Phong Nha – 18th September

Phong Nha – 18th September

We were up and about at 5.30am on Saturday 18th September, I’ve never felt so excited to be having a needle! Captain Caveman dropped me off at the end of the road where it meets the highway and he waited with me. We had to wait a while, as is the norm, and eventually the big bus arrived. The bus was quite full and when we arrived at a school in Dong Hoi, being used for mass vaccination purposes, we were not allowed in the gate and were told to stand outside and space out, by the guard on duty. Once inside the gate there was about an hour of form filling and general waiting about, An (from Mountain Bar/House) became my translator and it was good to see a friendly face who could help make the waiting go more quickly. I caught up on the Corona data and the news while we waited to go inside; the Quang Binh cases were quite high at 49, 4 in Dong Hoi and 19 in Bo Trach, none near us but it did make me wonder if Bo Trạch may stay in lockdown for longer because of this. I was sad to read that dragon fruit imports were stopped due to the virus too, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/business/20210917/china-suspends-dragon-fruit-imports-through-vietnams-northern-border-gate-after-discovering-coronavirus-on-shipment/63147.html
By 8.40am I had received my 2nd vaccine of Astra Zeneca, 13 weeks and 2 days after my 1st vaccine and I was so grateful to Oxalis for being able to do this for me. I also felt a bit bad that so many people in Vietnam had still not had their 1st one and were so desperately wanting to be able to get it. There was no longer a 30 minute waiting period to check if anyone had adverse reactions and by 8.45am I had my paper certificate in my hand and was on my way to the bus, feeling the most relieved I can remember feeling. I could now really plan my escape to Turkey and would hopefully be there before October! On the bus back a porter was feeling a little queasy so I gave him my last 2 salted lemon sweets and he had a lay down.

By 9.30am I had been dropped back off and was enjoying a sunny walk back home as the blockade man and some locals asked if I had been for another test and was I negative. They cheered when I said I had been for vaccine number 2 and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to let them know so they may be more on my side when I try to leave town.
When I got home Captain Caveman had already started brunch, knowing I’d be hungry, and we sat in the garden to eat bacon, potatoes, cabbage and mushrooms. We decided to break our promise not to eat all the crisps and shared a bag while outside by the pool. A no-masker workman came to fix the water compressor which meant I’d be able to give my hair a good wash at last. My passport had finally been picked up by Bich so I arranged to send Captain Caveman to collect it when he was running his errands later.
That afternoon I felt a bit tired so I had a lay down while Captain Caveman went up to the Lake House to collect bread and a couple of cheeky bottles of wine. He was gone for ages but back at home, Captain Caveman knocked up some pulled pork buns with the fresh bread collected from the Lake House and we opened a bottle of The Accomplice wine. Tomorrow, Operation ‘Get me out of here’ would recommence – only Captain Caveman and I would be involved in the details until we knew it was going to work!

Phong Nha – 17th September

Phong Nha – 17th September

On Friday 17th September, day 23 of my #STFAH but day 2 of Directive 15 we had fruit for breakfast, there was more mushroom growth, Carrot cuddles and the sun was shining. There were 29 more cases in Quang Binh and there were only 1 in Dong Hoi and 1 in Bo Trach, things were improving. Because we now had more peanut butter we had some on toast for lunch and I had a cider. The pool was nice and I was in there until 4pm when it looked like another storm was heading our way. By 4.20pm it was raining hard, at 5.30pm I still hadn’t had my passport back so I sent a message to check progress. There is always a drama where my passport is concerned and today didn’t let us down because it had been forgotten to organise the picking up of it.
By 7.30pm we had devoured our delicious carbonara dinner, made with Stu’s bacon and duck eggs from the market.
It was a fairly ordinary day until a message from Oxalis came via Captain Caveman; I would be on the 6.30am bus to Dong Hoi tomorrow for my 2nd vaccine, a day earlier than already informed. This was great news because if things did work out it meant I could perhaps be in Turkey next week!

Video of the rain

Phong Nha – 15th September

Phong Nha – 15th September

We had a load of fruit for breakfast on Wednesday 15th September, the last day of week 3 of the Directive 16 lockdown, which was due to end at 7pm tonight. There were 26 cases in our province, none in Dong Hoi, 8 in Bo Trach but none near us so it was looking hopeful that we would be approaching some freedom perhaps. Captain Caveman, as usual, was more optimistic than I about this and he felt pretty sure that at least the part of our commune of Hung Trach, where we live, would be given a reprieve. Finally Vietnam daily Corona cases had started to decrease and in our local area there was some outside activity. Khuong Ha had been allowed to harvest the (half ruined by rain) rice and were given help to do so, there were lots of flowers blooming and the Elements staff were power washing the vans. Captain Caveman did us both peanut butter on toasted baguette and we ate it on the balcony, with a passion fruit treat for afters. We spent the afternoon in the pool and I had 2 ciders while Captain Caveman had beers.
Finally we got the confirmation of the Directives for our area; all of Phong Nha and Cu Nam would move from Directive 16 to Directive 19 which meant people there could go out and about again. Unfortunately, because our village of Khuong Ha is in Hung Trạch (not Phong Nha) we would move from Directive 16 to Directive 15, which meant we could only leave the house for essential reasons, like going to work, to get food, etc. This was definitely bad news for us and Captain Caveman didn’t take it well, I had a feeling this would happen and just needed to know if the restrictions for leaving to go for a PCR test would be any easier. I let Danny, the driver, know the news that it may still be difficult for me to attempt an escape any time soon and he responded with news that Hanoi would be lifting their lockdown from the 21st September, which meant if I could get there I could get a PCR test to fly with, in Hanoi. We mulled over lots of different options and thought there could be a chance that I might be able to leave but it was also risky as it could still all go wrong and waste more money. We decided I would call Singapore Airlines tomorrow and move my flight to the end of September and hope our village was out of lockdown by then.
At 6pm Captain Caveman got a message from his colleague at Oxalis to say that I would be getting my 2nd Astra Zeneca vaccination on Sunday and we were so happy! It actually made a pretty shit day so much better!
We had one of our favourites for dinner; pulled pork with cabbage and pickled cucumber on baguettes and watched another film, All the Money in the World. It is definitely worth watching as I didn’t know the story about J P Getty, and it’s a pretty terrible one.
That night, as we went to bed, there was one of the worst storms I’ve ever tried to sleep through and I was actually scared the roof might come in, although Captain Caveman had explained that it was structurally unlikely. We realised too late that we had also left the pool towels out but I didn’t want to risk going out to get them. The thunder and lightening were right above us and, of course, the power went out again. I lay awake for ages wondering if Duyet and Carrot would be ok and if we were getting the floods they had predicted.

Phong Nha – 14th September

Phong Nha – 14th September

Tuesday 14th September was a good day, I’d accepted I wasn’t going anywhere (for now), the drama had subsided and we were carrying on with getting to the end of our 3rd week of the #STFAH restrictions. There were 34 new cases in Quang Binh, 8 in our commune but not near to us. The daily case numbers in Saigon were finally starting to show a flattening off on the graph. I had buttered toast for breakfast and read a rather interesting article about foreigners living in Vietnam during the strict lockdowns, it gives you a bit of an insight in to what it’s like living in Vietnam during the strict pandemic restrictions, check it out:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/1030764/expats-face-tough-time-amid-the-covid-19-outbreak-in-viet-nam.html
I was trying to think more calmly and rationally about my trying to leave escapade because you know you’re not thinking sensibly when you start to understand this kind of thing:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210914/15-people-flouting-covid19-restrictions-found-in-refrigerated-truck-in-southern-vietnam/63092.html
We spent most of the morning in, or next to, the pool, my eczema on my face was bad again (from all the food I shouldn’t eat, beer and stress lately). I needed to relax more so we watched a comedy film while eating fried rice for lunch, The Internship with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in – not a bad film and I think I’d seen it before.
Duyet had got Captain Caveman some eggs from the market, he was still unable to get some fruit, but 3 dragon fruits appeared in the kitchen and when I checked the price they were a bargain 30,000vnd – less than £1 for 3! Bich had kindly arranged to send us some more provisions, mostly from her own kitchen at the Phong Nha Farmstay and it was like Christmas again when Captain Caveman returned with the bag from the blockade. We had cider, wine, HP sauce, baked beans, avocados, passion fruit and mustard – it was amazing!!!! The heavy rains came early evening, luckily I had managed more afternoon swimming already, so we closed the doors, lit the mosquito coil, and Captain Caveman treated me to what you could probably call a date night. He made one of the most exciting meals in a while; pulled pork Spaghetti Bolognese with home made tomato sauce and it tasted so good. I drank a Magner’s cider which Bich had given me and it was so enjoyable compared to the beers that don’t really agree with me. Captain Caveman also picked the Netflix film, Crazy Rich Asians, which was an odd choice but certainly not the worst film I’ve seen, in fact it was quite amusing. Tomorrow we would find out for certain how our lockdown would proceed, would they lift the restrictions, extend them as they are or extend them but with changes? – anything could happen!

Phong Nha – 12th September

Phong Nha – 12th September

The housekeeping staff were looking lively on the morning of Sunday 12th September so we went in to the garden for our breakfast, it was day 18 of our #STFAH Directive 16 lockdown. Carrot was there and was really cute but a bit snoozy, he lay under the table as we ate our breakfast. I had a couple of bananas and peanut butter on toast while Captain Caveman did himself a menemen.
The weather was hot again and we had not experienced any flooding as predicted yet, it was only 33°C with a ‘feels like 38°C’ but it was very humid.
Here in Phong Nha we were lucky but in Danang, Hoi An and Tam Ky they weren’t so lucky, check this out:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210912/storm-conson-unleashes-torrential-rains-triggers-flooding-in-central-vietnam/63060.html
Our favourite place for a holiday, Le Domaine de Tam Hai, near Tam Ky had significant damage which looked pretty expensive.
In more Vietnam news the Saigon lockdown, which was meant to end on 15th September after months, will be extended until 30th September, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210912/ho-chi-minh-city-needs-more-time-to-control-covid19-party-chief/63064.html
For lunch we had the last of the tortilla with raw veg and pickled red cabbage, we both said we felt like we were eating rabbit food but we had the last of the brownie for pud. Captain Caveman had a few beers, I just had a half of one. In the afternoon we were lucky enough to have some pool time and then I fell asleep on the sunlounger.
That evening, while I had a shower, Captain Caveman watched the Bangkok episode of Somebody Feed Phil (which I’d already seen). Then, while he prepared dinner, I watched the Copenhagen episode which he had already seen – Copenhagen is now on my list of places to go. We ate steamed chicken, rice, peppers, aubergine and cabbage and decided to watch a random film. We started watching Devil’s Advocate but before we got too far in to it there was a storm and a power cut so we went to bed. Captain Caveman was fast asleep through the thunder and lightening but I didn’t sleep, without a fan it was just too hot and sticky and I was still awake when the power came back on around 4am.

Phong Nha – 5th September

Phong Nha – 5th September

We were woken up early by the loudspeaker announcements at 5.30am on Sunday 5th September, reminding us (as if we could have forgot) that we were to #STFAH. It was day 11 of the lockdown and we were doing quite well, all things considered, maybe it was the excitement of me leaving next week that kept us going. More mushrooms had grown overnight and Captain Caveman made us mushrooms on toast, a new first for me. Duyet had managed to get us some potatoes and tomatoes from the local market, which was good. I also got to play with Carrot, the pup, who was getting bigger now, but wasn’t good at posing for selfies.
The rest of the day was spent trying to sort out my actual leaving and putting my escape plan in to place. Captain Caveman got a phonecall to say that, in order for me to pick up my negative PCR certificate tomorrow, (which must be done in person) I needed to have a negative quick test to go to Dong Hoi. Even though this seemed rather odd to me, Captain Caveman could see the Vietnamese logic and agreed that I would go tomorrow with some other people, to get one done. Unfortunately Oxalis couldn’t get permission for me to leave our village to go to the hospital in Hoan Lao to get the quick test so he asked us if we could ask Bich to help us get that. We asked and gave my passport to Duyet who then had to go to the People’s Committee to get the completed permission form, which we had to give the full name of the Oxalis driver and licence plate of the vehicle that I would be going there and back on. We didn’t have much time to make lunch in between all the phonecalls and faffing about so we had hot dogs and onions on sliced bread which I didn’t realise we had almost no tomato ketchup or mustard left so they were a bit rubbish – we ate them though! We hoped that all was still on track for me to get my paperwork tomorrow, then leave for Hanoi on Tuesday so I packed my suitcases, including my hand luggage as tomorrow would be a very busy day. I was a bit peeved that with all the toing and froing today we hadn’t even had chance to go in the pool and as everything seemed to have come to a point where we couldn’t do any more but wait, the rains came! We drank beers and watched the storm and had a marvellous dinner of beef stew with potatoes, using the 3 carrots which Bich had given us from her fridge – the dish would have gone nicely with a red wine. Oh well, this time next week I’d probably be drinking a whole bottle of Tılsım (Turkish wine) to myself!

Phong Nha – 4th September

Phong Nha – 4th September

Everything was calm as I ate my buttered toast for breakfast on Saturday 4th September. It was day 10 of the lockdown and everyone around us were still adhering to the #STFAH rules. I went to check on my mushrooms and there was a small crop which were ready for harvesting so I managed to half fill a pocket – not quite enough for a soup but we would have them for dinner tonight. Duyet had surprised us by being able to get us 10 eggs and 2 (orange) carrots from the market, which was great news. I was going to save one of the carrots to be able to take some carrot sticks with me to Hanoi next week. As we didn’t have any cash, Bich was going to give us 2 million vnd (£64) and send it with Ben on the food delivery at the blockade, we would then transfer her the shopping amount plus the 2m. Ben set off with the goods, Captain Caveman left by motorbike from here and then the exchange took place in the no man’s land. Ben captured the pitiful process on video, when Captain Caveman got back he realised there was no money in the bag and when I asked Bich she said Ben had got nervous at the barrier and forgot to put it in the bag. Bich would arrange to send it later on via Duyet which Captain Caveman was glad about as he was low on beers (already). We were once again lucky enough to have got some great essentials, some of which Bich had given us for free from her own kitchen, which was so lovely of her. I was just glad that they still had the big bags of crisps in stock at the Phong Nha Farmstay so that we could stock up on snacks for my forthcoming journey, she gave us loads of fruit and veg too as well as some peanuts so I knew I’d not starve on my trip.

Ben’s video of the food pick up at the blockade between Elements Collection, Khuong Ha and Phong Nha Farmstay, Cu Nam

By lunchtime we figured we must both be negative for the Corona virus as we hadn’t been carted off to a quarantine facility yet so that was good news. We had lunch of Baba Ganoush on toast, followed by jam on toast and then a few of the grapes which Bich had sent!
The day kept getting better; I got a message from Danny, the driver, to say he can set off a bit later, drive through the night, so that I don’t have to spend a night in the empty airport by myself. I was very pleased and we confirmed he would pick me up on a road just outside of our district at 9pm on Tuesday 7th September, we’d arrive at Hanoi airport at 7am the next day, 3 hours before my check-in – very helpful!
I still hadn’t started packing my suitcases, despite Captain Caveman having brought them down from the upstairs mezzanine immediately after booking the flight! He said I should get on with it so that everything was ready to leave, I was putting it off for some reason.
I saw photos of Captain Caveman’s colleagues on Facebook as they did their volunteering at the roadblocks and check points in the fight against the pandemic – I felt sorry for them as rain was forecast and they were sleeping in Oxalis tents on the side of the road! For dinner we had steamed chicken and rice with green beans, mushrooms, peppers, red cabbage, white carrots and the last of the peanut salt.

Phong Nha – 3rd September

Phong Nha – 3rd September

We were awake early on Friday 3rd September which happened to be day 9 of the #STFAH Directive 16 lockdown. Before we could have any breakfast, Captain Caveman got a call saying we had to go ‘now’ to the Khuong Ha community clinic for a PCR test. We asked where it was but the caller didn’t know so we asked a friend, Lam, who was working as a volunteer at the school down the road which had been turned in to an isolation centre for Corona cases. We tried to find Duyet to let him know we were leaving the premises (and why) but couldn’t, so we let Cuong know – he just looked confused but didn’t stop us. By 10am we were on our bicycles, masked up and armed with hand sanitizer, to go the 3 minute cycle to the Volley ball courts, with attached clinics. There was probably about 100 people there, all in nicely spaced out rows, there were police, doctors and lots of health staff or volunteers. It was outside and as we took our place at the back of the queue we were picked out and asked to come to the front. We gave my name and phone number to a health worker, who gave his details back and then I went first on the chair. I faced the audience of the queuing people and the next victim was a cute little girl who could not have been older than 10, so I tried to be brave. It was quick and very strange, I really had no idea you could get something so far up my nose. It was over in a minute and then Captain Caveman was next – he was less pained from it but he has always been quite a snotty sort, whereas I felt mine for a while after, because of always having a dry nose. On the way back home we cycled past the school which was rumoured to be full of cases, it looked empty, and Lam shouted “Hello Adam and Jo!” as we passed him on the gate. All in all not too unpleasant an experience and now the idea was that the sample would be sent to Dong Hoi CDC to be tested and I was told I could then get the required certificate to enable me to go to Hanoi and then Turkey! Captain Caveman was pleased that it all seemed very straight forward and organised and that it was all going to work out, I (the sceptic in this duo) had serious doubts that what they had promised and what they could deliver might not be the same thing. In my head I was already worried that they didn’t really get what I needed and that it was bound to go pear-shaped!

We had just walked back through the door at home, took our masks off, washed our hands, and Captain Caveman was updating his colleague that we had been tested, when Bich called. She had been called for her to organise for us to go for the PCR test, but we had already gone. She was a bit confused as she knew nothing about it but I explained that neither did we until 30 minutes ago and we just did what we were told. Captain Caveman hadn’t actually needed to get his done but he had decided it was wise to do so in case he ended up having to drive me anywhere to get me out. After speaking to his contact at work, again, Captain Caveman reassured me that they said all could be arranged and we were able to go ahead and book my flights. I was so relieved and, because we’d not eaten yet, we decided to have lunch first. I’m not saying Captain Caveman was happy that I was finally getting out of here, but he decided we would open his very last bottle of emergency wine, which was a very nice one, bought for him by one of his customers, Thien. I thought we should wait until it was all actually done before we started celebrating but he insisted, and I wasn’t going to turn down wine. He made a chicken and mushroom (using the ones we had grown) spaghetti which we had to make do without a sauce as we hadn’t been able to get any and we didn’t have many tomatoes left. It was very hot out so I had to keep getting in the pool to try to cool off and we had a lovely lockdown lunch, with great wine, on the balcony. We did a cheers to getting out of the house for 30 minutes during a #STFAH stint and we also spoke to a friend in Saigon to check how she was getting on. Things were pretty bad there but she was doing ok and was able to get food and wine pretty well. We called my parents and were full of excitement about our day and the plans all coming together to get me a step nearer to getting to Turkey – it could finally be happening!

After speaking to my parents while I sat next to the pool and Captain Caveman was in it, I had been getting quite hot. We put the phone down saying we would call again next week, once I was about to leave, and I desperately needed to get back in the water, which I did. Things were looking up and although I wouldn’t have had a 2nd vaccine, as hoped, I would at least be able to get one in Turkey and start again from scratch with a different brand, probably Pfizer this time. Captain Caveman made a nice dinner of chicken, onions, peppers, green beans and potatoes with BBQ sauce. I was so glad now that I had got the BBQ sauce as we were starting to run out of any moist ingredients.
After dinner Captain Caveman took the plunge and booked my flights all the way from Hanoi, Vietnam, to Dalaman, Turkey. I confirmed with Danny, the driver, and I booked my pick up from Dalaman airport with Sonuç at King Emlak in Dalyan. We arranged for the apartment at Fire Opal to get a clean before I arrived, and care package of food for when I got there after a very long journey. We started to plan for my 2 long stays in Hanoi and Singapore airports by sending a shopping request to Bich to order fruit, snacks, crisps for me plus beer, eggs and potatoes for Captain Caveman. Bich was being really good at being able to get us food and said she would arrange to send it tomorrow, although she was concerned I wouldn’t be able to leave next week because of lockdown. Captain Caveman contacted Stu to ask if he could get more pulled pork from him and he agreed to drop some at the Phong Nha Farmstay for Bich to put with our delivery. There was a slight problem we had to worry about now, we had hardly any cash and the ATM is in Phong Nha town, where we are not allowed to go to, during lockdown. Our day 9 of the #STFAH had been a good one and we went to bed feeling like something had been accomplished today – tomorrow I would repack my suitcases again!

Phong Nha – 2nd September

Phong Nha – 2nd September

Instead of us waking up on Thursday 2nd September to news that we could go out again, I woke up to messages from my Hanoi driver, Danny suggesting we set off earlier and I check in to a hotel in Hanoi for the night. Because I am coming from an area in Directive 16 lockdown, it is not permitted for me to stay in Hanoi without doing quarantine when I arrive there, so this was not an option. He also wanted me to get my PCR test earlier so we could leave earlier which would also mean that when I land in Istanbul, it wouldn’t still be valid, because of the 72 hour rule. Eventually we got it all sorted out but it took a while, even though he has good English, so I only had time for bread and butter for breakfast. I watered the mushrooms and they had a new sprouting of what look like oyster mushrooms.
Captain Caveman had been told by his boss, that he could request help from one of his team, so Captain Caveman took him up on this kind offer and sent a message to explain my situation and to see if they could help me leave Vietnam, especially as now I knew I wouldn’t be getting my 2nd vaccine and my visa expires very soon.
Captain Caveman was outside and in the pool while I was on messenger being  reminded I needed to be gone in 7 days, because immigration were not able to extend my visa again, I explained I needed a PCR test doing for Monday and that I could not book a flight without one, but it got complicated and without an actual appointment I wasn’t prepared to just turn up. We had a late lunch of chicken, red cabbage (we had eaten all the white), white carrot and BBQ sauce on a (still fresh) baguette, followed by some delicious passion fruit. Surprisingly the housekeeping staff came in, masked up, and we sat outside on the balcony until they had finished cleaning our room – I was glad but didn’t expect them to still be working through the lockdown. We managed a swim in the pool and a cold beer but later it started to rain and a storm was brewing. We had grand plans for dinner but because of my excessive bread ordering we needed to eat it up. We decided to properly carb it up and I was going to do us some garlic bread, using the grill function of the microwave for the first time, Captain Caveman was going to make a pasta dish. I overcooked the first lot but it tasted pretty good, the second attempt was too soggy but tasted better and the third go was pretty spot on – 2 pieces of baguette with chopped garlic and cheap Vietnamese butter spread on, before grilling in the microwave for 3 minutes. By the time we had eaten all that we had no room for pasta and, obviously, I had a belly ache! I was shocked that all the gluten I was having wasn’t having a worse reaction to be honest, as I really was abusing the bread and beer far more than ever. We watched another episode of Somebody Feed Phil, this one was in Ireland, then went to bed, having survived the day 8 of the #STFAH Directive 16 restrictions. Tomorrow I knew I’d not be having pizza night but at this point I could actually picture myself being in Turkey, this time next week, then I could be eating a Turkish pide instead.

Phong Nha – 1st September

Phong Nha – 1st September

Today, Wednesday 1st September, was the last scheduled day for the lockdown in our area and we hoped that tomorrow at 6am the restrictions would be lifted. Captain Caveman was optimistic it could happen, I didn’t think it would. Momma D got in touch to say she had heard that Phong Nha market was open so she had decided to try to get some food, she was desperate for onions, but when she got as far as the barrier at the main road, she was told to go home. Her neighbours had given her half a cabbage and a potato and she said she had enough stuff in to make do for now. I decided to ask a Vietnamese friend if she could help me get a PCR test appointment for my forthcoming departure but she said they were too busy at the CDC in Dong Hoi, because of the recent outbreak, and that I couldn’t book one right now – I had to have one (and the negative test result) to be able to leave Phong Nha and fly. Captain Caveman said he would speak to Oxalis tomorrow and ask if they could help get me out of here. It was a busy morning and so I just had bread and butter for breakfast, seeing as we had so much bread because of my over-ordering. We spent most of the day in the pool or sat out on the balcony, we were lucky that the weather was so nice. Captain Caveman had been keeping another birthday bottle of wine for emergency use so when we got word that the Directive 16 Lockdown was to be extended for another 7 days from tomorrow we decided to commiserate and open the wine with lunch!!  We had a generous portion of baguette filled with chicken, white cabbage, white carrot and BBQ sauce which was really good, one of my new lockdown favourites. My mushroom farming was starting to reap rewards, a tiny sprouting on one of the embryos had appeared and I hoped to get a few crops out of the 2 embryos.
Our #STFAH time was quite pleasant today, day 7, aside from the lockdown restrictions which may hinder my leaving plan somewhat, and we finished off the evening by watching Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix while eating another baguette for dinner – we had the same as for lunch but this time we had red cabbage, instead of white!

Phong Nha – 29th August

Phong Nha – 29th August

I woke up on Sunday 29th August at 7am but stayed in bed, it was day 4 of our 7 day lockdown, more than half way already. I went to tend to my mushrooms and was getting a bit impatient as they were showing no signs of life, it was 3 weeks since we accidentally bought the embryos and 2 weeks since we had hung them up so at least another week of waiting was afoot. While we still had fresh bread left we had that for breakfast with Baba Ganoush on one half and peanut butter on the other then we had a piece of tortilla, some dragon fruit and a bit of mango, Captain Caveman with coffee and me with jasmine tea.
I caught up on the Corona news, which wasn’t going particularly well in Vietnam and I read this interesting article on the use of drones in Danang to check people are staying at home:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210829/da-nang-district-begins-trial-use-of-drones-to-monitor-residents-during-covid19-pandemic/62838.html
I had a message from Hien, the owner of Elements Collection, saying she wouldn’t be able to see me before I go because of being in lockdown and she hoped to see me again soon. She did mention that she thought I wouldn’t be able to leave at this time and I would have to wait until after the lockdown ends, but what if it didn’t? Saigon had been locked down for months and people were able to leave there without too much fuss. Captain Caveman still had some wine that he was saving and we had thought about drinking it on the balcony one afternoon so that we could take a photo and send it to the person who gave it to him as a gift. Unfortunately it looked like rain so we sat in doors for lunch of tortilla and salsa style salad. I was now having to eat things I didn’t particularly like usually (egg, tomato, cucumber and mustard in the dressing) but it went down well and I wouldn’t go hungry. We had more of the brownie for dessert – it would turn out to be the longest lasting pudding dish I had ever made!
That evening we sat watching the rain, Captain Caveman wishing he had not taken a lovely bottle of whisky over to the Glass House with the intention of sharing it with Watto. We now had a 12 or 15 year old Laphroaig that we couldn’t get to, just stuck there, unopened! For dinner we made a nice steamed chicken and rice dish (in the reliable rice cooker) with aubergine, onion, peppers, tomato and garlic (one of my favourites) and then hoped for a good day tomorrow.
As we saw things right now this lockdown/no work/limited food situation, that we are on day 4 of 7 now, will have 3 outcomes:
1. They will end it and we can continue to go back to life/work/shopping and me leaving without any hassle.
2. They will extend it for at least another week, may be longer, with the rules as they are now.
3. They will extend it but possibly put in even more strict measures like delivering food by authorities and no leaving the house for even going to a pharmacy.
No matter which option happened I was still intending to leave.

Phong Nha – 10th & 11th August

Phong Nha – 10th & 11th August

Disappointingly, on Tuesday 10th August, it was reported that another large amount of Corona cases in Vietnam were recorded yesterday, read more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210809/vietnam-reports-secondlargest-singleday-rise-of-local-coronavirus-infections/62501.html
It was also worrying to read about how the faking stuff had already started to drift in to the Corona arena with fake test results, it had only been a matter of time – here’s the story:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210810/police-break-up-ring-forging-covid19-test-results-in-northern-vietnam/62511.html
More concerning to my own personal situation was that Turkish Airlines had cancelled all their direct flights from Vietnam to Istanbul next month, which was a shame as I had my eye on booking business class (for the first time ever in my life) on any of 3 flights between 1st and 9th September for only £800! Now the Business class flights were more likely to be $1,500+ with Qatar, via Doha, or Singapore Airlines via Singapore so I’d have to remain in Cattle class which we had been told were not full anyway. There was some reports that the Government had announced that, for all foreigners who were in an area of lockdown whose visa was expiring, it would be waived due to the pandemic – bloody typical that we had just paid.
Captain Caveman had cycled to Phong Nha for a shave and a haircut so I’d already had 1 croissant for breakfast, when he returned I had another and he had one too, they are so good it’s unbelievable. In the afternoon it was really hot and I could feel Captain Caveman’s annoyance when work phoned him and said he needed to cycle back to Phong Nha, for the 2nd time today, because they required his vaccine certificate, which was to be replaced, for some reason. I’d already said we would meet an old friend and ex colleague who was in town with his girlfriend at 5.30pm for Happy Hour beers at the Phong Nha Farmstay so I got a lift with Duyet and Captain Caveman met us there later. I’ve not seen Buu for quite some time, his girlfriend and I share the same stresses of the tourist visa extensions every month. I’d had a beer by the time a sweaty Captain Caveman arrived and he had to get in the pool to cool down. We had a couple of beers but didn’t stay for shepherd’s pie, which Buu and Kat shared, as we were having spaghetti with chicken for our dinner tonight. Before we left Bich said she couldn’t do the weekly shopping trip tomorrow because she had work to do but we could ask Duyet to go to the market for us.

Captain Caveman was finally able to go on his Tu Lan take down trip to Hang Tien on Wednesday 11th August. It had been postponed until there was less water so that they could remove any equipment in the cave for the closing of the season. As I ate a croissant for breakfast I stumbled across an interesting post from an Australian about what was happening in Iceland where 69% of adults have been fully vaccinated, it’s worth a read if you have time:
https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=396895055125422&id=100044147934160
My morning was busy making BBQ jackfruit with garlic and onion in the rice cooker and lots of chopping while sat in front of a fan (harder than you think). I had some of the jackfruit for lunch with raw carrot and red cabbage and some toast and it was delicious, luckily, as I had made quite a lot of it. In the afternoon I tended to my small mushroom farm and the housekeeping and gardening ladies at Elements Collection watched and laughed when I told them how we had ended up with embryos instead of mushrooms to cook. One of the ladies even came to help me reseal the tops of them, asked how long they would take to grow and what we needed to do with them. I started watching another series on Netflix called Below Deck (Mediterranean) which I find hilarious even though it’s not meant to be amusing. We had been invited out that evening to An’s house in Phong Nha for a small party but as Captain Caveman was going straight there from work and I begrudged paying 300,000vnd (£9.60) for a taxi I couldn’t go. Instead I experimented with the oven and managed to make potato wedges which I had topped with some of the BBQ jackfruit for my dinner, it was really good too. So that Captain Caveman didn’t have to cycle home after drinking he decided to stay at the Glass House and I had a catch up with Duyet over my shopping list – I had written it in Vietnamese and went over to chat with him about amounts. To be honest I wasn’t expecting my Vietnamese or his English to have been good enough for this shop to work out but we would see when he went to Khung Ha market in the morning.

Phong Nha – 9th August

Phong Nha – 9th August

This was the day that I should have left Vietnam but because of the nice immigration man I was told I could stay for 1 more month. I’d not heard anything further since my request to do the visa extension without the flight booking I had been asked for. I decided not to bother asking as I was at the point now that if the passport got returned without the extension, or less days than I’d been promised, I would just leave – In some ways it would have been better to leave today, in others it would not have been so easy. 
Today was also Captain Caveman’s first day in his new role at Oxalis as the Safety trainer for the Tour Guides, he’d done some planning over the weekend and was really looking forward to it. I had buttered toast for breakfast and 3 mangosteen while checking the Corona data. Our province, Quang Binh, had 47 positive cases which was a little concerning and I read that Turkey was struggling to reach 70% fully vaccinated as cases reach 25,000 per day, more here: http://sabahdai.ly/_vdg
By the time it got to 3pm I was rather peckish; I had steamed chicken, rice and sweetcorn all cooked together in the rice cooker which was a first for me to steam the chicken. I’m glad I did, as it tasted so healthy and fresh – I really enjoyed it and there was nothing to upset my weak stomach! At 3.30pm in our bedroom it was 29°C despite having the Aircon set at 25°C and I was just too warm, even the swimming pool was like bath water! Captain Caveman arrived back at 5pm in readiness for our Monday night out and this time it wasn’t for Curry Night at the Farmstay!!!

Often, in Phong Nha, Mondays have been our Saturdays and Monday 9th August was one of those times! Instead of cycling there, as was Captain Caveman’s preference, we decided to walk to the Lake House. We had made arrangements to have a few drinks and dinner with Tony and Tham who had reopened their hotel and restaurant at the weekend, after being closed for 2 weeks in accordance with the Corona guidelines. We also had an order of freshly baked bread and croissants to pick up so we could do it all at the same time. I forgot to time the walk there but I think it was about 20 minutes and mainly uphill so coming back would be easier. It was still hot and humid after 5.30pm and I arrived a sweaty mess, so much so that I had to have a wash in the toilets, just so that I could see. We had a refreshing iced lemon juice and I felt bad that Tony moved the massive fan on to us from his daughter, who was enjoying being sat in front of it. While Tham was busy doing stuff the 3 of us chatted about the construction industry over a couple of beers and some nicely made bruschetta style snacks. Tony decided to open a bottle of fancy wine which was from an area of Italy we love and it was absolutely amazing! Captain Caveman ordered chilli con carne for dinner and I had beef luk lak, both of which were so good that I completely forgot to take a photo, plus we were busy chatting and enjoying the Primitivo too much. Of course we had no will power to say no to a second bottle of wine, which went down well and we had a good laugh with Tony and Tham. It wasn’t too late when we went home but it was pitch black and I had the head torch in my hand while Captain Caveman carried the paper bags with bread and croissants in. It may be quiet in Phong Nha at the moment but we had really enjoyed an exciting Monday.

Phong Nha – 6th to 8th August

Phong Nha – 6th to 8th August

On Friday 6th August, while I ate buttered toast for breakfast and Captain Caveman rested on the bed, I saw that Vietnam had almost 400 deaths in a day yesterday and that we had a warning text from the authorities for us all to observe the rules and be careful. As Captain Caveman was still feeling a bit tired from the effects of his 2nd vaccine I decided to cook a chicken dish for lunch, with a sauce, the last of the cashew nuts and the steamed rice. He said he also felt a little bit unfocused and he couldn’t remember what he came downstairs for, Veronika and I do that a lot but it was unusual for Captain Caveman! After eating our food I was sat at the bedroom table when I heard a cracking noise near my right eye and ear. I put my hand up to try to feel what it was and my glasses fell off in to my hands, having broken at the part where the arm is joined to the frame – maybe I was turning in to Carrie!
It was finally Captain Caveman’s pay day so we sat down and did some budgeting together – it was going to be a tough month. He paid for my visa, a total of 2.3 million vnd (£73.60) and we had requested from the Phong Nha Farmstay receptionist our bill.
Pizza Night, which was at the Farmstay again, was a good one; we were joined by Stu and the kids and we had a good laugh. We also ordered a 3rd pizza to share and Captain Caveman had eaten 4 slices of it by the time I got back from the loo, I took 2 pieces home for the next day.

It was a very relaxed day on Saturday 7th August, and at 7am it was cloudy and less than 30°C (but not for long). Vietnam’s Corona deaths continued at a high rate and now the total deaths, since the pandemic had began, were over 3,000. The mortality rate was 1.53% which was worse than in Turkey and catching the UK up. Only 31.6% of the cases had recovered which was lower than we had been used to, so far. I had my leftover smoked duck pizza for breakfast and Captain Caveman cycled in to Phong Nha. When he returned he had fixed my onyx ring so that you couldn’t even see or feel the join and I was so pleased! Unfortunately the glasses didn’t hold at all and were completely broken. For lunch I ate a dragon fruit and an apple but then needed a snack later because I was still hungry so I ate the last of the gluten and dairy free brownie I had in the freezer, while Captain Caveman swam in the pool.
For dinner we had chicken with steamed rice, carrots, green beans and peanut salt but while I was stirring the chicken my onyx ring broke again and landed in the pan!

Our alarms went off at 6.45am on Sunday 8th August and I was still very sleepy. Bluey didn’t need her front tyre pumping up but her back one had gone down quite a bit so Captain Caveman obliged. I managed to cycle to the Farmstay in 9 minutes 4 seconds which was a minute faster than my last ride there. Captain Caveman ordered Eggs Benedict and I went for Pho Bo for our breakfast while we waited to say our farewell to the lovely Czech family, Lucie and her son, Martan. She was able to get her 2nd vaccine and so they were travelling back home to Hanoi with 2 other Phong Nha Farmstay guests. Because there were still no domestic flights or trains from the nearest town of Dong Hoi to Hanoi they were sharing a private car to travel the 500km North, this was also what the cavers would have to do and probably what I would need to do, when we left. After our delicious breakfast we cycled back in a hot headwind which I found difficult and it took me 10 minutes 3 seconds!
Captain Caveman mentioned that when he had picked up the mangosteens from Mina he had been given the mushrooms that I had ordered but I needed to check because I had accidentally ordered embryos. When I looked in the bag there were 2 fairly substantial mushroom embryos so that we could grow our own. Captain Caveman found it hilarious that I had now accidentally become a mushroom farmer of mushrooms I would probably never get to eat as I would have left! My friend Khanh Linh, Mina’s colleague, sent me the instructions in English on what to do and I set a plan of watering and watching them.
The housekeeping staff had been and done a little spruce up of the bedroom, made the bed and straightened the towels, they didn’t know they may also be helping grow mushrooms this time next week. Later Eric, the bee, stopped by for lunch and while Captain Caveman had a sandwich I made myself vegetable and egg fried rice. It was Watto’s birthday today and so there was a party at Bom’s River House for him. Captain Caveman went there but I didn’t, the return taxi fare is 300,000vnd (£9.60) which, to put it in perspective, is more than a crate of 24 beers, so he went by bicycle and planned to stay over at the Glass House. I made myself some veggie pasta for dinner and had a diet coke while watching a bit of Netflix.

Phong Nha – 30th July

Phong Nha – 30th July

On Friday 30th July I had bread and cheese for breakfast again but this time had no reaction and I looked for the positives in the news today.
In Vietnam the amount of recoveries was looking promising as more patients in Saigon were discharged, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210729/ho-chi-minh-city-has-discharged-over-25000-covid19-patients/62318.html
I got a bit of perspective reading this one, and if you thought working from home in the UK, during the pandemic was bad, read this for what it could be like for many workers in Vietnam:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/1000196/hundreds-of-covid-19-cases-detected-in-binh-duong-companies.html
Plans in Saigon to vaccinate 70% of its 9 million residents by end of August were ambitious but could be doable if they got on it, info here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210730/vietnam-accelerates-vaccinations-in-covid19-epicentre/62328.html
As you had probably noticed it was getting to the end of the month which meant it was time to start preparing for the next visa extension request. I checked and was told that I could have 1 more month’s extension and to submit my passport after the weekend.
Captain Caveman had gone early to Phong Nha and was picking up a load of mangosteens from my Jungle Boss friend, Mina. When he came home we had a chicken salad for lunch and a couple of drinks by the pool before getting ready for our predictable Friday night out. We’d budgeted enough for us to have a treat for dinner and we went for Happy Hour and Pizza Night at the Farmstay. It’s only 50,000vnd (£1.55) for 2 rum and diet cokes or gin and tonics so we ended up having 4 of those each and Captain Caveman had realised you could order more than 1 pizza each! We ordered 3 between the 2 of us; a salami one each (his with extra chillies and garlic) then a ham and pineapple to share. It was delicious and the ham and pineapple was my new favourite (plus I took 2 slices home) and we had a great night out for 400,000vnd (£12.40).
Back home we got to give cuddles to Carrot, the puppy, who had been sleeping beneath Cuong’s hammock – he really is so cute.

Photo credit – Captain Caveman