by Duyet and the 3 ladies from Elements. I asked Tatas to let them know I was no longer leaving just yet and they were so happy it was heartwarming. Shannon arrived and we got seated at a big table and Tatas ordered 2 chicken combos to start us off. Momma D was the next to arrive with Kevin, the dog and we decided to order beers, I had a pepsi then Hien arrived. The next people to arrive were Ly Ly, Moon, Ngày and Leonard (who’d impressively managed the steps with a walking stick) from Funny Monkey’s, just in time for the chicken arriving and a second load of beers (cider for me). They presented me with a gift of gluten free cake which I didn’t look at the note until later but it was really sweet of them. We ordered 2 more chickens and I was worried the Elements team weren’t eating enough and went to sit at that end of the table to check they were getting stuck in. Moon even snitched and said our gardening lady was eating like a small bird and we said she should have more! Leonard, who’s 80 years old, was his usual amusing self and I was happy to learn that he had introduced Tatas and the Funny Monkeys mob to an impromptu Pina Colada night where everyone had got rather merry last night. We played a really funny game, brought by Funny Monkeys, which was hilarious to see some people’s reactions: does anyone remember this?
https://youtu.be/_zXckGh32q4
There were much cheers shouted and a few photos with a few drinks but I stuck to 2 ciders because I had to cycle back home. We had a really good time and I was so glad it wasn’t my leaving party because we all wanted to be able to do it again another time and for it to be a happy time, not a sad one. I had another leaving, now staying, party for other friends booked in for tonight at the Farmstay but first I cycled the 10 minutes back home in over 40°C sunshine. I was a hot sweaty mess when I got back to Elements and I went to sit with the staff to thank them for coming for BBQ chicken. After a cool shower I got in the pool and then chilled in the shade of the balcony.

Captain Caveman was back from his Hang Va day earlier than expected and we had a drink by the pool. That evening, mainly because Captain Caveman had been working I’d organised the 2nd of my leaving events. Duyet drove Captain Caveman and I to the Farmstay in the Ural and it was really good fun – my leg was so much better since I last got in and out of the sidecar too. Trang, Andrew and Chung Son were already in the pool and they said they would come over to join us in a bit so we sat at our nicely reserved table with Stu, Max and Jack. I gave my passport to the Phong Nha Farmstay receptionist so that it could be arranged to take it to immigration in Dong Hoi to hopefully get me my next visa stamp. The 2 Farmstay guests from last night had heard my good news and came over to congratulate me on not leaving Vietnam yet and they joined our party as we took advantage of the Happy Hour margaritas – the Farmstay had put them on 2 for 1 as a special for tonight from 5.30-7pm. Trang and the boys came over and ordered some food, Captain Caveman ordered a pizza as a starter and we had more drinks with Veronika, Bich and Momma D. For dinner I think Captain Caveman had something western (but I don’t remember what) and I had duck a l’orange which was beautiful. Having already had 3 margaritas I then had a glass of red wine and a whiskey. Shannon joined us later when she finished work and it was a nice civilised evening and a good excuse to have dinner at the Farmstay again. At the end of the night our guests from Hanoi had said if anything went wrong with my visa extension application while they were in Son Doong that I could have a lift with them up to Hanoi when they got out on the 10th so I could fly out if I needed to, which was very nice and we had hugs and kisses all round. Duyet picked us up in the big bus and I was pretty tired when I got to bed, it’s the most I’d been out in ages.

Photo credit – Captain Caveman, Hien, Moon.

Phong Nha – 28th May

Phong Nha – 28th May

I had Tree Hugger takeaway pancakes and fruit salad with honey for breakfast on Friday 28th May and they were delicious. 
Captain Caveman was booked on the second of two flights from Saigon to Dong Hoi and so this morning he was doing nothing, going nowhere and keeping out of the way of any Corona risk. In the news there were reports of the use of market coupon QR codes for shopping without crowding in Danang, read about it here:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/958234/residents-of-da-nang-begin-using-coupons-with-qr-codes-for-shopping.html
Unfortunately death 47 was reported, who happened to be the youngest Corona death in Vietnam so far, more here:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/958724/health-authorities-reported-youngest-covid-19-related-death-in-viet-nams-fourth-wave.html
I did some crossword type puzzles and watched some Hell’s Kitchen on Netflix to help me not stress about Captain Caveman getting home before any further restrictions. By 11am it was raining a little bit so I messaged a few Phong Nha friends to see if they fancied pizza night at The Villas later. For lunch I had more Tree Hugger takeaway with veggie fried spring rolls and finally Captain Caveman confirmed he was boarding the plane and would be back in time for pizza.
When he landed at Dong Hoi airport he fell lucky and was able to share a car back to Phong Nha with his boss.
Veronika had already gone to The Villas on her motorbike but I got a lift from Bich. When we got to The Villas everyone was sat down already; Hanh, Tatas, Veronika, Shannon, Captain Caveman, Uy, Chung, Mark, and Phuong – it was quite a turn out. Ben, Bich, the kids and I joined the table and started eating pizza. Tatas and I had Margaritas and Captain Caveman stuck to beers as we were on a budget. The pizzas were as delicious as always and my two favourites were the smoked duck and the Showstopper.  It was a good night and a few of us decided we would arrange to do something together on Sunday.

Phong Nha – 23rd May

Phong Nha – 23rd May

It was a funny old day on Sunday 23rd May, full of tricky decision making. I was awake at 6am, reading the news and checking my list of jobs left for me by Captain Caveman; Corona death number 42 had been reported in Vietnam. Unfortunately the first of my tasks, which then lead to all the others, was to arrange to pick up my passport, which had not arrived yet. Our Plan A had consisted of flying to Saigon tonight, staying for a couple of nights, flying to Tam Ky, staying 4 nights at Le Domaine de Tam Hai resort then flying back via Saigon. Without a passport I knew I couldn’t get on the flight so Plan B was for us to either wait until the next day or for Captain Caveman to go ahead of me and then I would go the next day, seeing as my passport was ‘definitely’ going to be back by the 24th! Plan C was looking more likely in that we could take a private car from Phong Nha to Tam Hai, thus not needing my passport, and miss out Saigon, but was fractionally more expensive than flying there, and would take a day of travelling. Plan D, which could happen if the corona cases kept increasing at the rate they were, was to maybe just stay in Phong Nha!
I packed my bag then checked my phone every few seconds, waiting for my visa agent to let me know my passport had arrived – unfortunately she didn’t sound sure it would. I made enquiries about all of Plans A-D in readiness for a discussion with my other half, and holiday buddy, later! I was super organised and left no detail explored while still hoping for my passport to show up. I had a banana and some M&Ms for breakfast, then cheese and brown rice crackers for lunch, I’d hopefully be eating dinner in Thao Dien, Saigon, with friends later tonight. 
Captain Caveman was on his way out of Son Doong just after I’d eaten lunch and all his customers were on a flight that evenin. I got a message to say he was on the bus heading back to Phong Nha and that he’d be at the Glass House in 20 minutes. He needed an update as to what was going on with my passport and Corona restrictions so I sent him my findings.

In conclusion the decision for Captain Caveman now was one of the following:

Plan A: go to SGN 23/5 17.45 alone

Plan B: go to SGN 24/5 with Jo (passport permitting)

Plan C: no SGN, book a car to Tam Hai Mon/Tue, decide later to come back via car or flight

Plan D: stay in Phong Nha for his week off.

If you were Captain Caveman, what would you have done? And what decision do you think he actually made?

In between me sending my updated situation list to Captain Caveman and me speaking to him, Caroline at Le Domaine de Tam Hai had been super busy and helpful. She was an absolute star in getting me more details and attempting to do all she could so that we could go there for a holiday without flying and without my passport, if it didn’t turn up.
I got a message from a freshly showered Captain Caveman to tell me he was cycling back to Elements and to book a lift with Duyet for 4.30pm to take both of us to the Phong Nha Farmstay. He was meeting his customers there for cocktails before their flight, which Captain Caveman had decided not to take with them. 
When it got to 4.30pm Captain Caveman was already downstairs and I went to join him, he said we would get the flight tomorrow, once (if) I had my passport back. At the Farmstay I was introduced to Captain Caveman’s group who were mainly french, very nice and not getting their flight to Saigon until 8pm, so were leaving at 6pm. We had margaritas and chatted about the Son Doong tour. Thien, one of the customers, poured us all a glass of champagne which they had brought with them and I had a glass or two. We shared some brie and iberico meats with the group – what a fantastic treat. Veronika joined us just in time for a bit of brie and we all watched the sunset before they had to leave for the airport – without us!

We stayed at the Farmstay and had more wine and a Sunday Roast which had crackling on this time and was really good. It was a shame we hadn’t been able to set off for our holiday but my agent had reassured me that the passport would be with her tomorrow.

Danang – 24th April

Danang – 24th April

Captain Caveman arrived at Bridges Danang Boutique Hotel at 5.30am on Saturday 24th April after a long bus ride which he did manage to get some sleep on. We met Hamish and Ania and went for breakfast at a place called Cohibar. I had bacon, beans and potatoes, Captain Caveman had a croque madame, Ania a chicken salad and Hamish chicken nuggets. The breakfast was ok, service a little slow but it was nice enough and we got caught up on the plans for the rest of the weekend. We were meant to be getting the bus back on Monday but we decided to change our plans to leave Sunday night, by train instead. Captain Caveman was concerned the bus might not get him back in time for work if it happened to be late and I was glad to not be taking a bus as I really don’t like them and prefer the train.

Our next stop was a quick drink (or two) in Vertigo Bar where Mik joined us, Hamish had to go to do something, and then on to Taco Ngon, a place that had been on our list to visit for a while. I had 3 tacos, Ania and Captain Caveman just had 2 and they were really good, especially washed down with a very well made Margarita.

It was Des’s birthday today so I had organised a get together that night at 7 Bridges Taproom where I’d booked a table on the roof. When we arrived the table hadn’t been reserved at all, despite me booking with the manager and Steve double checking, so they dragged some tables together and we made the most of the seating situation under the turbo fans which messed up everyone’s hair. A few of us had been before so knew the type of place it was but I think some of the party, who’d not been before, were disappointed there wasn’t any cheaper drinks or offers on, there was even a sign saying they no longer do any drinks offers. I’d not even thought of this because I don’t usually drink beer and am used to paying a premium for wine instead. It was a big mix of people who we knew from Phong Nha who all were currently staying in Danang and we had a good laugh. Most of the crowd had left to go to eat before the birthday boy had arrived, as he was working until 9pm. The rest of us watched the dragon bridge breathe fire and there was a parade on the streets below which made it tricky for Diana to get here and even harder for Des who finally arrived all stressed and in a bad mood. June, Steve, Captain Caveman and I ordered one of the gigantic pizzas, which were very impressive but I just had 1 slice then spent the rest of the night going to the toilet. I only chose the venue because I thought it would suit everyone else (beer and pizza) but it didn’t and was a bit of a none-party in the end, especially as my intolerance to gluten seemed to definitely be back) still it was good to meet up with friends I’d met in Phong Nha in Danang and I know Captain Caveman, June and Steve are big fans of the 7 Bridges Taproom. The most memorable thing about the night for me was the scary man, or the pigs, in the toilets and the 3 red wines I had! Going down the stairs from the 4th floor to ground level was not as difficult as it had been in recent months and I was getting a bit quicker. We toyed with the idea of going somewhere else to celebrate Des’s birthday but decided to call it a night around 11.30pm – not bad for a weekend night in Danang.

Video of the dragon breathing fire

Photo and video credit – Karl & Captain Caveman

Phong Nha – 31st March

Phong Nha – 31st March

Tatas was still in bed when I got up on Wednesday 31st March and I had arranged to get a lift to The Villas at 8.30am so that I could meet Captain Caveman for Happy Hour later that afternoon. Tatas was driving her motorbike back and I left her getting ready while the car arrived with Annette, Sonya and Ania in. They were off to Phong Nha cave and Ben had suggested I go too but I didn’t think my leg was up to getting in and out of boats just yet.
As I was going to be spending all day at Victory Road Villas I ordered bacon, beans and oolong tea for my breakfast and got comfy in the work space area so I could do some ‘work’. Tatas had gone to meet her housemate for coffee at Tree House who hadn’t shown up so she came to The Villas for coffee and pho, I had a lime juice.
Before lunchtime Annette, Sonya and Ania arrived back from Phong Nha cave, all at differing intervals, in a sweaty mess after walking from the tourism centre to The Villas in blazing sunshine – I was so pleased I hadn’t joined them as I walk too slowly for it to have been ok to do. We all ordered lunch and then Keith and his friend, Tra, arrived who had cycled from Funny Monkeys, where they were staying.
Ali was also there having lunch and had all the info on what Captain Caveman had planned for the weekend in Saigon and proceeded to update me, in the hope that I would also be joining the trip. On the first night Ali and Captain Caveman had arranged to meet for dinner, on the second Captain Caveman was off to football with Scott, a friend of Keith’s, then he had an all day cycling event followed by beers the next day then back to Phong Nha for work. It was interesting to hear how I fitted in to all these plans, as well as the friends we had tentatively arranged to meet up with! It was going to be hectic but fun, I expected.
There were at least 3 of the group working on their laptops this lunchtime at The Villas and it was good to see the co-working space was taking off – how they could concentrate with me wittering on is anyone’s guess!
Lunch arrived; Ania had the zucchini ribbon salad, Annette the smoked duck salad, Sonya had a burger and I had the potato, artichoke and edamame salad. Keith gave me his football season ticket card, as even he knew that Captain Caveman was going to football on Friday night and he wouldn’t need it as he was staying in Phong Nha until Saturday. I ordered a cider and Keith had a beer, well it would be rude not too. Annette and Sonya decided to ask for a lift back to the Farmstay as they preferred to swim there but Tatas and I were happy with the privacy of the pool at The Villas. Ania had work to do, Ali was off back to Saigon this afternoon, Keith and Tra were off to see Phong Nha cave then would come back for happy hour and a half at The Villas. I got in the pool and managed quite a few lengths until I had to take up my job as photographer for Tatas in a rather lovely bikini from Mommy Shark.

I think I was in a bit of a mood because I was very much aware that it was my Dad’s birthday (a big one this year) and we were all meant to have been doing something to celebrate together, but he was in lockdown in Sheffield and I was in Phong Nha where the day would take an unexpected turn.
Captain Caveman was the first to arrive at The Villas for Happy Hour and a half, Tatas and I were already round the pool with a pre-happy hour drink of sangria for me and a margarita for her. At first we didn’t recognise the handsome, clean shaven fella approaching us as he’d nipped off to Onion’s for a haircut and shave on his way and was earlier than we expected. He wasn’t staying long as he had to get his pick up at 5.30pm for his gala dinner at Chay Lap with his group. He ordered a margarita and had a quick chat before Keith and Tra arrived back from their Phong Nha cave trip and Keith ordered a margarita on the 2 for 1 offer, as did Tatas, Captain Caveman and I. Unfortunately, the waitress bringing the drinks had some bad news; margaritas were no longer part of the happy hour deal and were only 2 for 1 on Margarita Mondays! This couldn’t be right, especially as it was still on the menu and I’d not been able to get to Margarita Monday for the last couple so I wasn’t aware of the new Happy Hour conditions. I messaged Ben as this was the worst news I’d had in ages, he rang me and he agreed to honour the deal, which was fortunate as we had already had a couple each. Ania, oblivious to a potential margarita-gate, finished work inside The Villas and went to the bar to order a Margarita but was told she couldn’t have one and so ordered a sangria. She came to join us outside to find out if they had ran out of tequila. Hamish arrived back from his Tu Lan trip and ordered a beer for him and his tour guide, Victor, Keith ordered a beer and Ania’s sangria arrived. We decided we would eat at The Villas tonight and, as Captain Caveman left for work, 3 more beers were requested by the others. Tatas and I ordered another Margarita which arrived but the beers didn’t, the waitress told us there were no more beers left, not even warm ones! Unfortunately this meant that Keith, Tra and Hamish would go elsewhere for another beer after their caving trips which had built up a thirst so it was decided everyone was going to Momma D’s and they set off walking. Tatas and I sat finishing our drinks wondering how it had all gone wrong so quickly, as we finished up and went to pay some beers had arrived.

I had to make a choice on what and where to eat for dinner and also be able to get home (safely) so that I could call my Dad to wish him a happy birthday. I really didn’t fancy going to Momma D’s because of the stairs and the propensity to get drunk and reinjure myself on the way out. I also dislike having to rely on other people to make sure I’m safe and can get down the stairs when the people I’m with could just turn out to be more reckless than me! Captain Caveman knew this and when I messaged to check if he would be able to pick me back up later he was a bit put out because he couldn’t definitely say that he would as it would depend on his customers requirements. It was 2 weeks off from being a year since my injury resulting in my double torn ligament disaster which would end up costing us a lot of pain, time and money! I was also extremely hungry and the options were limited so I agreed to go to join the others at Momma D’s. Tatas and I went together very slowly and when we arrived she helped me up the stairs, which I managed to get up pretty well. It was a dry night and I had sensible (grippy) shoes on so all was good.
Momma D was so pleased to see us all, we got a frozen Bellini shot each and a welcome lick from Kevin, the dog. Hamish and Tatas were straight on the shots but I was taking it steady. Captain Caveman called to say he was dropping off his customers and to be downstairs for a pick up in a few minutes but I’d not had any food yet so I had to tell him I couldn’t be ready and he should come to Momma D’s – he wasn’t happy and was worried we wouldn’t get home. Colin and Martin arrived, and joined us for drinks and a chat. I ordered gluten free pulled pork tacos and nachos for my dinner and I had a cheeky bite of the sausage rolls which the others had. Wow, the food was amazing and it took all my willpower not to eat all of the sausage rolls and order more. Tra had the chicken parmigiana which she seemed to give more to the dog than she ate, on account of him mastering the begging look. Keith had the mac and cheese for dinner but he was almost orgasmic over the cheese cake. Captain Caveman arrived, declined the shots but had a drink and told me to keep checking my messages for a reply from Ben about our lift back, especially as I’m not quick to get down the stairs. Tatas got absolutely wasted and the only non-drinker of the party, Tra, agreed to drive her home the few hundred metres while Keith jogged along to walk Tra back to Funny Monkeys.
As Captain Caveman had predicted there was some confusion over our lift home with Ben and getting Momma D to order us a taxi which I got the blame for and wasn’t too pleased about! I’d already paid the bill before we ordered a taxi and then another round of drinks because it would be a while, when Ben arrived to pick us up – Captain Caveman ran down the 7 floors of stairs, Momma D cancelled the taxi and I tried to go my fastest (which was too slow) with Ania helping me down the stairs. It was one of ‘those nights’, I had spent just over £60 (1.9m vnd) for the whole day and I was just glad to get home so that we could sing Happy Birthday to my Dad. When I finally got to call him, Captain Caveman had already got in to bed and he must’ve been confused over what day it was because it was Wine Wednesday not Naked Tuesday. Oh well, it’s not every day my Dad gets sung Happy Birthday to by a half naked duo in Vietnam – it wasn’t quite the memories we were hoping to give him on his special day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phong Nha – 11th March

Phong Nha – 11th March

I was awake at 5.20am on Thursday 11th March and was just about to fall back to sleep when the loudest tannoy announcement ever, came on! I know it’s meant to be to tell all the villagers the news, instead of newspapers or the internet, but it really does go on and I’m convinced some of it is totally not newsworthy. Today I think they had either turned up the volume or erected another speaker nearer to Veronika’s side of the house. I got up, it was still dark as I had my buttered toast and jasmine tea back in bed. I had saved some pork fat and scraps of lamb for Ky, the dog, so I gave them to one of the housekeeping staff and then decided to make an omelette, chopping half of it up for egg fried rice and saving the other half for Captain Caveman to have for breakfast before his next trip tomorrow. For my lunch I had my leftover shepherd’s pie and in the afternoon I was meant to be meeting Captain Caveman and Quyen at The Villas and needed to arrange transport. Quyen who lives in Saigon was coming to do the Hang Va trip with Captain Caveman and would be staying at Chay Lap that night.
At The Villas I had time for one margarita before the pick up car arrived which only just had room to fit us all. Quyen had kindly brought us several packets of the masaman curry paste from Saigon which we love and would make us lots of meals. We still had no plans as to how I would get home as I had made it clear I would not be walking in the dark, going on a bicycle or a motorbike once I’d had a drink and Captain Caveman agreed this would be fine!

When we arrived at Chay Lap Captain Caveman made sure I got a hand to get up the big step to the bar and I ordered a Margarita. Quyen had gone to check in to her room then borrowed a bicycle to go for a bit of exploring of the local area. Captain Caveman’s gala dinner started and I sat sipping my margarita at the bar and I ordered some sweet potato fries to nibble on so that I didn’t get too drunk as I was already on my third margarita. Last year Chay Lap had some nice vegetarian options and even some western choices but now it was mainly Vietnamese food. We ate pork ribs, chicken skewers, cabbage and rice and most of it came without chillies as requested, except for the aubergine on the chicken skewers which was very spicy.
Captain Caveman came over to say we needed to rescue him soon as they were nearly down a bottle of rice wine but he had another tour to go on tomorrow and didn’t want to be drunk. Quyen and Captain Caveman were off to Hang Va for 2 days the next day and, although Quyen was staying for longer, Captain Caveman would be going straight to Hanoi, by the overnight bus, then further north for a week. Captain Caveman picked up the tab for both me and Quyen and we left her talking to the rest of her Hang Va group, who seemed a nice bunch of people.
I would have preferred to go home but Captain Caveman said we would go to a belated Women’s Day celebration at Bom’s place. When we arrived the only woman there was Quet, Bom’s wife, everyone was drunk and they insisted on Captain Caveman and I chugging warm beer while some bloke sang terribly loud karaoke songs. We walked, in the dark, holding hands for my balance, back to the Glass House to sleep there for the night. It was surprising to see how easy it was to get up the steps and it wasn’t nearly as difficult to do all 4 sets of stairs to our room. Captain Caveman still has a room there with all his caving gear and luckily I still had a few things in a drawer so had spare clothes. Even the bed was made – it was like we were camping for the night, but I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow’s arrangements for getting out of the Glass House.

Phong Nha – 8th March

Phong Nha – 8th March

Monday 8th March was rather exciting for me as I achieved a couple of my progress goals. First I had to contend with the loudspeaker noise and waking up soaked in sweat at 5.30am! Captain Caveman was off to Son Doong for 4 days and was up and out earlier than he needed to be. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I watched more Amazing Hotels, ate carrot cake for breakfast which I had a bad reaction to!

Matty was due back from Saigon, Hamish and Mik were due back from their Hang En trip and it was Margarita Monday so arrangements were made to meet at The Villas later. My dodgy stomach had gone by 1.30pm when Veronika and I bravely set off on our bicycles to cycle the 8.9km to The Villas. This was about to be the first attempt at cycling this distance all in one journey and it was quite a hot day for it. Matty had messaged to say he would get his taxi from the airport to drop him straight to The Villas.
The news in Vietnam reported that discussions have started about international tourism and the potential reopening of the country, but it still seemed a while off:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/business/20210308/vietnam-eyes-stepwise-plan-to-reopen-to-foreign-tourists/59656.html
Meanwhile back home today was the start of the new UK plan to come out of lockdown. Today, back in England, everyone is allowed to meet one other person in a park and I genuinely wondered how the logistics of that would work and wanted to ask everyone I knew in England who they chose and why – had the person you chose already chose someone else perhaps?


Veronika was faster than me on her bicycle and there were sections where she was way ahead as we cycled along the road passing what used to be The Bomb Crater Bar and Sy’s homestay. I saw a bright yellow and green snake as we neared the underpass not far from Magic Fingers massage place and homestay. My knee didn’t hurt but my bum certainly did by the time we arrived at our destination 37 minutes later with a bit of a sweat on! Bluey was parked up with the intention I would get a lift to come ride her back tomorrow but I seriously wondered if I would be able to even move tomorrow. We sat at a table by the river hoping for a peaceful rest and we ordered juices from a new waitress, Van, who I wished Happy Women’s Day in Vietnamese, while we waited for Matty. Veronika had already eaten lunch so she ordered a panacotta while I decided to try something I had never had before – a chicken, bacon, lettuce and gherkin sandwich with chips.

By the time Matty arrived the next door place to The Villas had the karaoke blasting out and so Veronika decided to cycle home while Matty and I moved to sit at the back of the The Villas, near the pool. We ordered margaritas and got free popcorn but Matty had to work at 6am the next day so didn’t want to drink too much. That went out of the window when we moved to another table, nearer the bar but still outside, and Hamish and Mik arrived. They were straight on the Gin and Tonics, we got another margarita and then the tequilas made an appearance. It sounded like they had an exciting Hang En trip and gave us an update of their 2 day adventure. Vu and little Ngoc, were also at The Villas and they insisted on buying me another margarita for Women’s Day and we decided to test out the dancefloor. I even had a dance with the security guard who is always really nice and helpful to me – my first dance as a duo in almost 11 months. Poor Manu, the manager, was a bit nervous I might fall and so was there looking out for me. I was quite safe though and I was so grateful to have cycled nearly 9km, including getting over a bridge, and was able to dance again – progress indeed. We had such a good time but we all forgot to order any dinner and I think the Margarita Mondays might be getting out of hand a bit!

Phong Nha – the 1st week of March

Phong Nha – the 1st week of March

Monday 1st March started off as quite an ordinary day for me, here in Phong Nha.
I’d decided that March was going to be a good month to get a bit fitter and healthier but I still had carrot cake in the fridge from last night so I had buttered toast for breakfast with a pot of jasmine tea before eating the cake as my lunch! It was quite warm out and felt very muggy but I didn’t let it put me off going for a ride on Bluey. I cycled to the French Road and back, which took just 9 minutes 44 seconds and, when I got home, I made popcorn.
Captain Caveman came back from Son Doong and was off to his usual gala dinner at Chay Lap at 5.30pm so he suggested I meet him at The Villas. It was Margarita Monday and I arrived first, Captain Caveman arrived shortly after me and we ordered a couple of margaritas. Matty arrived next and Captain Caveman had to leave before Tatas arrived, Matty and I had another margarita and a pizza each – he had a prosciutto and tomato one, I had salami, mushroom and pineapple. Captain Caveman sent me a few messages to say he was drinking rice wine with his customers, that he was on his way back to The Villas, that he was late, and that he was just setting off but never arrived so I took a lift back home with Matty and Bich.
I didn’t know it at the time but we probably drove past Captain Caveman who was drinking with his colleagues at a cafe that used to be Yummy’s. For once I was the sensible one and didn’t have that many margaritas compared to last week.

Captain Caveman was extremely hungover on Tuesday 2nd March and didn’t remember much of the previous night. He had to sort himself out, though, as he had his next briefing tonight and was back in to Son Doong tomorrow. I made him cheese on toast, I had jam on toast and I ordered myself a shepherd’s pie for tonight. The weather wasn’t great either so I didn’t do any cycling. I booked a bus ticket for Captain Caveman to go to Hanoi in a couple of week’s time as he was off to see our friends, Phil and Hoa in the north for a week. In Saigon they ended lockdown restrictions and in Hanoi they reopened restaurants and bars.
I got peckish in the afternoon as I’d had no lunch but didn’t want to spoil my shepherd’s pie eating abilities so I had a date, some walnuts and a rice cracker. Captain Caveman set off early to his briefing so that he could pick up his bus ticket, on the way back he picked up three loaves of bread from the Lake House and he got back in time to join us for shepherd’s pie, after all. Bich had also got Veronika and I two sourdough loaves of bread and so now, Captain Caveman was about to be away for most of the month and I had 5 loaves of bread.
I restricted myself to just one glass of wine with my shepherd’s pie while dining with Captain Caveman, Veronika and Matty – I even took home some left over pie and veg to have tomorrow.

Captain Caveman went off to his next Son Doong tour on Wednesday 3rd March so we were both up early as I also had some work to do. As the ‘being frugal with the housekeeping’ mission seemed to be working well and Captain Caveman was impressed that I was trying to save money, I decided that each time he was in the cave I would do the challenge and see how I did, even though this time he left me 2 million Dong (£62)! The idea behind it being that we had more to spend on my monthly visa extensions, trips away and to keep living somewhere with a pool so that as it got warmer I could afford to replace my very old swimwear and get fitter by swimming.
I was downstairs slicing bread, all 5 loaves, and boxing them up for the fridge or freezer when Veronika came downstairs, dressed for winter and a bit hurried. She had decided she was going to ride her motorbike to Dong Hoi with Ben and told me not to worry if she didn’t come home as she may stay over. I had a very quiet day working through my To Do list and managed to polish off most of the crusts from the bread, the leftover shepherd’s pie, 3 satsumas and a small chocolate bar (bought for us as a Tet gift from Ai, landlady of the Glass House).
Instead of going out on Bluey in the rain I did my exercises and then started watching Amazing Hotels on Netflix. For dinner I had hummus and rice crackers and a couple of small glasses of wine while watching the TV

I woke up at 7am on Thursday 4th March, I had toast for breakfast and decided to take myself out for a ride on Bluey to incorporate lunch out at the Farmstay. I cycled the short way there in 9 minutes 43 seconds but it wasn’t a pleasant journey because there was quite a lot of mud on the road. I ordered a ginger beer and some fresh pork and prawn spring rolls for lunch and had a good chat and a laugh with Bich. I only spent 130,000vnd (about £4) and would be eating at home later. I chilled out a bit and contacted Mommy Shark in Hoi An to enquire about swimwear in western sizes as I was desperate for new swimmers. On the cycle back I decided to do the longer route, along the French Road, by the river and it took me 21 minutes and 37 seconds. I was knackered when I got in and had to have a little rest while watching more Amazing Hotels. That evening I had chicken in a tomato and olive sauce with green beans and steamed rice, washed down with a glass of wine. A friend who had also watched Amazing Hotels had commented how nice Brando’s in French Polynesia was – it reminded me of Le Domaine in Tam Hai during it’s early years, a lovely place. The housekeeping staff arrived to clean the balconies and windows and brought some lovely flowers and I had an early night – I even set my alarm to get up for cycling.

Photo credit – Bich, Phong Nha Farmstay

Phong Nha – 22nd February

Phong Nha – 22nd February

On Monday 22nd February I was woken up at 5.30am by the loud announcement through the tannoy system. It was starting to get really annoying now that we are forced to listen to it and it wakes us up. On a positive note I was able to catch up on the news and was only a few hours late to catch up on the UK prime minister’s latest update – it seemed to be good news.
In Vietnam there were plans to retest all experts who entered Saigon in 2021 because of the death of a Japanese man, more here:
https://vietnaminsider.vn/saigon-to-re-test-all-foreign-experts/
Reports of mass screening of medical staff resulted in 1 nurse being positive who was asymptomatic (see below):
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/886061/nurse-in-hai-phong-tests-positive-for-sars-cov-2.html
In the UK Boris Johnson’s announcement suggests that things could be ‘back to normal’ by the 21st June, I was sceptical but remained hopeful (see Facebook page):
https://www.facebook.com/228735667216/posts/10158568653927217/
Meanwhile, in Phong Nha, we were still virus free and I was about to have an exciting trip out! First of all I completed my third Bluey ride to the French Road and back and this time it took me 9.5 minutes, which is pretty good and a whole minute quicker than yesterday. I arranged with Bich to have a lift to The Villas for a late lunch and we had organised a bit of a celebration, considering it was Margarita Monday. My Dad had reminded me that it was the national Margarita day and so I had arranged to have lunchtime margaritas with Matty, Veronika, and Trang. I messaged them all to inform them (and Tatas) of my arrangements and got various responses; Veronika was already at The Villas sat by the river, Matty was also already at The Villas sat on the terraced area with his laptop out, Trang was already at Tree House with Tatas and didn’t know if she would make it to The Villas as she had to get back to Dong Hoi to her sick mom, Tatas wouldn’t make it because she didn’t want to drink before tonight’s Son Doong briefing and she needed the afternoon to pack. Well, this looked like it could be a bit of a piss-poor Margarita Monday!
Ben picked me up and he was going to be working at The Villas because Manu was away, we had a laugh driving in as we discussed the rather impromptu Margarita Monday! On the way we saw Veronika walking in to town and so she didn’t join us for Margaritas, or lunch, and it was just a cosy one for me and Matty! Ha and Lan popped in to say hello on their way back from a nearby wedding and I ordered a margarita and a tomato soup with a toasted cheese sandwich, Matty ordered the same. The food was great, although the bread there does give me gluten tummy, it would appear.

Trang finally arrived (she’s usually late) and was introduced to Matty but he left shortly after as he had to work later. Tatas arrived, I ordered a second margarita for me, nothing for Tatas and a watermelon juice for Trang and we were having some serious chatting, including encouraging Trang to stay an extra night to take a well earned rest.

Our friend Luc arrived and joined our table and then Captain Caveman and Ali turned up after their Son Doong trip. Margaritas were served all-round, even the non-drinking girls had one but some of the group had to take it easy. Tatas went off to do her briefing, Captain Caveman to his gala dinner at Chay Lap and Ali went to Momma D’s for dinner instead of the gala dinner.

Luc, Trang and I moved to an inside table to eat dinner, with another margarita. I had salami and prawn spaghetti, Luc had smoked duck salad and Trang the confit duck leg – all of which were very tasty. Tatas came back after her briefing and by the time Captain Caveman returned from his gala dinner, he was hammered. We had a great Margarita Monday and unfortunately my day 4 of being frugal with the housekeeping had not been successful. I had spent £1,425,000vnd (£44) in one day and was very grateful for the free lift back home from Ben. Margarita Monday had been successful in my eyes and I fell fast asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Photo credit – Ben, Trang, Quyen.