I had kept some of my last full day in Saigon free on Thursday 25th August. There had been no further contact about the taxi driver but I decided to be extra cautious when leaving the hotel, and not to order Grab taxis in case he picked up the job. I asked the receptionist if I could get a photo of the security camera footage with the 3 guys waiting for me in reception, just in case it was needed. I got food from the Microboulangerie next door and the important meeting I had missed yesterday was rescheduled to lunchtime today. One of the places I really like to eat at, in Thao Dien, is Lubu, which just so happens to have Beth’s son, Jay, as the new manager. I chose this to meet Mr H, a friend of Captain Caveman’s, for the first time. There were 3 of us sat at a central table in the light an airy restaurant. We enjoyed a delicious 3 course lunch each; the green salad starter was lovely and the roasted vegetable bruschetta looked good. I loved the steak and chips while Mr H had the healthier option of fish skewers. There was a choice of panna cotta or fruit with yoghurt for dessert. The lunchtime set menu is great and comes with tea or coffee so I still had a pot of green tea when my fellow diners had to leave to get back to work. One of our discussions had lead on to whether Captain Caveman and I liked whisky. We do and I was asked if I would like to try one of 2 bottles. I chose the one I had not had before and it was for me to take back to Turkey – it would be delivered this afternoon which was very kind of Mr H. I got a taxi back to the hotel and was busy on my laptop all afternoon except for when I got a call from reception to say a gift had arrived for me. I went down to collect the bottle of Craigellachie 17 year old single malt whisky – Captain Caveman and I would look forward to sharing that in Turkey!
In the evening Beth and I shared a taxi to Bandido’s, a Mexican restaurant in District 1. They had amazing Margaritas which we ordered a couple of while we waited for everyone else to come. We were lucky because we had arrived just before the heavy rain but Andrea got caught in it, who was next to arrive and insisted on jugs of margaritas – a great idea. Next to arrive was Quyen, Trang was a little later and Hoai had to message to say she would have to wait for the rain to pass. The rest of us ordered food and it was very tasty, the service was good and I particularly enjoyed the pork tacos. We weren’t planning on a late night because Andrea, Quyen, Trang and Hoai all had work in the morning but someone (possibly me) suggested we go for one more drink in Thao Dien. Quyen lives near to the Mexican restaurant so we said bye and she walked home. Trang and Hoai set off on their individual motorbikes and the remaining 3 of us got a taxi. We arrived at Soho wine bar and had some very nice wine. Andrea walked home but then Trang took Beth, and Hoai took me home. As we rode through the empty streets of Saigon it started to rain. Back at the hotel I was a little sad that I was leaving Vietnam tomorrow especially as I didn’t know exactly when I would be back again.
I really did not want to get up so early on Wednesday 24th August but Captain Caveman had booked the Oxalis car pick up for 6.30am. I didn’t have to check-in for my domestic flight until 8.30am but we had decided that breakfast at Mr Bull’s would be a good way to send me off. Dung, our nice driver, was early and we got in the car. Captain Caveman had to carry my big suitcase as I couldn’t lift it. We had our usual Bo Ne at Mr Bull’s, mine without eggs, and I really enjoyed it. Captain Caveman had time for us to pop to the WinMart for him to pick up some essentials and I got some mints for the journey. Captain Caveman came with me to Dong Hoi airport and we got checked in straight away for my 9.30am flight to Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon). I was flying with Vietnam Airlines, I had an aisle seat and was due to land at 11.10am. We said goodbye and I had a few tears, mainly through tiredness I suspect. I was looking forward to landing as I would have time to check-in to the hotel and get ready to meet friends for dinner tonight. The flight went smoothly but I wasn’t prepared for the absolute fiasco that was about to happen once I arrived in Saigon!
I landed at the domestic terminal of Ho Chi Minh airport, before midday. There were no taxis outside so I decided to walk to the international terminal where I knew there would be. I’d already been forewarned to make sure I only get in to the My Linh or Vina Sun taxis as they are the official ones. I’d read on social media about the potential for scams so I was alert to making sure I didn’t fall foul of this. As I approached the taxi queue there were 2 women who were taking the locations and hailing the cabs for customers, they wore lanyards round there neck and one of them was very efficient in getting me a taxi. I checked the car that had pulled up and asked her how much it was to Thao Dien. She said it was metered but I should check with the driver, which I did and he said he didn’t know but it was metered . They put my 25kg suitcase in the boot as I took my hand luggage from the trolley and pushed it out of the way. What I hadn’t noticed was that the car I was about to get in was not a My Linh or Vina Sun. The car had pulled up alongside the taxi I thought I was getting in and the driver told me to get in the front seat. I declined and I got in the back where I noticed the car wasn’t as neat and tidy as it should have been. The driver asked me for 10,000vnd (£) for the toll to get out of the airport, this is normal but I said I would pay at the end and took the ticket for 9,000vnd. I didn’t realise it at the time but it had his car registration number on it, which would prove to come in very handy. The driver asked if he could take me to an ATM to get more money out, that’s when I noticed that the meter was reading higher than it should. As we drove the meter was whizzing round far too quickly so I decided to call Captain Caveman, he didn’t pick up. I called the hotel and asked them how much the fare should be and to advise I was on my way. The receptionist was very helpful and told me that it should be half what it was already and suggested I might want to get out. I couldn’t because I was on a multi lane dual carriageway, I decided to continue the remaining 16 minute journey but asked the receptionist to meet me outside the hotel when I arrived. When we arrived there was a lot of discussion between the two in Vietnamese and the driver blocked me from getting my suitcases out of the boot. They had been put in very awkwardly with both handles away from the open area so I really had to push to get them out. The receptionist was confused and told the driver it should be a maximum of 250,000vnd but after more discussion he said he would accept 325,000vnd instead of the 2.6 million on the meter. By this point I already knew I would be reporting him to either the police or the airport so I paid with a 500,000vnd note which he only gave me 170,000vnd back because he said he had no 5,000vnd note. We got inside the hotel and I thanked the receptionist for coming to my aid, she was shocked at the driver’s behaviour. I checked in, went to my room and called Captain Caveman. That taxi driver had really cheesed me off by thinking he could take advantage of what looked like an older western woman who had, seemingly, just arrived in Vietnam. Captain Caveman has very good connections so I knew he would have the number of someone who would be able to do something to stop this driver ripping off tourists again!
My taxi incident had taken up so much of my time that I missed an important email inviting me to a meeting. Instead, I got a snack from the bakery next door for lunch and then tried to have a nap and forget about the taxi fiasco. That evening I had arranged to meet up with a few Saigon friends at a place called Eddie’s Diner, in District 1. It was a place that Annette had suggested because of her bad knee and it was all on the ground floor. Beth, was staying in Thao Dien, so she got the taxi to me and we were the first to arrive at Eddie’s. Annette came straight after work, Beth and I were already having a cocktail and thinking of sharing a main dish. Keith, from Grimsby, and the 2 Irish girls also joined us and more drinks were had. On a Wednesday Eddie’s has an offer on so 4 of us had the burger which was absolutely delicious. There was lots of chat and laughter but the Irish girls had to leave first because they had their flight home to catch tonight. We all wished them well and it was good to have seen them one last time in Vietnam. After goodbyes to Annette, the remaining 3 of us decided we might go for one more drink on the way home! At this point we were blissfully unaware of the saga that would finish off my evening!
Keith, Beth and I found ourselves in an area of bars somewhere between D1 and Thao Dien. The first bar we went to was Captain Phook, where Keith knew the owners and they had rosé wine on draft. Keith had a beer, Beth and I had the wine and we were chatting when my phone rang. The caller had some news on the taxi driver who had overcharged me earlier. He was being held at the airport and was calling me a liar so I explained my side of the story then went on with my evening. Next, we went to Khoi 89, another recommended one from Keith, where I was pleasantly surprised by their sparkling wine from Moldova. We had a wander down the street, checking out the numerous bars in the area, then walked back to the beginning of the bar street. We passed Truc Mai Music House where a young student was having a lesson on the bamboo xylophone. The 3 of us went closer to listen and ended up in there, having a go ourselves. It was brilliant, however, the highlight was having the teacher play us ‘Jingle Bells’ and she was very talented. We were thinking about heading home when I got a WhatsApp message from the hotel receptionist to tell me that the taxi driver, and his 2 bosses, were at the hotel demanding to speak to me. Apparently, he had been fined 5 million dong (£185.50) for his greediness earlier and wanted to iron out our misunderstanding. I told Beth and Keith who suggested we go back to Khoi 89 and ponder my next move. I called Captain Caveman to let him know and he suggested I didn’t go back to meet them. Beth was all for coming with me and was even on the brink of asking her son to meet us there. I messaged the hotel and told them to inform the driver and his 2 colleagues that I would not be meeting with them. It was already 9.30pm and they were there to intimidate me and it wasn’t appropriate. They said they would wait until I returned because the driver had insisted he had not tried to overcharge me and couldn’t speak English. He was insisting there must be a misunderstanding and they only wanted to talk to me. I did not believe this and insisted the receptionist get rid of them, even tell them I wasn’t coming back if necessary. It took her a while but messaged me to tell me the coast was clear. When I arrived at the hotel there was no sign of the taxi company waiting for me. I got to my room slightly relieved, and still sceptical of their motives for coming to see me, late in an evening. I let Captain Caveman know I was safe, as he had waited up to check I got back ok, and he said he would let his contact know. A less confident woman would have been more scared, I’m sure, so I was even more glad I’d reported him. I did notice that the driver who had tried to say I mistook 2,600,000vnd for 260,000vnd had not come to the hotel, with his colleagues to leave the 70,000vnd he overcharged me ‘by mistake’ and a sorry note! I was very grateful for the support from friends and the hotel in what could have been a bad situation, luckily it all worked out ok in the end.
My last day in Phong Nha had finally arrived; Tuesday 23rd August was my 64th day here. Tomorrow I would start my journey back to Dalyan, Turkey, where Captain Caveman would join me 1 week later. Captain Caveman went to Oxalis in the morning and he got a message from Tatas to say she wouldn’t be able to come to see me off because she was still hungover. For lunch I asked Captain Caveman to bring us both a roast pork banh mi from The Pork Shop and gave instructions to make sure no chillies or chilli sauce were on it. Obviously when they arrived, they had chilli sauce on, despite his explanation in English and Vietnamese, so I was ill after eating it. We had the last of the fruit salad and we weighed my luggage. I was just under my 25kg hold allowance and over on my hand luggage, which weighed 10kg but would take the risk. In the afternoon we went in the pool, it was a sunny last day and this would be my last time in our own private pool this year. At 5pm, as planned, Stu and the boys came over to join us in the pool to say farewell. We had a few shandies and it looked like a storm was coming. We chatted about films and I got some recommendations of what I might want to watch on my journey. I had lots of time as I wouldn’t arrive in Dalyan until after 9pm on the 27th. Captain Caveman invited Stu, Max and Jack to stay for dinner but they decided to get back as they had a busy day tomorrow. Captain Caveman cooked pasta for dinner and we toasted my leaving with some wine – I might come to regret this when the alarm goes off at 5.30am tomorrow!
I made Captain Caveman and I some chicken fried rice for breakfast on the morning of Monday 22nd August. We discussed where I would stay in Saigon and I decided The Common Inn, Thao Dien, because we had stayed before and really like the place. I finished all my packing and we got the cases very full. I was quite concerned that I would not be able to lift the big case and I would definitely struggle to get all my luggage out of a taxi or up any steps, should I need to. The cleaners came to make up the bed in the spare room and they also returned the pillows but we didn’t need them for much longer. They even put a full complement of towels in the spare bathroom too. Floating in the pool we found a glow in the dark ladybird and we rescued it from drowning. That afternoon Captain Caveman had to go to Oxalis for something important and left me to plan my journey to return Bluey to the Glass House. I was not relishing the 13.5km cycle and, predictably, the sun was now shining. Captain Caveman had advised me to wait until 5pm when the sun might be starting to go in and we deduced that it might take me an hour. He was booked in for a haircut and shave at 5pm so we agreed I would head towards the hairdresser’s for 6pm, as he would have the keys. I left the house at 5pm and it was almost five past by the time I cycled on to the road beside Elements. I’d drank lots of water and was ready to endure the heat. I cycled past René’s Greenfield Homestay within 7 minutes and by 5.15pm I was as far along as the old Bomb Crater bar. The next section was harder than I remembered and I missed the shortcut turn off to go via Sy’s Homestay. At 5.25pm I had reached Magic Fingers massage place and was feeling very hot and saddle sore. As I turned on to the main Phong Nha road I was tempted to stop for a sugar cane juice on the roadside but decided to go to Coffee Station. I got there at dead on 5.30pm, which was impressive, but they were closing. Bluey was not phased and I got back on after a swig of water, which was now the temperature of how I drink my hot tea. Bluey continued to be super whizzy and I decided, as I was earlier than expected, to stop for a smoothie at The Villas. I must’ve looked a sight for sore eyes because all of the staff, who were eating dinner, stopped and looked at me. Hong came to serve me and I had a mango lassi, which was great and it didn’t touch the sides! Back on the bicycle I made it to the hairdresser’s, via a quick chat with Phuong at Little Leaf. There was now a huge Catholic church being built next to the hairdresser’s. Captain Caveman was in the chair getting a shave so I sat down and waited. He was impressed that I had got there before 6pm and, quite frankly, I was too! This was definitely a sign that my bad leg was back to normal again, after 2 years and 4 months! I cycled on to the Glass House, Captain Caveman drove Trigger and we popped Bluey inside. Captain Caveman put her up on the first floor ready for any winter floods which might come while we were gone. We had hoped to hear from Tatas to possibly meet to go to the Jungle Boss Pub. Captain Caveman had messaged her but she already had plans to go out with her customers instead. We went anyway as it was going to be my last chance before I left Phong Nha in 2 days time. Tatas said she would see us both tomorrow and Captain Caveman suggested we invite Stu and the boys round to say bye too. We really enjoyed the Jungle Boss Pub, I had 3 beers and we shared some of the stringy cheese and 2 portions of pork scratchings. We didn’t really want to leave but Captain Caveman was driving so we had to go. We were home before 7.30pm, had a beer and went to bed early. Tomorrow was my last day in Phong Nha and we hoped to make the best of it.
On Saturday 20th August I had fruit for breakfast and it was rainy again. I had less than 1 week until I was back in Turkey and I started to think about packing. Tatas was due back from her 2 day trip today and I had expected to hear from her so that we could plan to see each other before I left Vietnam. Unfortunately, she didn’t reply and I knew she had another 2 day trip tomorrow so I may not get chance to see her. In the afternoon I finished watching Trainwreck on Netflix and made popcorn. I had a nice shandy with Huda beer and Schweppes Ginger Ale around 6pm and spaghetti bolognese for dinner. It was a quiet day spent at home.
Sunday 21st August was another welcome quiet day at home. I started sorting more of my stuff out for packing and getting ready for 2 days in Saigon before my flight, via Singapore to Istanbul. As the weather in the south of Vietnam was typical for the monsoon season, I was conscious it was a good idea to get there early so that I wouldn’t risk missing my international flights. I organised with Annette, who lives in District 7 of Saigon, to meet up on the 24th for dinner. I messaged other friends in Saigon to check their plans too. For lunch I had chicken fried rice (again) and waited to hear from Captain Caveman. He was due out of his last Son Doong trip today but, with it being a film trip, I expected he may be later than usual. When he did get back to the Glass House, in Phong Nha, it was late and he had been the bill for a full month’s rent even though he was leaving in a couple of weeks. What we hadn’t realised when he paid rent recently is that we would be charged for a full month regardless. With hindsight, what we should have done is check out 2 weeks ago and then rented daily or weekly, as it would have saved us money! We now had a 2 bedroom villa, paid for (over a Vietnamese national holiday week), which would be empty for over a week when he left. While Captain Caveman went to his gala dinner I had chicken pasta and wasn’t too well. Tomorrow was my last day in Phong Nha and I was hoping to be able to say bye to a few people, including Tatas. I was aware that I still needed to cycle Bluey back to the Glass House too so I hoped it wouldn’t rain but I also hoped for it not to be too sunny either.
My weekly measurements on Friday 19th August were: Bust -1cm, Waist +2cm, Hips -2cm, Thighs no change Right calf -0.5cm, Left calf -1cm. Eating and drinking whatever I liked was definitely not helping the waistline. I had passion fruit, mango and strawberries for breakfast and pottered about a bit. Caroline had left early for Hoi An and Tatas had gone on a 2 day tour so they were both going to miss out on the fun tonight. I had the remaining chicken fried rice for lunch and watched the rain as it came down quite heavily. I then got on with organising how I was going to get to Phong Nha later, I certainly wouldn’t be cycling Bluey in the rain, despite it still being warm. The new Jungle Boss Pub was having their grand opening tonight from 6pm and, of course, I was keen to go. Everyone was invited and I hoped to see a few friends there. Trang was in Dong Hoi, from Saigon, but was going to be there with Trinh, the owner of Buffalo Home and Chill bar in Dong Hoi. I was cheeky and asked if I could get a lift with them and Trinh, who was driving, very kindly agreed. The rain stopped but I still decided to wear jeans and my jungle inspired top – I even had my hair down.
After my chaperones got a bit lost in Khuong Ha, we were on our way and we were even bang on time for the party. As we arrived there were masses of flowers to wish Jungle Boss luck for the opening. We were met by Dung, the owner of Jungle Boss, and said hello and congratulations for opening the much needed Phong Nha bar.
When I walked inside, I was impressed – the place looked amazing! It was very modern and different, with some great soft furnishings. The seats were very comfortable and we chose a table next to the stage. We ordered drinks from some familiar faces, it was nice to see Quan and Nga working as bartenders again. Food was ordered from the snack menu and it was great to see a mix of Vietnamese and western style choices. I was particularly excited to see they had pork scratchings on the menu too, Captain Caveman would love them.
We had a few drinks and listened to some amazing live music, there were more and more familiar faces and I got to catch up with lots of old friends, mainly from Jungle Boss. I managed to get up dancing and joined in on some singing, it was a superb opening night and I hoped the Jungle Boss pub would continue to flourish after I’d left Phong Nha. Trinh kindly dropped me back off and when I got in I decided to make myself a hotdog to finish off the night.
Photo credit – some photos from Jungle Boss Pub, Trang & Trinh
I still had 10 days left on my Vietnamese visa on Tuesday 16th August but there were certainly signs that my stay was now coming to an end. Captain Caveman went to Oxalis while I had my usual teacake loaf for breakfast, then he went to the Glass House to get me a suitcase and drove it back on his motorbike. I already had the suitcase, which I had borrowed from my parents, but Captain Caveman wanted me to utilise the whole of my 25kg allowance, so I needed a bigger case. He would bring back 2 cases, including my parents’ one as he had a bigger allowance than me. Captain Caveman had picked up the sausages from Viet Ha so he made me a 2nd breakfast. It was lovely too and I was impressed with the sausages. I also ordered some strawberries but they would be available to pick up tomorrow. Just before lunch time the cleaners came and stripped the spare bed down to everything except for the mattress protector and took all the remaining towels. I thought they were going to replace them but maybe because of the rain, and the Dong Hoi bedding woman saga, they didn’t have enough to cover both rooms. Captain Caveman had invited Stu and the boys round for beers, dinner and a dip in the pool so they arrived at 5pm. Caroline had already drove over and we had some pool beers. It was a fun evening for us and we carried on drinking and swimming, even after everyone had gone home and the spaghetti bolognese had been eaten.
Wednesday 17th August was super exciting and I was sworn to secrecy about most of it! You will find out more about the secret shenanigans eventually but, for now, I have to keep it under my hat. What I can tell you is that Captain Caveman and I took Trigger, the motorbike, in to Phong Nha to meet Tatas at Coffee Station. She had missed out on enough fun and celebrations already, due to being underground, so she was keen to meet up. While Captain Caveman went to Oxalis, she and I caught up and ate an English style breakfast with smoothies (and coffee for her). She had enjoyed her last Son Doong tour of the season and one of her guests was Turkish, I suggested I could meet him but she didn’t seem keen. In fact, after our meeting, she was off to meet her tour group for lunch and drinks at Len Con Peak but I didn’t get an invite. Stu and the kids arrived, with friends, as we were eating breakfast and we said hello. They ordered breakfast, then Captain Caveman arrived and he had coconut coffee and a mango smoothie. I made the mistake of ordering a second mango smoothie and then had a terrible stomach, due to too much fibre at once. Caroline arrived shortly after, as we had arranged to meet her for a ‘secret squirrel’ mission. She had failed to realise that the intended plans could not include taking Vee, the dog, so she had to go back to drop her off. Our secret mission involved Captain Caveman driving us both in to the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park on Trigger, who really struggled on the steep hills but we managed it. Captain Caveman, Caroline and I spent the morning in the national park then met Harry, Linh and Chuc for a cold drink at the Botanical Gardens before riding back in to town. Our strawberry delivery had arrived so we called at Phong Nha Vegan to collect them from Chung. I was peckish and suggested we go to The Pork Shop for a Banh Mi so we met back there for a late lunch. While eating, Captain Caveman got a call from work saying that he had to go to Dong Hoi for a police check. I, luckily, had Caroline there to give me a ride home on her Royal Enfield motorbike and I had my own helmet with me already. It’s a really nice bike and so comfortable, Caroline rides it well too. Back at mine it seemed really warm as I said bye and arranged to meet for beers at ours later. It turned out that there was a bit of a to do with Captain Caveman’s paperwork which resulted in him having to go straight to his briefing instead of coming home to join me for a swim. It did work out well for me and my mom though, as he had time to nip to the phone shop to get my mom a new phone. By 4pm it was raining in Phong Nha and I wondered what I might have for dinner. I had a makeshift beans on toast but then had a bad stomach again. Captain Caveman was late home after his briefing so we cancelled the beers with Caroline. Although Captain Caveman would be in Son Doong tomorrow, Tatas had a rare day off and I was looking forward to doing something with her.
Captain Caveman brought me a pot of Yorkshire tea in bed, before 7am on Thursday 18th August. He left for his last Son Doong trip of the season and would be back on Sunday. I was looking forward to having Tatas and Caroline round for an afternoon in the pool with some beers. I made myself some chicken fried rice for brunch and got through all my tasks so that I would be free for frivolities later. Captain Caveman called me from the village on his way to Son Doong to ask me to ride Bluey from Elements to the Glass House. This was a distance of 13.5km and the heat was too much for me to do this, but he said if I didn’t do it, it would only be another job for him to have to do when I left. I decided to wait until a cooler day, or maybe even cycle to an event in Phong Nha tomorrow evening, after the sun had gone down! Tatas was the first to cancel this afternoon’s plans because she had to go to Dong Hoi at lunch time. At first she said she would come to mine on the way back but then said she wouldn’t have time as she needed to tidy her room and pack for her next trip tomorrow. Caroline was next to cancel when she found out she had to be back in Hoi An earlier than expected. She decided to spend her last night, tonight, at Ho Khanh’s Homestay but did invite both Tatas and I over there instead. I wasn’t fancying getting a taxi there and back so I declined. Tatas didn’t answer any texts to ask if she wanted to go to meet Caroline, which was nearer to her house than mine. My afternoon involved watching Trainwreck on Netflix, a documentary about a Woodstock style festival in 1999 which gets completely out of hand. That evening I chilled out and had French onion soup for dinner.
On Monday 15th August, we were wondering what to do with the massive bunch of flowers that were in our sink. Captain Caveman went outside to find the housekeeping staff to ask for a vase, they took the flowers and said they would sort them out. What we got back in a small vase was only a portion of the flowers, we don’t know what happened to the rest but I never saw them again. Flowers aren’t treated in the same way they are back home and they probably just got shared in to the other rooms or binned, which was a shame. We had toasted teacake loaf for breakfast which is my new favourite.
Captain Caveman was probably feeling the effects of too much booze for the second night running because he hardly said a word and lolled about all morning on his phone. I think he had wanted to go to Phong Nha (for work, with it being a Monday) but his motorbike was still at Karst Villas. He was hoping for Caroline to be able to ride it to our place, as her motorbike was still at ours, from impromptu pool party night. When Caroline did come over with his bike and our helmets it was too late for him to bother going to work. Instead, Caroline suggested a trip to the Phong Nha Farmstay. Captain Caveman contacted the reception to ask them to send the jeep to pick us up. The message was lost in translation as he didn’t specify it was for 3 of us plus a dog. Chien turned up razzing the engine of the Ural and tried to say he could get us all on the motorbike and side car. I said not and asked Chien to take Captain Caveman, Caroline and Vee first but come back for me afterwards. It was great to see Cuong for the first time since the start of the pandemic too, he’d been injured and was slowly getting better and could now walk, but with a limp.
When we arrived at the Farmstay there was no way I could have any alcohol after the weekend we’d had! Captain Caveman and Caroline, however, managed several frozen margaritas and food was ordered. I said I’d share Captain Caveman’s salami pizza and Caroline went for one of the Aussie meat pies with chips and gravy. Kat came over from Phong Nha to meet me and it was great to see her and Caroline get on. They are so very different but both have very interesting lives so I was pleased to see them find some common ground to chat about. Our pizza was very good and was proven by me only getting 2 slices and Captain Caveman snaffling the rest in record time! Kat wasn’t able to stay long because her boyfriend, Buu, was on his way out of the caves and she wanted to see him while she could. I didn’t think we would stay much later anyway but we stayed long enough for a swim in the pool and to see Benjamin off. We’d made another new Phong Nha friend and I felt sure our paths would cross again.
Long, the Phong Nha Farmstay manager, reminded me that I still had Bluey in the car park so, while the others were getting a lift back to Elements, I was about to cycle back home. Long was insistent that he drive us all in the Troopy and he put Bluey in the back. When we got back, Caroline took her bike back to Karst Villas and Captain Caveman got on with making french onion soup for dinner. I found out that Viet Ha, who I know from when we worked at Jungle Boss, was now selling homemade pork sausages so we ordered 500g. I took a photo of our reduced size bouquet and only then realised we had a big vase with dried flowers in which I could have used to place all of the rest of the flowers in! The French onion soup was very tasty but we were definitely ready for bed early that night!
I spent most of Sunday 14th August hungover, wishing we didn’t have our own 100th birthday party to attend at 4pm! Captain Caveman had worked out that, because I would be in Dalyan, Turkey, on my actual 50th birthday, and his 50th had been last month, that we should have a joint party in Phong Nha, Vietnam. This would be our first celebration of 100 years but the intention was to have at least one more in Turkey and possibly something in England if we got the chance to go back there this winter. Captain Caveman had arranged for our party today to be at Karst Villas, where Hung (the owner) would have cold beers and nibbles ready for everyone. All our friends in Vietnam had been invited and Captain Caveman had chosen a Sunday so that it gave Oxalis staff the best chance of being able to come. Throughout the day we got various messages from people who were unable to attend and, quite frankly, I fancied declining the invite too! There was no way I could drink after last night’s (and this morning’s) antics. As we set off, on Trigger, it looked like it might rain. We passed the Elements staff (including Duyet) who said they would see us at the party. We had got a few minutes down the road when a huge storm came and we had to take shelter at a stranger’s house. The lady got out her spare chairs and gave them to us to have a seat, we thought it would pass quickly but I think she knew it would be a while. We arrived at our 100th birthday party at least half an hour late but luckily there was only Harry and Linh there that I instantly recognised. Captain Caveman’s friend Dat and her family were there and we were presented with the most gorgeous bunch of flowers. Cuong and his family was also there before us and we were introduced. Harry and Linh introduced us to their colleague, Chuc, and we had our first beer, to be sociable. Some of Captain Caveman’s Oxalis colleagues arrived and we had to have more beer to do cheers with. Stu, Max and Jack arrived and Stu was absolutely wasted so he didn’t stay long. René stopped by for a few beers and then had to get home, while Caroline had still not surfaced from her room (at the Karst Villas). Andrew, Trang and their son came and people started to ask what we had done with Caroline. Bom and Quet arrived looking dapper and drinking only water (lucky them) and joined Mr Tu, Minh and his 2 young sons, who were so well behaved and polite. Last, but certainly not least, to arrive was Kat who had come from Hanoi. She came with a gift of the gluten free tiramisu sweet treats, which I love! Unfortunately Tatas, Chung, Uy, Phuong (all of them), had to work and one friend had the Corona virus so didn’t come. I also think the rain earlier had put a few people off coming. I’d planned on not drinking but it was proving impossible, Captain Caveman sure was taking the cold beers for the team by the time Benjamin and his caving budding, Carolina, arrived. He updated us that he had left yesterday’s pool party at midnight. He knew he had to be ready this morning for his trip but he’d had to come back this morning to get his shoes! Eventually Caroline surfaced with Vee but was unable to stomach a beer and we were ready to say goodbye by that time. After a few celebratory shots (thanks to Kat), we got a taxi home with Benjamin and dropped Carolina off on the way. This time we all went home to our own villas – I was desperate for my bed!
After a fairly calm few days in Phong Nha, I was about ready for a bit of excitement on Saturday 13th August. The day started calmly but ended in what an onlooker may call wild debauchery! By 9am I had finished my breakfast of toasted teacake loaf, orange juice and Yorkshire tea. I had taken 3 jars out of the freezer, as per Captain Caveman’s instructions before he went in to Son Doong, and I’d sent messages to friends about tomorrow’s party. Caroline and Vee came to visit for lunch and we decided to have East Hill BBQ chicken. We had a beer while we waited for the delivery and then we went on to white wine with ice and soda with our lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, having a good old laugh and drinking lots more wine (in plastic cups).
By 5.20pm we decided Caroline should borrow my more modest swimsuit and we should go for happy hour at the Farmstay. We were already pretty happy but Caroline wanted to meet Andrew and Trang there, so off we went in the jeep. We had a swim, several rum and cokes were had and we ordered pizzas. After a few more drinks we decided to go back to Elements as Captain Caveman was on his way back from his gala dinner. He’d got back late from his last tour so we hadn’t seen him this afternoon. We asked for a driver and the jeep to take us home. As we waited there was another guest waiting to go back to Elements so we shared the jeep ride back with him.
Captain Caveman was just going in to the house when Caroline, Vee and I arrived with our new friend, Benjamin. We had invited the young French man in for a gin and tonic and it was only around 8.30pm. The 4 of us had a couple of drinks and then decided to get in the pool, Benjamin popped back for his swimmers and made it clear he was not stopping long as he had a cave trip booked for tomorrow. It was a great night which turned in to absolute drunkenness and shenanigans; Benjamin dropped his villa keys in the pool which lead to us telling him about the ‘keys in the fruit bowl’ meaning in England, there were competitions of who could tread water the highest out of the pool. We even put on Kate’s boat trip play list on Spotify, drank over a litre of gin and sang a lot – it was lucky that our only neighbour was in the pool with us! The ultimate competition was between a former submariner, Caroline, and a Caveman who finds it impossible to float – who could stay under water for the longest? We don’t remember when Benjamin left and I’m sure that Captain Caveman and Caroline were still in the pool when the loudspeaker announcement started in the morning. Vee had managed a little snooze and I’d tried to go to bed at one point. By the time the pool party finished it was the next day and the sun seemed to be unsympathetically shining as Caroline had to call the owner of her hotel for a lift home.
By 9am on Thursday 11th August I was eating teacake loaf and drinking orange juice for breakfast. I caught up with some blogging and other chores, the weather was quite dull and a storm threatened but never came. I made bruschetta for lunch, using Captain Caveman’s tomato sauce and cheddar cheese, and had it with a beer. I was ill straight after and had to have a lay down on the bed. Later I ate some crisps but was ill again so I got in bed. I did lots of Turkish Duolingo and our friend, Caroline, had arrived at Karst Villas with her dog, Vee. I couldn’t meet her as I was still so ill with my stomach. I went to bed without any dinner and slept, a lot.
I was feeling much better on Friday 12th August when I got up. It was measurements day and here were my results: Bust & Waist no change Hips +4cm Both thighs +1cm Right calf +1cm Left calf +2cm After having such a bad stomach yesterday I’d hoped for better. I had toasted teacake loaf and orange juice for breakfast and my stomach was fine. Even my Bolognese lunch and a glass of wine had no reaction. In the afternoon I had some disappointing news from my friend, unfortunately her plans for her forthcoming holiday to Marmaris didn’t match with my plans in Dalyan and we were no longer going to be able to meet up. In the afternoon, I decided to cycle Bluey to the Farmstay for happy hour to cheer myself up and thought I could leave her there if I didn’t come home before dark. Caroline was also thinking she might meet me there but she had to go to celebrate prayer day. Most of the locals were celebrating the relatives who have died by getting together to pray, eat and drink. When I got to the Farmstay, Michael told me that Caroline had been there looking for me but she must have just missed me. I had a couple of 2 for 1 rum and cokes then ordered the pork clay pot for dinner. The Farmstay was quite empty tonight compared to usual so it was nice to enjoy the peace and quiet. Caroline never reappeared but Cameron did and he joined me for some drinks. I had red wine, he had Pina Colada and we had a good chat. Bich joined us for a little while and Long brought me over some mushroom skewers from his visit to Phong Nha Vegan. It turned in to a pleasant evening, I locked Bluey up in the car park and got a lift home with Long at 10pm, as we had no Duyet.
Although we were up by 7.30am, on Monday 8th August, the weather was wet and it looked like a day of staying at home was on the cards. Captain Caveman and I lolled about most of the morning and didn’t even have any breakfast. We had sandwiches for lunch with the fresh baguette and watched the rain while eating passion fruit. In the afternoon, Captain Caveman made tomato sauce for pasta. The rest of the day was very rainy so Captain Caveman couldn’t go to Phong Nha as he’d planned. We had wine and pasta for dinner, with the homemade tomato sauce which was lovely. It was Captain Caveman’s last day off – the last few days had gone so quickly.
On Tuesday 9th August we both had breakfast together then Captain Caveman had to go in to Phong Nha in the rain. I stayed at home and enjoyed a pot of Yorkshire tea. When he got home I asked about his next trip and he said he wasn’t allowed to talk about it and that he had to sign a 2 year gagging order. I automatically jumped to the assumption that, finally, all those times that Captain Caveman’s boss, had promised David Beckham or Leonardo DiCaprio were going to Son Doong that it might be actually happening. It wasn’t. I made us a second breakfast of fried rice and we waited for the heavy rain to stop. Once it slowed down, Captain Caveman headed back to Phong Nha to meet his next Son Doong guests who were a film crew, and the photographer Ryan Deboodt. My day wasn’t quite as exciting but I did meet Sammy the slug, who was walking up our window. In the evening I was supposed to be joining Captain Caveman in Phong Nha but the weather was far too wet. He stayed in Phong Nha and went to his briefing at Oxalis, I had a cider and updated my diary. When Captain Caveman got home we had red wine with cheese, crisps, nuts and gherkins.
Captain Caveman set off early for his special film crew Son Doong trip on Wednesday 10th August and I prepared myself for a few quiet days at home. In the weather news, from the Hanoi Weather Dude who we follow on Facebook because he’s really accurate and interesting, we were in for some stormy weather. The North would suffer the most but that’s why we had been experiencing the rain here. I had buttered crumpet for breakfast and completed Level 1 of Duolingo Turkish to the end. I had only 2 weeks left in Phong Nha and Captain Caveman only 3 weeks left until he flew to Saigon. I decided to go on a bicycle ride with Bluey, not far, just to get some fresh air and see the rice paddies nearby. The last time I’d cycled the same route my bad leg had still hurt but now I found it was back to normal and I could cycle faster than the pedals would allow, without gears. I got to the French Road, where I had parked up to take photographs, when a man on his motorbike saw me and pulled over. I was a bit apprehensive as he came over and spoke to me (in Vietnamese, which I didn’t understand) but he just wanted to take a photo of me and then a selfie with me. I didn’t hang about to chat after that though and cycled back home. Bluey was super whizzy and I’d not even been gone 20 minutes in total when I checked the time. I made a veggie lunch of aubergine, peppers, tomato and garlic with steamed rice and it was quite tasty. In the afternoon the cleaners were in and I thought they may be bringing the pillows back to the spare room, but they didn’t and even the towels in there seemed to not be being replaced. I sat in the kitchen and did loads more Turkish on Duolingo then ate some passion fruit. In the evening I finished off the wine with my Bolognese, which was lovely.
I had a woolly head when the alarm went off at 7am on Sunday 7th August and I wasn’t fit for anything! Captain Caveman had to persuade me to get up and get ready as we were off to Dong Hoi on a shopping trip. We haven’t had the shopping trips with the Phong Nha Farmstay this year, which I used to like as they rarely left so early! The weekly trips had stopped running during the pandemic and never restarted, I guess because there were no other monthly renters so it didn’t warrant just taking us. While Captain Caveman had been working so much he didn’t need to go as often and I made do with whatever we had in the freezer. Captain Caveman had booked an Oxalis car and driver and he was here early. Rain had been forecast so we hoped to get some shopping done, meet a friend and get back before any predicted stormy weather. We got our usual driver, Dung, who’s always nice and friendly but professional. He also keeps the car clean and has the AC on, so we had a comfortable drive to Dong Hoi. By 9am our Bo Ne from Mr Bull’s was ordered and we were sipping the free tea, I was feeling somewhat delicate. I had my steak breakfast without eggs and it actually sorted me out a bit, until I started with a bad stomach.
We went to the Co-op Mart where we spent about 1.4 million vnd (£50) on groceries, including 4 bargain bottles of Merlot. Our next stop was the WinMart where we spent 666,000vnd (£24). For those wondering how we had managed to spend £74 on shopping (and we weren’t finished yet), here’s what we had bought in the supermarkets;
Co-op Mart 1 white carrot 7,134 1 lemon soda 8,500 Tissues 13,000 Hand sanitizer 14,900 3 carrots 15,667 Pasta 23,000 2 red peppers 26,733 Passion fruit 28,106 2 packets of crisps 36,000 3 mangos 64,326 Mushrooms 64,900 6 soda waters 105,000 3 cartons orange juice 132,900 4 bottles of red wine 612,000
Total spent 666,100vnd (£24). Butter seemed to be a similar price to the UK and Turkey and airfryers were now all the rage. There had not been any white wine in either of the supermarkets so I suggested we try the Wine Plaza, at the back of the Vincom centre.
Our next stop at the Wine Plaza was a bit unusual; we walked in to a birthday celebration of the owner. They had us join in the photos in front of the flowers and then gave us both a glass of red to join in. They were lovely people and we ended up in there for much more than the 5 minutes we told the driver. We left having bought 3 bottles of nice white wine, one of which was 900,000vnd (£32.40), the other 2 much cheaper. This was all before lunch time and we were meeting Thao at 11.30am for Banh khoai, crispy pancakes. Before that we went to QB Casa where Captain Caveman had a juice and I had a peach tea.
It was great to see Thao as we had not seen her for a while, we all ate the same thing and it was a little bit of a wait for the food because it’s so popular. After lunch we went around the corner for fresh coconut, sat opposite the market. Back home we watched a bit of tree moving from outside of Elements and chilled out by the pool. We finished off a lovely day with crisps, fresh sandwiches and white wine. I got a message from my mate who arrives in Dalaman airport 3 hours after I do to say we could meet up and we pencilled in Ölüdeniz or Fethiye for the 29th.
We had a great day on Saturday 6th August, it was a hot sunny day and ideal for a bicycle ride, according to Captain Caveman. We had been invited to René’s Greenfield Homestay to celebrate his 59th birthday with free cold Huda beers. We decided to have lunch first because we needed to line our stomachs. I said I would make us a chicken and rice dish but we nearly ended up in a big row as Captain Caveman thinks he knows best on how to cook things in the kitchen. I had put chicken in with the rice, in the rice cooker to steam, with a plan to slice it and make a kind of stir fry with a BBQ sauce. Of course, Captain Caveman took over and we ended up with boiled carrots a piece of chicken with BBQ sauce on and steam rice with corn in. The rice hadn’t come out well because the chicken had been too watery so it didn’t really taste too good. Bluey was out for the first time in so long that she was super whizzy, she didn’t even stop when my sun hat flew off so I had to catch it and put it in my basket. I thought she might struggle on the up hill after the bridge but she was fine and my legs were doing really well. I even thought that Bluey could do with her seat raising a bit as she felt a bit low for me after riding other bicycles in Dalyan. When we arrived at René’s I was a sweaty mess and very hot, Captain Caveman was dry as a bone and couldn’t understand why I was so hot, he took Bluey and rode her to the parking spot while I walked up the little path to the homestay. It was the first time I’d been here and it was really lovely. René was already drinking beer and chatting with 2 other guests, who I didn’t realise at the time had been invited by Captain Caveman. Harry and Linh work for a charity organisation, Animals Asia, who rescue, care for, rehabilitate and release wild or endangered animals. Captain Caveman had met Harry before so we were all introduced and had a bit of a laugh at the rumour that there had been a sighting of a tiger in the jungle. René gave us cold beers and we chatted about animal rescue related stuff and tourism. Of course, I had so many questions about the animals but I managed to get on to the subject of droppings – did you know wombat poo is cube shaped!? Harry is looking after some tigers at the moment so he told us about them. In the National Park, Harry and Linh are working with lots of other animals too but mainly different species of rescued monkeys. We were thinking about making our next beer our last when I decided to have a wander around the grounds of the homestay. They have a working farm and it is beautiful, I met Mina, the dog, and she seemed really shy and hot – she loved the fan. A group of customers returned from their day out and we got talking to them. One of them, Max, was from Bristol and worked at a Wetherspoon’s pub which then lead to all of us Brits talking about Wetherspoon’s, possibly for a bit too long for the foreigners’ liking. I think Captain Caveman could have stayed there all day but I was conscious of me having to ride Bluey home drunk and we do have to go along the road where there is some traffic every now and again. I also did not want to be going back in the dark as Bluey has no lights. After 1 last birthday beer, we decided to go home for dinner, we rode home around 5pm and I actually was quite quick. I felt the incline after the bridge but I made it without contemplating getting off. I think it took me less than 10 minutes to get home so I was pleased with that progress.
Seeing as it was Saturday night and Captain Caveman wasn’t working, we decided to go to the Farmstay for dinner. By 7pm we were sharing a bottle of red wine and had ordered some starters to share. This time we ordered things we both liked; chicken quesadillas and pitta bread with artichoke and olives – a couple of our favourites. For mains, Captain Caveman surprised me by ordering a Vietnamese dish, and one I often choose, the pork clay pot with rice and vegetables. I had something I don’t usually have but Lottie had really loved it on Monday, the tofu curry with steamed rice. I also thought it was really good and is great value for money. Of course we ended up drunk and I don’t even remember getting a lift home from the Farmstay. I’d also completely forgotten that tomorrow we had to get up early, as Captain Caveman had arranged for a car to pick us up at 8am!
Captain Caveman had 5 whole days off starting from Thursday 4th August. I was really looking forward to this, probably more than he was, and there were a few things we planned to do. We started the day with a fry up for breakfast and then I was ill, it was as if I was intolerant to Gluten yet again and I thought the sausages could be to blame. Captain Caveman had to go to Phong Nha because he was booked in to get his 4th Corona vaccine, this time at the clinic in Phong Nha. I had arranged for us to meet Anna and Katie, the 2 Irish girls who I had met on my last visa run, and we decided to meet at the Phong Nha Vegan so I could see Chung too. I was still feeling ill but decided I would order some sweet potato fries and some mushroom skewers. We ordered drinks, the girls had a dish each and we chatted about their trip so far. I was ill again and had to experience the squat toilet in a tin shed situation which did not alleviate my sweatiness one bit! While Captain Caveman popped off to get jabbed, we chatted to Chung who had bought Captain Caveman and I a gift each. I was so surprised to open a beautiful silk scarf which I loved. Captain Caveman got a really snazzy polo shirt which was very stylish, in just the right size too. After lunch Anna, Katie and I walked to The Villas in the hot sun. We sat in the AC room and ordered cold drinks while we waited for Captain Caveman to return. We bumped in to Cameron, the consultant chef, who had a chat with the 3 of us. I could have stayed there all day but we had to get back for me to do the martini training with Sau, at the Phong Nha Farmstay at 5pm.
We arrived on time and Sau was waiting for me, eager to want to learn how to do a perfect martini. It took less than 15 minutes and Sau had got it right first time. Captain Caveman and I had the 2 vodka martinis, which we added to our bill before continuing on to have happy hour 2 for 1 drinks. We didn’t stay for dinner but I wish I had because we went home for a sausage pasta and I was quite ill again.
Captain Caveman was on a mission on Friday 5th August; before we had even got out of bed he had booked me a flight to Saigon for the 24th August. This meant that should there be any storms, cancellations, or hiccups I had a bit of wiggle room. It also meant that I would be able to catch up with friends who lived there before I left Vietnam for Turkey. Next, Captain Caveman was booking me a flight from Istanbul to Dalaman but there was a bit of an issue. We had left it too late to book and Turkish Airlines were wanting £200 for the shortest, most convenient, flight on the Saturday morning. I objected to paying that and we decided that I could cope with having to spend 11-12 hours in Istanbul so we could book the 7.25pm, £35, flight. I did my weekly measurements and the results were: Bust -1cm, Waist -1cm, Hips -1cm, Right thigh -0.5cm, Left thigh -1cm, Right calf -0.5cm, Left calf -1cm. Pretty good really! For lunch Captain Caveman made us pulled pork, hash brown and carrots, which was really tasty. He was on a mission today because he also decided that we would arrange a birthday party to celebrate our 50th birthdays. He had just been 50 but when it was my 50th, Captain Caveman and I would be in different countries so a party would be held at Karst Villas on 14th August. Captain Caveman posted on Facebook to let everyone know they were invited, which caused a bit of confusion for some of my family and friends who weren’t in Vietnam – they thought they had missed my birthday.
In the evening we had another garage party, this time I had organised it for all the staff, Captain Caveman and I to celebrate Duyet’s last day. I had ordered East Hill BBQ chicken, got a cooler bag of cold beers and chopped some passion fruit in half. We had a great time but I had to keep nudging Captain Caveman as the TV was on and he struggles to take his eyes away from a screen whenever there is one. It was a good chance for Captain Caveman to also meet Quoc and socialise with everyone. Duyet brought out even more food including the most delicious pork, which he’d done in the air fryer! Our East Hill order got delayed and only 1 chicken came instead of 2 but then she came back with it later and the staff said we no longer needed it, as we had lots of food. Yet again we had so much to eat and drink and we were so glad to have another goodbye party for Duyet, who we would miss a lot.