Phong Nha – 10th & 11th July

Phong Nha – 10th & 11th July

On Saturday 10th July I had 2 gluten free, dairy free pancakes with banana and honey for breakfast and read the daily Corona stats. Unfortunately in Vietnam there had been 2 more deaths, one of them didn’t have long between diagnosis and dying, which was concerning. More info here:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/989833/two-more-covid-related-deaths-reported-in-viet-nam.html
There was an updated list of categories for people receiving the vaccine in Vietnam and I would have been at the very bottom had it not been for Oxalis and Captain Caveman. Unfortunately the vaccine progress was still slow here and therefore cases were going to keep coming and deaths were inevitable, especially for those with underlying health issues already.
For lunch I had the left over buffet from last night’s party and in the afternoon I decided to tackle the rather expensive pomelo for a snack and realised it would last me for days. Around 5pm, I was swimming in the pool when Veronika asked if I’d like to share some wine with her, it was very hot weather again, after some storms in the night, so of course I agreed. She even got some crackers from Momma D’s out and an avocado for nibbles. Veronika kept topping up my glass and by the time it came for me to reheat my jackfruit seed curry for dinner I was rather merry. The curry with steamed rice was absolutely delicious and very filling but, as is usual with masaman curry, it made me ill as soon as I’d eaten it.




I started what was about to be a mammoth task on Sunday 11th July; transferring all my photos and videos from the laptop to one of the SD cards. I had a slice of buttered toast and a slice of toast with jam for breakfast (with no issues) and read the news. Because the number of daily cases was getting bigger each day they were proposing even tighter measures in Saigon, more info here:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/989958/hcm-city-sets-up-mobile-teams-for-covid-19-testing-at-home-tightens-travel-from-nearby-provinces.html
Reports of bringing in a quick PCR tests at Hanoi airport meant this could be better for when I leave so I wouldn’t have to travel or wait long for my result to enable me to fly to Turkey, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210711/hanoi-airport-offers-covid19-testing-service-to-passengers/62001.html
For lunch I ate some pomelo and was expecting Tatas to come over for a swim in the afternoon. She arrived later than I expected which meant I had totally cleared everything of mine from the laptop and it was starting to function again, I could now view photos and videos, so started looking at old memory sticks. Tatas and I sat on the balcony with a cold beer but she hadn’t brought her swimmers. I had a bit of a swim and we arranged to go to the Happy Hour and Farmstay Sunday dinner with Veronika at 5.30pm ish. The Elements Collection staff brought us a plate each of warm jackfruit and peanut salt. I love it and was keen to tuck in to ours with another beer.

After pool time (for me) and showers for both of us all 3 of us got a lift with Duyet to the Phong Nha Farmstay. Tatas and Veronika were on the gin and tonics and I had rum and diet cokes (2 for 1 as we love a bargain) and we ordered our roast dinners. We met the first person I have ever met from Bhutan, a lovely customer from Tatas’ last Son Doong tour. Tatas had my pasta, I had her crackling, pumpkin and Yorkshire pudding and the food was excellent – I do enjoy a roast dinner almost as much as wine. Tatas decided to try a Pina Colada which she was now getting in to. She insisted on buying a bottle of red wine for us to share and we also got a glass of wine included and a carrot cake each – we took the carrot cake home as we were too full after such a substantial portion!

Phong Nha – 6th July

Phong Nha – 6th July

Captain Caveman was out very early on Tuesday 6th July and back from Phong Nha by 10am. We were discussing what to have for breakfast when the housekeeping lady brought us a treat of something I have not tried before. She gave us a nicely presented plate of warm jack fruit with a peanut salt crush in the middle. The jackfruit was the unripened version which tastes less like fruit and more like a chestnut and is incredibly moreish, if you’ve not had it before (I’ve had it cooked in India but not raw) it’s worth a try. The flesh part can be used to make a vegan ‘pulled pork’ type of dish which we decided to do with the rest of it later and the stones, which look a bit like Brazil nuts can be boiled, peeled and put in to a veggie curry so we saved those too. We were very grateful to try the fresh jackfruit and it was very kind of the Elements Collection staff to give us a lovely treat.
There was some optimistic progress on my visa situation as Captain Caveman paid 1.8 million vnd (£55.80) and I arranged for my passport to be taken to Dong Hoi by car for another 600,000vnd (£19.20) because it was too hot to expect anyone to take it by motorbike and I wanted it to be submitted as soon as possible for another visa extension. Captain Caveman picked up some freshly made bread from the Lake House and got home just in time. It started to rain but we decided to still get in the pool and for the first time in months we actually felt cooler and it was so lovely. While Captain Caveman made us a chicken dinner I peeled the sharp shells off the boiled jackfruit seeds and then Captain Caveman helped me as they were a bit cumbersome and took a while until we mastered it. When they were done they went in to the freezer so that I could make a curry with them another time.

Phong Nha – 5th July

Phong Nha – 5th July

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

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

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

Photo credit – Captain Caveman, Hien, Moon.

Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 23rd June

Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 23rd June

On Wednesday 23rd June Captain Caveman had planned to cycle to Phong Nha in the morning but he wanted to go on the shopping trip with me at 8.30am. We were up early and although we were speaking there was still no apology and I couldn’t help but feel a bit shit about the fact that Captain Caveman isn’t happy with me not getting out and about.
In the news there was finally some vaccination praise in Vietnam, who have been very slow to start vaccinating in large numbers, unlike the UK and Turkey, more info here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210623/ho-chi-minh-city-citizens-eagerly-participate-in-its-largestever-covid19-inoculation-campaign/61689.html
Bich picked me, Captain Caveman and Veronika up from Elements Collection about 8.40am and already had 2 Phong Nha Farmstay customers in the car. Tree Hugger was already quite busy, when we arrived, we sat downstairs and bumped in to a Phong Nha friend or two.  Captain Caveman ordered his usual egg sandwich, I had veggie fried spring rolls with peach tea then we wished our friends good luck as they headed to immigration and we got ready for a shopping bonanza!

Our shopping trip this week was full on, starting at the Co-op Mart, where our bargain of the day was a whole pumpkin for less than £1 (prices below are in VND).

Co-op Mart
1 notebook 18,000
Lettuce 18,180
Tomatoes 18,250
10 eggs 25,500
Onions 29,738
1 (huge) pumpkin 32,084
5 bananas 33,717
Washing up sponges 39,000
6 aubergines 41,832
Potatoes 56,713
3 walnut milk 81,000
Sensodyne toothpaste 84,600
2 packs of chicken 90,000
2 bottles of mouthwash 92,000
250g butter 107,500
10 mangosteens 114,856
3 packs of bacon 194,400
24 cans of Huda beer 234,000
Dates 256,000

We love the Organic shop and it’s always a surprise as to what they might have in stock, that shop was next.

An Nong Organic Shop
Asparagus 48,510
1 bag of limes 54,725
2 trays of mushrooms 92,000
2 red dragon fruit 61,100

Our next shop was another supermarket, the VinMart, where our bargain of the day was some ready chopped aubergine.

VinMart
1 tray of chopped aubergine 6,994
1 baguette 9,000
2 peppers 27,050
3 cans of diet coke 28,500
200g mushrooms 35,500
2 tubes of Pringles 65,000
3 almond milk 69,500
4 Strongbow ciders 70,000
2 orange juice 88,000

There was still another supermarket we hadn’t been to and our Hanoi guest was keen to buy Tequila (I liked this guy already) but even the wine and spirits shop didn’t have any. Because Captain Caveman had no tours at the moment money was tighter than usual so we decided to forego the booze shop, which was difficult, while our new friend bought 3 bottles of Bombay Sapphire gin at a very reasonable price. 

We did go in to the Red Supermarket for a few more items, we were still hoping to get popcorn kernels, which they were out of at the moment. I was thrilled to find that they had started stocking Orgran gluten free plain flour and, despite its expense, we bought 2 boxes so that I could make proper pancakes! Captain Caveman even found Jiff lemon!

Red Supermarket
1 Jiff lemon 46,000
2 grapefruit drinks 110,000
Walnuts 159,000
2 boxes of gluten free flour 258,000

All in all it was a very productive shopping day where we didn’t buy any wine, but still managed to spend 2.8m vnd (£87). Unfortunately we couldn’t get any suitable memory stick or SD card either so my blog posting was being delayed and was sat queuing to be published.
What’s missing from the shopping, what would you have put back on the shelf and what do you think is missing from our basket or trolley this week?

On returning home from the shopping trip Captain Caveman and Veronika both jostled for space to fill the fridges with the shopping while I took the non-kitchen items upstairs then got in to my swimmers to cool down.
I took the ready chopped aubergine and put it in a bowl with oil and pepper then popped it in the oven to roast so that Captain Caveman could make Baba Ganoush later. For lunch I had a ham sandwich (no butter) and then I went for a White Russian (or 2) with the almond milk and they are a real winner – tastes a bit like Bailey’s. Unfortunately that was the last of the vodka and Captain Caveman finished off the rest of the gin. Even though we both were in or around the pool I made an effort to not speak much and Captain Caveman was happy to be on his phone in a deckchair. The moon was a day away from being a full moon and I managed to get a photo of it. Captain Caveman decided he would cook us a breakfast for dinner so I had bacon, mushrooms, potatoes and onion with brown sauce and it was tasty. We got a message from a mate, back in England, who’d managed to get himself in to one of his ‘world’s stupidest man’ situations which made us both laugh so much and really cheered me up. Finally, Captain Caveman explained why he had started the argument on Monday and that he hadn’t meant to. He wants me to be happier and is concerned I’m not (I was fine) but the main thing that had cheesed him off was that I had tried to railroad him in to organising something. He said he was sorry that he upset me but I shouldn’t tell him what to do (I thought I was helping but obviously wasn’t) and he wanted to make friends with me again. He didn’t want me to leave but just wished I was happier which was rather ironic as I thought I was happy before all this came about!
In other news, after 24 days of having my passport, had finally got a photo of my visa stamp; there was no ‘XC’ meaning I might have to leave on the 9th July so I was good to stay until then and I planned on applying for another visa extension from the 1st July. We agreed to pick up my passport at Victory Road Villas the next morning.

Photo credit – Captain Caveman

Phong Nha – 12th & 13th June

Phong Nha – 12th & 13th June

I’d mentioned to Captain Caveman that the weather forecast had predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms on the morning of Saturday 12th June but he cycled in to Phong Nha regardless, believing it wouldn’t rain. Veronika must have thought the same thing as she also had already decided to cycle to The Villas so she could retrieve her motorbike, left there from yesterday. I had some bread and a banana for breakfast and watched the rain come.
Vietnam had now surpassed 10,000 Corona cases in total since Jan 2020, and people were getting more concerned about this 4th wave causing more potential lockdowns. Info here:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/972684/covid-caseload-tops-10000.html
I still felt safer here as I read an article showing why Vietnam is doing better than a lot of other countries:
https://vietnaminsider.vn/vietnam-has-much-lower-levels-of-viral-transmission-due-to-greater-levels-of-government-and-public-vigilance/
I checked again about my passport and it was confirmed it would be collected from Dong Hoi on Monday, so I probably should stop worrying – there’s just something very unnerving about not actually having your passport.
When Captain Caveman arrived home, soaked to the skin, I put a towel and a bathrobe in the downstairs bathroom for him and he tried to find a bucket to fill to wash his bicycle, there was still no signs of Veronika. Captain Caveman and I teamed up to make a chicken salad for lunch which I had with jasmine tea and he had a gin and tonic. The rain stopped and it even started to fine up enough for Veronika to drive home later, having been at The Villas all day. I had a couple of rum and diet cokes and some cashew nuts from Funny Monkey’s (they are much better than the ones in the shops). For dinner Captain Caveman made a kind of gluten free macaroni cheese with bacon and spinach as we embarked on testing my potential dairy/lactose intolerance. The food didn’t look too great because of the macaroni being made from white rice but it tasted amazing. Unfortunately, the conclusion was that I definitely could not tolerate the cheddar cheese. We agreed from now on I would continue eating small amounts of gluten but no lactose and see what happens!

Sunday 13th June started with Captain Caveman making me breakfast in bed. I was pleased to get brought a bacon and mushroom toasted sandwich with brown sauce but when I bit in to it I could taste butter – I never have butter on sandwiches but as I was meant to be cutting out dairy it meant I’d failed at the first meal. Captain Caveman realised he’d cooked the mushrooms in butter by mistake and I suspected this is the kind of thing that is happening to me whenever I eat out as I never thought of people cooking with butter, which they do. I read in the news that reports of fully vaccinated staff at a hospital in Saigon were positive, but mostly asymptomatic (as you might expect), more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210613/coronavirus-hits-employees-at-covid19-treatment-hospital-in-ho-chi-minh-city/61475.html
Captain Caveman decided we were off on a bicycle ride and I had to be ready to go straight away, he had a trip out planned and was off to pump up Bluey’s tyres. It had been a while since I’d taken Bluey out because it had been too hot for me so she needed her cobwebs dusting off and plenty of air. Captain Caveman set off and I pushed Bluey out of the gate only to see she had a flat tyre again. Captain Caveman came back and sorted her out and the sun was starting to come out already. We cycled towards the Phong Nha Farmstay but kept going past until I was in to uncharted territory, we were off to see Andrew and Chung Son at their house, which I’d never been to before. I’d asked Captain Caveman if there were any hills and of course he had said not, but there was a big one which I had to get off and push Bluey up. I was tired and had to walk slowly as I passed a lorry with a brick delivery on. The one way journey took me 20 minutes and 4 seconds for both cycling and walking. When we arrived I was a sweaty mess but luckily Andrew had some iced green tea available, he served it to us in massive glass jars which I thought was a great idea (I might steal that idea). We sat on the front step and admired the views around and they certainly live in a very nice rural area with friendly farmer neighbours. When we cycled back I forgot to start my stopwatch but I think we did it 4 minutes quicker and I even dared to cycle down the steep hill, definitely testing Bluey’s brakes! From the Farmstay back to our place I did time it and we did a leisurely 10 minutes 25 seconds, not including the stopping for a snake. I spotted the cute little snake just slithering along the road and shouted snake (as is the protocol) so that Captain Caveman would stop, I had to stop, otherwise I would have run it over. He followed it to get some photos and it was a bit too quick for a video. He later got it identified as a buff striped keelback which is harmless so I’m glad we watched it go off in to the grass.

Back home I had a fruity lunch of 1 banana, 2 mangosteen and half a dragon fruit with some walnuts before getting in the much cooler pool for a dip. The housekeeping staff came to clean the room while I sipped gin and pink grapefruit on a sun-lounger feeling rather privileged.
As we were trying our best to cut back on spending while Captain Caveman had less/no work, we had to forgo the Farmstay Sunday Roast dinner tonight and instead we made a chicken dinner together at home for less than a sixth of the price. I doubled up on the roasting of the potatoes, onion and garlic, in Veronika’s three-legged oven which I’d recently found out works quite well, so that Captain Caveman could make a Spanish omelette with the spare. It was still a lovely dinner and although I was missing having wine whenever I felt like it, I was definitely having less calories so hopefully I would be seeing the benefits this week! I wouldn’t have been able to have a Farmstay dessert anyway because of the avoiding of dairy so we were happy to make the sacrifice.

Phong Nha – 31st May

Phong Nha – 31st May

It was extremely hot on Monday 31st May so I had a very relaxed day. For breakfast I had gluten free biscuits with peanut butter from Ly Ly of Funny Monkeys which were so delicious. The news I read this morning was unsettling as more info on the UK/India mutated variant of Corona was being reported:
https://vietnamtimes.org.vn/how-dangerous-is-new-hybrid-coronavirus-variant-found-in-vietnam-32332.html
Information from various places on Facebook stated that Vietnam was cracking down on illegal workers on tourist visas and unfortunately this included people we knew. 
Captain Caveman’s Son Doong briefing for that night did not go ahead as planned and the tour tomorrow was cancelled, later there was news that all Oxalis tours would be cancelled for 14 days, aside from any customers who were already in Quang Binh province, due to the increase in cases in other provinces.
I started to get messages from friends in England who were really worried about us in Vietnam from the news they were hearing, which was very interesting because it had been a while since the UK had such low numbers and they didn’t seem to be worried at all, in fact the UK was still getting ready to take the last steps in the reopening and ‘getting back to normal’ while the number of cases were still relatively high. Captain Caveman gave me the previous day’s cases so I could show a bit of perspective;
The cases in the UK for yesterday were 3,240 and the cases in Vietnam were 214 (which was a big number for us), we’d had no deaths in Vietnam for yesterday but the UK had 6. We can’t access the BBC News sites here so we have no idea what drivel and spin the people of the UK are being given.
For lunch Captain Caveman and I shared a bag of crisps and I had 2 gin and ginger ales by the pool. I’d noticed my bikini had shrunk in the wash a little and so I probably needed to shed a few kilogrammes next month. It would be difficult with Chef Captain Caveman back in the kitchen for a couple of weeks though. He made chicken with spaghetti for dinner and we shared a bottle of red wine.

Overall May was still a good month despite some disappointments; we started the month getting to spend time with friends who were visiting Phong Nha, Captain Caveman had less work with only 2 Son Doong tours and a Tu Lan 4 day tour and so we got to spend some time together. My blog (https://joloyolo.com/) was doing well and better than the last few months, which was good. The top countries for where people were reading the blog from were changing again; 1)Vietnam, 2)UK, 3)Australia, 4)USA, 5)Ireland, 6)Singapore, 7)Turkey, 8)Hong Kong, 9)Sweden. I was even surprised to have a reader from Costa Rica for the first time! As the UK opened up more and more friends were able to do much more and where previously people were stuck at home with more time to read about my life, now they actually were getting back their lives and that was no bad thing. My phone had started playing up a bit in May and was unable to give me screenshots which was annoying for keeping data. Thanks to all who are still reading and, although I can’t promise June to be any more exciting, I can tell you that I won’t even know where I will be! Will it be Vietnam still, back to the UK, or off to Turkey? I don’t even know yet!

Phong Nha – 30th May

Phong Nha – 30th May

I decided not to have any breakfast on Sunday 30th May because I had arranged to meet friends at East Hill for lunch. I read in the news that the church related Corona spreaders in Saigon were facing criminal charges, info here:
https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/hcmc-religious-mission-faces-criminal-charge-for-spreading-covid-19-4286287.html
I cycled with Captain Caveman the 5 minutes to East Hill and on the way I noticed that my bangle had started to bubble and appeared to be struggling to cope in the heat. As we pulled in to the path Hanh was arriving on her motorbike and when we got up the steps to the seated area Tatas was already there and had ordered BBQ chicken, sticky rice and extra cucumber. I was beginning to think Veronika was right to stay at home because it was too hot to go out but at least there was a bit of a breeze where we were. The food was, as always, delicious and we moved seats when the natural breeze stopped, to sit near a fan. Hanh and I had a couple of ciders, Tatas and Captain Caveman had a couple of Tiger Crystal beers and we shared a chicken combo which I’d told Captain Caveman not to be too greedy over, this time. We invited the girls back to our place so we could have a dip in the pool but Hanh had to go to an appointment.

Video of the BBQ chicken arriving at East Hill

Tatas was at Elements before us, the cycle back was brutally hot and I was desperate to get in the pool, the water was so hot though. Captain Caveman got word from a customer on his next Son Doong tour that he had cancelled his trip from Saigon later today because he was an F2 case and was having to self isolate at home. We should have been coming back from our holiday today but I’d managed to forget about it by having a nice day in Phong Nha, instead.

At 5.15pm Captain Caveman and I headed off to the Farmstay in the funky new Elements Collection jeep. We took advantage of the Farmstay Happy Hour with gin and tonics for Captain Caveman and Tatas while I went off piste with a rum and diet coke for a nice change. Captain Caveman and I shared a chicken quesadillas and Tatas had fresh spring rolls which she liked so much that she ordered a second portion of. She didn’t have the Sunday roast but we did and the Farmstay family joined us. The food was fantastic and I had trouble saving some to take home. I even had 2 pieces of crackling this week so I was very pleased with that.
Back home we read the news together in bed; from midnight tonight HCMC was going in to a type of lockdown where some locations would be under directive 15 and others directive 16. This was not good news for Vietnam who have been keeping the virus under control quite well, but it was necessary to protect what medical resources and healthcare workers they did have, as well as doing everything possible to prevent the spread of this new mutated version of the virus.

Tatas took a video of our first trip in the Elements Collection jeep
Captain Caveman’s time lapse video of our first trip in the jeep

Photo & video credit – Captain Caveman and Tatas

Phong Nha – 29th May

Phong Nha – 29th May

On Saturday 29th May, it was all kicking off with the religious group in HCMC who had been spreading the Corona virus expecting that God would save them. The news told everyone who had been in Saigon to check a big list of where they had been, to see if they may be F1, F2, etc. Captain Caveman checked the list and had not ventured anywhere near in the short time he’d been in Saigon, luckily.
There was also the first discovery of what looked like a new hybrid variant, between the UK and Indian viruses, this would later turn out to be very important.
https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/vietnam-discovers-new-coronavirus-variant-with-uk-indian-mutations-4285878.html
Captain Caveman headed over to Phong Nha and in to work in the morning, followed by picking up some homemade cookies and gluten free biscuits from Ly Ly at Funny Monkeys. When he returned I sampled them and they were absolutely delicious and a great idea for snacks or a breakfast item with peanut butter, which Ly Ly also sent a cute little jar of. I’d already unpacked my bag but when Captain Caveman unpacked his, he had some treats for us which I was excited about; gerkins, pickled onions, 3 bags of Naturals crisps (no longer available in Phong Nha) and a lovely gift from his customer, Thien. I made rice with egg, courgette, garlic and sweetcorn in for our lunch and Captain Caveman was going to cook a nice dinner. I updated Captain Caveman of how hot it had been in the pool these last few days by demonstrating the elbow test, which had meant the temperature of our pool was too warm to bath a baby in, but I wasn’t complaining because most cities with Corona had insisted on the closing of all swimming pools – we were lucky to have our own private one. I’d had a can of strongbow by the pool (classy, I know) but we decided we would drink the bottle of white wine from Thien with our chicken in a homemade tomato sauce. I had my chicken with rice, Captain Caveman had pasta with his and the chilled white went down a treat. The day was a lot calmer than recent days and, although we weren’t having a great night out in Saigon with some of our favourite people, we made the most of being together – safely in Phong Nha. I was just upset that it meant I wouldn’t see a few people for quite some time as they were leaving Vietnam pretty soon. We decided that our day out tomorrow would have to include a bit of cycling to one of our favourite lunch spots.

Phong Nha – 20th & 21st May

Phong Nha – 20th & 21st May

We’d talked about getting up early and having breakfast together before Captain Caveman went on his next Son Doong tour on Thursday 20th May. I slept through the sound of the tannoy and Captain Caveman decided to go to Phong Nha a lot earlier than he needed to, instead. He had left me the tortilla (7 pieces) for me to have while he’s away. I had a banana and a small amount of dragon fruit for breakfast and saved the tortilla for lunch.
We had briefly spoken about what we would do if, like a lot of foreigners here in Vietnam, my visa extension was denied. We could see no reason why it would, but there were a lot of people posting on the internet saying they had been told to leave. After eating the Spanish omelette at lunchtime I was ill, as expected, I’ve never liked eggs anyway. I didn’t do much the rest of the day except for start looking at flights out of Vietnam. I’d had no wine since the weekend, mainly because we didn’t have any in – we were trying to cut back on wine as it’s expensive here, instead I had half of the cherries.


Vietnam had done so well to have so few Corona related deaths so it was upsetting to read, on Friday 21st May, that the Corona related deaths had started to happen again, so far people with underlying health conditions. Today the 39th death (since the start of Corona in January 2020) was reported:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/952831/81-year-old-man-becomes-39th-covid-related-fatality.html
I find it really interesting to know where the different variants have come from and this was an interesting article in the news:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/952234/viet-nam-discovers-two-new-strains-of-sars-cov-2-from-imported-cases.html
Also, more cases were reported in HCMC:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/952893/3-more-people-diagnosed-with-covid-19-in-hcm-city.html
Unusually, the second Corona death of the day was recorded, death 40:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/953548/70-year-old-woman-becomes-viet-nams-40th-covid-19-fatality.html
It certainly wasn’t looking too good for Saigon right now as 3 more cases were reported in HCMC which were traced from Danang from the last holiday weekend, more info here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210521/infection-source-of-ho-chi-minh-city-coronavirus-family-cluster-comes-from-da-nang-chairman/61066.html
Inevitably there were more restrictions in HCMC as some places were asked to close:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210521/ho-chi-minh-city-orders-certain-restaurants-to-cease-sit-down-service-over-covid-19-cases/61067.html
Later in the day there were more cases reported in HCMC but this time the Corona was from an unknown source, which was more concerning as it could mean that the virus was already in the community there and not contained, more here:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/953644/hcm-city-on-high-alert-following-cases-without-known-sources-of-infection.html
One of the things that Vietnam authorities are very good at is being quick to implement prevention measures. HCMC announced more restrictions from midnight tonight in an attempt to slow or stop the spread, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210522/ho-chi-minh-city-urges-travel-restriction-among-people-to-curb-virus-spread/61074.html
Vietnam is also, and has been from the start, all over the tracing element and reports in HCMC that recent cases were traced to Starbucks came in:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210522/saigon-authorities-trace-visitors-to-downtown-starbucks-bookstore-after-covid19-patients-visits/61075.html
It wasn’t looking too good but it wasn’t all bad news, reports of some more vaccines would be coming:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210522/vietnam-to-spend-525-million-on-covid19-vaccine-procurement/61079.html
All of this was concerning as the potential for local or nationwide lockdowns were increasing. From now on we would definitely have to stick to the motto ‘only be with people, or at places, you wouldn’t mind being in a lockdown with or at, from now on’!

I had an amazing breakfast of banana, dragon fruit, blueberries and cherries and some buttered toast. I swam lots and did exercises in the pool before lunch. I had a couple of pieces of tortilla and some grapes for lunch, did more swimming and then hoped to chill out before The Villas’ pizza night. That’s when my day took a bit of a downturn! My visa agent, had not been in touch yet with a photo of my new visa stamp and my passport, so I decided to chase her up. She had agreed to process the passport quicker than usual because of our planned holiday and had said it would be back by the 23rd May. I had originally been quoted $60 when I gave my passport to the agent on 5th May, then I’d had a message to say that there was an increase to $85, with the reasons being that I’ve stayed a long time and the increase in Corona risk. I was definitely not expecting it when the agent said I have to pay more to have a fresh visa sticker in my passport, so a total of $110!!! 
I went to pizza night in a bit of a daze, I managed 2 glasses of wine (which I probably shouldn’t have been splashing out on) and 7 slices of pizza then went home, still not having had a reply from the agent about when I would actually get my passport back. Captain Caveman was in the cave still and had left his luggage with me to meet him at the airport on Sunday for us to go to Saigon, I had a feeling our week away was not going to happen!

Phong Nha – 17th & 18th May

Phong Nha – 17th & 18th May

Today, Monday 17th May, was a big day back in the UK as the next milestone in the relaxing of Corona rules arrived. The main thing I knew about was that 2 households could now mix which meant my parents could go to my sister’s house and would be allowed to see the grandchildren. It was still a week to go until my parents were supposed to be fully covered by their vaccines and my sister and her husband had already had their first jab. With the UK and Indian variants about I still worried for them but was happy they would at last be able to choose to see the family, if they wanted. According to the rules in England hotels, cinemas, restaurants and pubs could all be open and people could now go inside to eat and drink. Sports venues could reopen and international travel was allowed but under a traffic light system of where was permitted.
Vietnam had a lot more cases from yesterday (190) and, unfortunately, death number 37, more information here:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/950498/man-with-meningitis-dies-of-covid-19.html
Captain Caveman had gone off to Phong Nha and said he would be back at 10.30am today and then the housekeeping staff were here before 8am so I went to make myself breakfast. It was nice to be sat out in the beautiful garden for 2 hours drinking tea, eating toast and admiring the view but by 10am it was unbearably hot, even in the shade. Captain Caveman came back mid morning and I had a second breakfast; bacon, asparagus and parmesan and it was the best he’d made in ages. By midday it felt like 45°C and I was struggling, even in the pool, so Captain Caveman got on the gin and tonics and I had a white russian. I had rice crackers and 1 Laughing Cow Light cheese triangle but had a bad stomach straight away (they aren’t even real cheese and the milk in the cocktail is UHT)!
At 3.40pm I was laying on the sun-lounger on the balcony when a huge rain shower came down. That evening I cooked us chicken breast with steamed rice and vegetables which was really healthy. Captain Caveman had more G&Ts and I went on to the rum with ice.

We had a bit of an unusual day on Tuesday 18th May. Captain Caveman was up at 6am and woke me up with a sneeze, as he sometimes does. I was crotchety at having been woken up too early so Captain Caveman did us a bacon, potatoes and onion breakfast. He had his with brown sauce and a couple of fried eggs too!
For lunch, because of the heavy breakfast, I made popcorn and had 1 square of 85% dark chocolate. We arranged to meet Tatas for dinner at East Hill, she was taking her motorbike but Captain Caveman and I thought my leg had improved enough for me to have my first stint of cycling on a main road in the dark. We had some lights for the way back but made sure we set off in the daylight so we might see the sunset. Tatas was early and had already ordered a BBQ chicken combo with extra cucumber, those two had Tiger crystal beer to drink and I had Strongbow cider. We had a really relaxing time, the chicken was so good that we ordered another and had another drink while trying to not attract any more frogs (Tatas is scared of frogs and there were loads of them).
After dinner, not too late, we walked down the stairs, which I managed for the first time after dark, with help, to our transport. Bluey was ready to go but I was uneasy about the rough path to the road so I pushed her the 200 metres while Tatas rode slowly alongside me, lighting the way. We joked at how good my leg must be now that I could keep up with a motorbike while pushing a bicycle! I managed the cycle back quite well but had to have Captain Caveman guide me on the left hand turn from the highway. When we got home I had a shower as I was very sweaty but Captain Caveman got in the pool for a splash about!

Photo credit – Bich and Captain Caveman

Phong Nha – 13th May

Phong Nha – 13th May

Back in March I’d tried to arrange a soirée that never came off and then again, in April, the get together never happened due to Captain Caveman’s busy work schedule. Now that he had some surprise days off, on Thursday 13th May, we had finally got the makings of something organised for the early evening. Captain Caveman and I decided we would order in East Hill BBQ Chicken and sticky rice for a small group of us.
But first, Captain Caveman went over to Phong Nha in the morning, to get his washing in, turn Watto’s AC on for him at the Glass House and check in on things at Oxalis. He received a few updates from work and one in particular we were very pleased to hear; he would be getting his first Astra Zeneca vaccination tomorrow. I caught up on more writing and checked the news, as I usually do and I just had toast and brown rice crackers for breakfast and lunch as I knew I’d be eating a big meal for dinner. Captain Caveman came back for his lunch of a peanut butter and marmite sandwich and a can of lager (classy), while taking my place on the sun-lounger. Weirdly we decided to look up flights to the UK for later in the year because we knew that flights were available to Singapore and if I spent 10 days in Singapore I could go to the UK without quarantine – a one way flight to Heathrow wasn’t too pricey either. As Captain Caveman had a week off at the end of May we also started looking at more detailed plans in Vietnam, where we hoped I’d get my passport back in time to be able to fly to Saigon and then Tam Hai for a holiday within a holiday.
At 4.15pm Hanh arrived and we sat outside near the garden and had a chat and a drink while we waited for others to arrive. It was at this point I decided I would get more Lindeman’s sparkling white wine down me, which Captain Caveman was very attentive at topping up as almost everyone else started to arrive.

The East Hill BBQ chicken and sticky rice arrived right on time at 5pm, ready for our little get together with some friends. Veronika arrived back from a trip in to town to buy hummus, just as we had finished eating all the chicken so we ordered a third BBQ chicken and rice combo from East Hill who were great and said it would arrive at 6.30pm, in time for Bich coming.  While Veronika got her hummus out and joined in a glass of fizz, it was nice to see the Vietnamese guests not drinking and driving, even the kids were behaving well. East Hill delivered the extra food earlier than expected but there was still no sign of Bich yet so we left it in the bag and went upstairs. Hong and the kids got in the pool, Phuong went to the blessing of the van party with Duyet, Hien and Khanh. I made jasmine green tea for the Vietnamese ladies and I had more wine. It was great seeing the kids enjoying the swimming and Captain Caveman made an excellent lifeguard and swimming coach. Captain Caveman and I had more chicken and rice with peanut salt when Bich and the kids arrived, Veronika finally got some chicken but there was still some left over which went in the fridge for tomorrow. It was a great night and it had been lovely to catch up with our Vietnamese friends who we don’t see so often. Captain Caveman made me laugh when everyone had gone, by saying how much he’d enjoyed it and that we should do it every month – it had took at least 4 months to get this one organised!

Danang & Hoi An – 20th April

Danang & Hoi An – 20th April

As Tatas was only here for a short time, we decided we should make the most of it on Tuesday 20th April and our friends had great recommendations for us. Captain Caveman had returned from Son Doong yesterday but gone back in today and I’d not had chance to speak to him before his next tour. Today the plan was to have a relaxing day at Hoi An Silk Beach Club with Tatas, who was also working while next to the pool. Transport is so much cheaper in Danang than in Phong Nha and was only 200,000vnd (£6.20) from Danang to Hoi An, about 45 minutes away. When we arrived we were the only people there and so we had the pool to ourselves. I was so hungover that I ordered a can of Fanta and some french fries for brunch and I’d forgotten my swimmers. As there was no one around I went swimming in my undies and was able to hoist myself out of the pool relatively ok, but not gracefully.

Once back at Bridges Danang Boutique Hotel we had a shower and change before we went off for a full body massage at Herbal Spa which Kendra had also recommended. The 90 minute aromatherapy full body massage was looking like the best deal for what I wanted and I asked them to concentrate more on my shoulders and feet and they also asked about injuries and pressure which was great as usually massages in Vietnam are brutally strong. There was a special offer on of 150,000vnd (£4.65) for 60 minutes or 240,000vnd (£7.44) for 90 minutes including hot stones if you wanted them (I opted for it without). It was very relaxing and so professional, one of the best massages I’ve ever had and we even got a cute outfit to wear to protect modesty – what a lovely treat!
After the massage we were given free soup, herbal tea and coconut crackers, which you could also buy and were gluten free. I was so relaxed that I felt like going back to the hotel to go to bed but we had plans for Tatas’ last night of her mini-break. I made a note to self that I definitely would be staying off the alcohol tonight though!

After the 3rd shower of the day at the hotel, we were off out for dinner. It was Tatas’ last night so she got to choose where she would like to eat. We arrived at The Nomad Kitchen in An Thuong and ordered some drinks while looking at the menu. It was a shame that I’d decided not to drink as they had some decent wine for a good price.
For my dinner I had the fish and chips with homemade tartare sauce for 110,000vnd (£3.40) and it was absolutely amazing. Tatas had a buffalo dinner, while the rest of the table had dishes which included a side order of buffalo, bacon croquettes, and falafel salad. The food was really good and Daniel, the chef, is incredibly skilled. When a couple of us ordered the white chocolate tart for dessert I asked if I could have an extra price of fish for my pudding instead, it was that good and even came with extra vinegar. I could only drink sparkling water as I was honestly begging for mercy, I needed to remember I am much older than all of these party animals! Tonight I remembered that the AC needs to be turned on again after taking out the key card and I settled down for a relatively early night about 11.30pm, while Tatas carried on her night at Oi bar, Emma’s and Shamerock. Tomorrow Tatas and I would be checking out of this lovely hotel but only she was off back to Phong Nha – I had more adventures planned!

Phong Nha – 11th February (Tet eve)

Phong Nha – 11th February (Tet eve)

Tet Eve fell on Thursday 11th February this year and it started with 5am announcements and loud music, which went on until 7.30am.
Captain Caveman had to go to Oxalis Home for 7.30am and so he agreed to meet me at the Farmstay at 10.15am for our exciting outing. As it turned out Captain Caveman got back early and I got to go to the Farmstay on the back of his motorbike in my new helmet, which was really snazzy. Ben had organised a trip to the Pub with Cold Beer for lunch and a few of us went up in the jeep while Matty, Chris (the Belgian guest) and Veronika rode their motorbikes there.
Ben was driving, Howie was in the front, in the middle was a nice family and in the back with me and Captain Caveman was Catherine and her son. When we arrived we had a quick look around the kitchen and then the food was served. We ate BBQ chicken with peanut sauce, steamed rice, morning glory, pork, and spring rolls which was all so delicious. I even drank Huda beer, went on the swing and chatted a lot with Catherine who was so funny. Captain Caveman and some of the others went in the incredibly well- maintained swimming pool and the food was very good value for money – we even bought some peanut sauce to take home. When we got back to the Farmstay I decided to walk it home, I had my poles and Captain Caveman had a beer to give me a headstart. I managed to get home in 35 minutes and quite a while before Captain Caveman made it back (I suspect he may have had a second beer) because he expected me to take longer. I had a bit of pain but it went after ibuprofen and a short rest so I was pleased with that. In just 1 month I had managed the same journey 8 minutes quicker but I still wasn’t as fast as a 74 year old, who can do it in 20 minutes.
I’d been waiting to hear that it was ok to call my parents so I could get an update on how Dad was doing, after a hospital visit yesterday and the news was good. It was really nice to have a laugh with ma and pa over video call and see that they looked really well and quite relaxed which was so good. Music, karaoke and bombs (fireworks are banned in Vietnam) were to be heard until 1.30am and I was getting quite good at staying in the house for new year’s celebrations now and quite enjoyed being antisocial.

Here’s a couple of video clips of our trip on Facebook courtesy of Matty & Ben;

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2860937884224294&id=100009243321087

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=4270275809653671&id=148614098486550&sfnsn=mo

Phong Nha – 7th February

Phong Nha – 7th February

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

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

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