Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 14th July

Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 14th July

I had an exciting day on Wednesday 14th July; while Captain Caveman had gone to Son Doong for another 4 days I was booked on the Phong Nha Farmstay’s weekly shopping trip at 8.30am. I had a very small budget to work with this week so I had to be really careful if I wanted to be able to go out for some meals as well as cooking at home. Bich picked up Veronika and I from Elements Collection and already in the car were 2 other passengers. One was a customer who was very nice and friendly and so we had a good chat while we drove to Dong Hoi, I was particularly interested in her home country of Bhutan and why her and her family were moving to Ethiopia. Our first stop was the Organic Shop where I was absolutely delighted to find they had popcorn kernels, unfortunately they were expensive but I decided to get them anyway and popped back the brown rice biscuits I was going to buy. I really wanted to buy the juicy looking cherries but, even though they had come down in price, they were still 400,000vnd (£12.80) per kilo – instead I sensibly bought some carrots. 
Our next shop was the VinMart supermarket where the girl on the reduced veg and fruit weighing machine counter had started to recognise me and pointed out the pumpkin which I got as well as a selection of other cheap produce. I didn’t manage to get everything on the shopping list but I still got quite a few things before putting our stuff in the car then joining Bich at QB Casa cafe.

For those of you who do like a good shopping list and a nosey here’s what I bought and the cost in dong:

Organic Shop
4 carrots 14,310
500g popcorn kernels 124,000

Total spent 138,310vnd (£4.42)

VinMart Supermarket
1 pack of pumpkin 2,778
1 pack of pumpkin 2,999
1 pack of white cabbage 5,472
1 can of soda water 6,500
1 baguette 9,500
1 pack of broccoli 15,232
1 can of coconut milk 16,000
2 cans of diet coke 19,000
2 packs of pineapple 23,000
Washing up liquid 23,000
1 jar of tomato pasta sauce 27,000
500g of penne pasta 30,000

Total spent 180,481vnd (£5.76)

It wasn’t a thorough shopping trip but interestingly I didn’t buy any item that was over £1 in VinMart, do you think you could do that in your local supermarket and get most things for the week? What did I miss?

After shopping, Veronika, who likes a coffee in a morning, had taken herself off to the Vinpearl Hotel reception for a cappuccino, when she saw we were all in QB Casa she came over and ordered another cappuccino and found not only was it cheaper but it was better! Bich had ordered steak and chips for her breakfast so I decided to have the same, and I also ordered a fresh coconut. I was thoroughly impressed with my meal, the service was good even though the staff are a bit shy and not too confident speaking English, but that didn’t matter to me. I paid 200,000vnd (£6.40) for steak, chips, a warm baguette and veg, a fresh coconut, water and included a tip, I was very full and left there thinking I would definitely go again.

When we got in I popped my shopping away and realised I still had a small amount of almond milk left so I made myself a dairy free white russian to have with some gluten and dairy free chocolate brownie. My eczema on my face was still bad so I avoided putting my face in the water as much as possible while swimming and didn’t stay in too long. I watched some Netflix and made some popcorn, I had some of the old kernels left and when I popped the new and old together it was clear to see the organic shop was much better quality so I didn’t feel so bad for spending too much on it – it still works out better than crisps.
After dinner, of a chicken sandwich, I found a cockroach in the bathroom and was a bit anxious about trying to get it as they are usually indestructible (this one was massive and extremely fast) but I sprayed it with Mosfly before bed and hoped it would be dead when I got up.

Phong Nha – 13th July

Phong Nha – 13th July

On Tuesday 13th July Captain Caveman had to return Tatas’ motorbike to her and so I asked him to take the cake she left at our place on Sunday night back to give her, but when I sent her a message to remind her about it she told me that he hadn’t given her the cake! We already had 3 more pieces of cake at home so it would be a mystery (for now) as to what happened to the cake.
I ate some pomelo and mangosteen for breakfast with jasmine tea and read the news as usual. It was reported that finally people from Saigon have to self isolate on arrival in to other areas of Vietnam, so far people had been free to move to other provinces without any checks or isolation. Here’s the article:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210713/travelers-from-ho-chi-minh-city-to-other-localities-required-to-selfquarantine-for-14-days/62037.html
The number of new cases was the highest ever daily amount in Vietnam so far and had more than doubled the previous day’s amount so things were starting to get more worrying. I saw on Facebook more and more westerners were planning to get out of Vietnam.
Captain Caveman returned and we had crisp sandwiches as our first lunch, the crisps from The Villas and Phong Nha Farmstay are the best, Naturals. I didn’t go in the pool with Captain Caveman today because my face eczema was particularly bad and the chemicals in the pool make it worse. By 3pm we were eating our second lunch of chicken and veg stir fry with steamed rice – very tasty.
That evening Captain Caveman had his next Son Doong briefing at 6pm so he cycled over to Phong Nha, he’d got a full group again, which was great news but we weren’t sure for how much longer customers would still be able to travel to go on the tours. For dinner I had chicken and gherkin sandwiches and finished the wine Tatas’ had left on Sunday, which I really should have put in the fridge.
I got a message from one of the Ladies of Phong Nha to say she had decided to move to Hoi An at the end of this month so we should arrange a Ladies Night for her going away party – how could I refuse. Unfortunately Phong Nha was losing more of its Westerners as the months rolled by and the virus situation didn’t make it any easier, knowing it might be a while before any tourists, or people who had left, would be able to come back in to Vietnam.

Phong Nha – 12th July

Phong Nha – 12th July

Monday 12th July was a bit different to my usual days of late and I did a few new things for a Monday, too. Tatas had stayed over at Elements Collection and I wasn’t at all surprised when her alarm went off at 6am, as it always does! She doesn’t even wake up and turn it off but just keeps on snoozing it! So my day started off feeling very tired and I offered to either go for breakfast at the Farmstay with Tatas or make pancakes with bananas and honey for us both. Tatas wanted to go to Funny Monkeys for coffee so I decided I would get a lift to Phong Nha with her and go there for breakfast as I’d not visited there for such a long time – it would be nice to have some time in the Phong Nha town area for a change. I decided to have a peach tea which was delicious (in fact I had 2) and we joined an American guest, Leonard, who was in the wars a bit with an injured shoulder but was enjoying a milk tea. For breakfast Tatas and I ordered a bowl of the pork and prawn rice noodle soup which I really enjoyed. We were joined by Ngày, Ly Ly and Moon for a bit and Leonard was making us laugh as well as telling me interesting stories, so much so it was past midday when I got round to leaving for my next (small) adventure. I decided to walk (in the hellish heat) from Funny Monkeys to The Villas, it’s not far but I was carrying my helmet as well as a bag, there was very little shade and there was zero breeze.

When I arrived a hot sweaty mess I went to sit down outside with Veronika but Hien, the waitress, took my temperature and suggested inside with the Aircon might be better for me – she probably thought I’d put customers off looking so pink!  For lunch I decided to have a Margherita pizza and a lemon juice of which I managed to eat 5 delicious slices of and put the rest in a takeaway box for later. The Villas closes at 2pm and reopens at 4.30pm so I had intended on leaving my motorbike helmet, my bag and the Naturals crisps I had bought, while I took a walk but the manager, Lan, said I could stay there until the afternoon staff came back, so I did. I wrote up a bit of blog preparation and learned some Turkish on Duolingo. Captain Caveman had returned from Son Doong and was coming to meet me for Happy Hour and a Half at 4.30pm. When he arrived he snaffled the remaining 3 slices of my pizza and we turned it into Margarita Monday.

He got picked up for his gala dinner around 6pm and I carried on with the cocktails until it was time to try The Villas’ curry night. I was joined by Stu, Max and Jack for butter chicken, steamed rice and naan bread and was very pleasantly surprised. I’d not had a buttered chicken since the closing of Namaste and Raj leaving back in September 2020 so I was happy – it tasted really good. I got a lift back with Ben and Bich quite early so Captain Caveman missed getting a lift with us and went to a leaving party at Dangerous Corner with Tatas after his gala dinner. It was 11.30pm almost when he came in, quite worse for wear.

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 – 9th July

Phong Nha – 9th July

Craig Davis was having a leaving party on Friday 9th July at his home at Bolero homestay. Shannon and Mark had agreed to share a car which made it easier but Duyet wasn’t available, like last night, so we had to  book a taxi at a higher cost of 200,000vnd each way. This is one of the reasons I very rarely go out in Phong Nha, unless it’s an organised trip with Phong Nha Farmstay to The Villas, because it’s just too expensive for a short journey here. Captain Caveman had made himself breakfast before going on his first Son Doong tour in a while, he gave me some money and told me to go to the party and not to worry about money so much, we would cope! I had toast for breakfast and caught up with the news in the UK and Vietnam.
There was good news for vaccinated people in the UK who wanted to leave and return, without having to do quarantine. It was not great news for people coming back from a country where they had got a vaccine which had not been given by the NHS. More here:
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-57763173
This meant even though I might have had my vaccinations by the time I go to England, I would still have to quarantine because I’d have had them in Vietnam, or Turkey (or both).
In Vietnam there was more concern in Saigon for people trying to go anywhere as more rules and restrictions were put in place, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210709/coronavirusfree-requirement-restricts-interprovincial-travels-in-vietnam/61968.html
For lunch I had a Momma D’s sausage roll out of the freezer, which cooked lovely in Veronika’s oven then before I knew it, it was time for the party.
The driver picked Shannon up first, then me and then we picked up Mark. When we arrived at Craig Davis’s place two of the cavers were already there so we went to say hello. We had a tour of Mr Davis’s home which is really lovely and it’s very sad that he has to leave Vietnam. Momma D was managing the party event and the staff and her were there setting up the bar and getting the buffet ready. I had a can of Saigon beer and we chatted to Andrew and his family as he and his son got in the guitar shaped pool. The buffet was good and plentiful including some homemade chocolate brownies which were a massive hit and there were quite a few people turned up to the party which was great because Craig Davis is such a nice bloke. It was good to see old friends It and Chung for a while too. When we were leaving our host insisted we take a plateful of food home too and had really treated us all well – Phong Nha would miss him!

Phong Nha – 8th July

Phong Nha – 8th July

Our SD cards had finally arrived from Lazada and so on Thursday 8th July Captain Caveman cycled to Phong Nha to pick them up. I unpacked my suitcases hoping I wouldn’t have to repack them too soon but (just in case) I left all my winter stuff and the BBQ in the big one. I had 2 gluten free, almond milk pancakes with a banana and honey while reading the Vietnamese news. The Saigon lockdown had started with panic at the supermarkets, read more here:
https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/vietnams-biggest-city-sees-panic-buying-over-virus-lockdown-fears-2021-07-07/
I made jackfruit seed curry to pop in the freezer with all the stuff we had in the fridge and it was a joint effort on the lunch. We had chicken topped with pulled BBQ jackfruit, carrot, cabbage and gherkins on baguette and it was really good (much better with the chicken). I didn’t go in the pool today because, even though it was a warm day, my eczema was playing up and I didn’t want it to get worse, as it does from the swimming pool. I also needed to get ready for the second of our Phong Nha Ladies Nights which looked to be fun!

We had planned our second phong Nha Ladies Night at Momma D’s rooftop bar!  There were about 16 people invited and we had done a vote which had confirmed the majority wanted it to be on a Thursday, most people wanted it to start earlier and they wanted it sooner than having to wait a whole month for the next one. Shannon had the whole day off so was happy to get there at 4pm and then we could have sunset drinks, others who were working wanted to go about 6 or 7pm so, as is usual, no-one could agree on the leaving time for our car. I decided Shannon, Captain Caveman and I would book Duyet to take us at 5pm and we would pay 300,000vnd (£9.30) for the return journey. This way we could go with Captain Caveman who had his Son Doong briefing at Oxalis and needed to be on time. Unfortunately that meant Captain Caveman and I were already spending 200,000vnd out of our budget before I had even eaten or drank, so I decided I would only have something cheap to drink and not go mad tonight. By the time we set off there were fewer than the 16 that had said they were coming and so numbers were already diminishing and Tatas, my usual drinking partner, was in Son Doong so couldn’t come. Shannon and I had felt quite tired and so she ordered a coffee and I just had a  Huda beer because it meant I could have more drinks, the cheaper they were.  
First to join us was Diem who was excited to be able to come out this time, then next to arrive was Tham, with a big smile on her face and she had brought duck for everyone to share. Next was Bich who started the party off with a Bloody Mary, Huyen arrived shortly after that, bringing a big bag of sim fruit for everyone to share. It was the first time of trying them for me but they taste a bit like blueberries wrapped in a then layer of carpet or fuzzy felt. I ordered roasted peanuts and tacos, some of the others ordered various things from the extensive menu including nachos and pies. Momma D gave us all free frozen Bellini shots and some extra peanuts to share. Unfortunately for various reasons we had 3 more ladies cancel after we had started the evening so only 7 out of the invited 16 were in attendance, including Momma D, but we were still up for a good time. The BBQ duck was a winner as everyone shared it, I didn’t have any but everyone said it was delicious.
After a couple of Huda beers I decided to try Momma D’s own draft lager which she had recommended and was very nice – not as gassy as the Huda. The 7 of us had a very civilised evening and by 8.30pm most of the Vietnamese ladies were ready to go. I had booked Duyet to take us back when Captain Caveman finished work and could join us so the westerners had another beverage and Captain Caveman had a quick Huda when he arrived. As we were leaving there was a bit of a storm brewing and some heavy rain came but luckily Captain Caveman was able to help me on the stairs and down the ramp to the pavement. I’d enjoyed my night out despite spending just over 500,000vnd (£16) on food, drink and transport meaning I’d need to be very frugal with the housekeeping over the next few weeks, as we had a few events coming up. 

Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 7th July

Phong Nha & Dong Hoi – 7th July

On Wednesday 7th July it was clear that the number of Corona cases in Saigon were not letting up and there were some issues in trying to keep it under control so an announcement was made that Ho Chi Minh City would go in to Directive 16 lockdown from midnight, more info here:
https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/covid-19-sources-spread-all-over-hcmc-says-health-department-4305117.html
A lot of our friends in Saigon were feeling the stress of it a bit more now and some were F1 or F2 and having to isolate.
There was a morning shopping trip at 8.30am which both Captain Caveman and I decided to join Veronika and Stu on. Our first stop was the pharmacy where I bought cream for my eczema, paracetamol, contraceptive pills and some Decolgen for Captain Caveman. In all pharmacies now you have to give your name, address and phone number if you are buying any medication which could be for Corona so I had to do that and I didn’t have enough money as the face cream was so expensive that Captain Caveman had to come and bring me more cash in the now heavy rain.
We also shopped at the organic shop and the VinMart before going for a fancy lunch.

We got quite a few things but we’re still meant to be on a strict budget so we were trying to be as careful as possible. Captain Caveman had been paid but after all the outgoings there wasn’t much left. Here’s the shopping we bought, for all you list lovers, prices in Dong;

Pharmacy
Decolgen (16 tablets) 19,200
Panadol (24 tablets) 22,000
Marvelon (63 tablets) 195,000
Eucerin cream (1 tube) 434,700

Total spent 670,900 (£20.80)

Booze Shop
2 bottles of Bombay Sapphire gin 460,000

Total spent (£14.26)

Organic Shop
1 red cabbage 13,330
4 carrots 20,670
2 red peppers 47,530
1 pack of vegetable stock granules 75,000
4 potatoes 75,600
1 pomelo 157,500

Total spent 389,630 (£12.08)

VinMart Supermarket
Tissues 8,500
1 baguette 9,500
1 packet of Fox’s glacier mints 15,100
6 bananas 23,880
Mushrooms 35,500
1 bag of frozen sweetcorn 41,000
10 eggs 43,900
3 180ml cartons of almond milk 69,500
1kg of chicken 88,900
1 jar of jam 138,000

Total spent 473,780 (£14.69)

The bargain of the day was the gin being only £7 per bottle which Captain Caveman was thrilled with it being cheaper for 2 bottles than my small face cream. The items we probably could have left off the list was the pomelo (which was huge) and the jam, but we got a nice free tote bag with it this time and that would come in handy for me to use in Turkey.
We still didn’t buy any wine which is usually around 400,000vnd for 1 bottle and at least it was keeping me healthier! Once I got to Turkey I would drink a lot more wine as a cheap (but good) bottle there is about a third of the cost of that in Vietnam. The 2 items I would love to be able to buy are popcorn kernels and mince beef but nowhere has any in stock.

What would you have left out or added this week?

Bich had chosen the Vinpearl hotel for lunch, we were the only guests and the staff had to put the lights on as we sat at a huge table with a lazy susan! Captain Caveman and Stu ordered Caesar salads, Bich ordered prawns, Veronika chicken breast and I went completely off the diet and ordered the chicken burger (I’d taken stomach medicine in case of any issues). My food was absolutely fantastic, it came with French fries, cheese, bacon and gherkins and was only 180,000vnd (£5.58). Everyone else said their food was nice too and we had a good laugh before heading back to Phong Nha.

Captain Caveman and I had BBQ ‘pulled pork’ jackfruit on a baguette with shredded cabbage, carrot and gherkins for an early dinner. It was nice, if not a bit unusual, but it definitely wouldn’t fool a meat lover. I would have it again though, which was a good job as we now had BBQ jackfruit left, which we popped in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch. I’d organised another Ladies Night for tomorrow but was having a few problems getting people to commit to whether they were coming or not.

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 – 3rd & 4th July

Phong Nha – 3rd & 4th July

While Captain Caveman went to Phong Nha on Saturday 3rd July I packed my suitcases, one of which was a hand luggage case I’d borrowed from Vanessa in Dalyan, thinking I’d be giving it back 3 months later. I’d hoped for a message first thing about my visa extension decision but didn’t get one and so I had my usual pancake breakfast and read the news.
In Vietnam yesterday we had the biggest amount of cases in one day so far and this 4th wave was certainly continuing to be a worry:
https://vietnamnews.vn/society/985492/viet-nam-sees-record-high-daily-increase-of-covid-19-cases-on-saturday.html
At 11.48 a text confirmed there had been no response from immigration as promised so we could perhaps assume I was still leaving, although it would still be double checked on Monday when they were back at work. This would mean that option 1 of leaving on Tuesday was definitely cutting it fine so when Captain Caveman returned we decided to go with option 2 of me going to Hanoi next Friday, but we would book the flight on Monday, which was Captain Caveman’s payday. This would also give me time to still attend my own leaving celebrations on Monday too. I researched new phones and found the one I needed which I would also be better off getting in Hanoi because of availability. I got a message from Funny Monkey’s to say that a friend from Dong Hoi had sent Captain Caveman and I a gift, what a lovely surprise. That night Captain Caveman made a massive mushroom risotto and we didn’t argue, he was looking forward to getting back to work and had even managed to be working on Monday, meaning he couldn’t come to celebrate me leaving Phong Nha.

There was some excitement on Sunday 4th July when we used our new gifts. Mo, from Earth cafe in Dong Hoi, had sent us each a cup for our morning drinks and it was such a lovely thing to do. I had jasmine tea in mine, Captain Caveman had Vietnamese coffee and I made more pancake mixture for my breakfast. For some reason neither of us had any lunch but we decided after some time in the pool that we would go to the Farmstay for sunset drinks. It was happy hour so to keep it cheap we both just had 2 for 1 Huda beer, which I hadn’t drank in quite some time. We watched the buffalo get fed and washed in the fields, we chatted about expats getting kicked out of Vietnam and cycling in hot sun with 2 of the Phong Nha Farmstay guests. The two of them were going to Son Doong next week and they were really looking forward to it. 
Back home, while Captain Caveman cooked our dinner, I checked with East Hill that they could accommodate us tomorrow at 11.30am for my leaving lunch and started to get a bit concerned about fitting everything in that I needed to do!

Video of a farmer feeding his buffalo

Photo credit – Captain Caveman

Phong Nha – 2nd July

Phong Nha – 2nd July

One good thing to come out of the recent  passport, visa, money, lack of tourism issues was that I hadn’t been drinking wine as much or eating as many treats. The last of my worries at the moment was whether I was thinner or fatter but none of my bras fit now and at least I would be able to get some new ones when I left. I didn’t have any breakfast as I started going through my clothes and working out what I was taking with me to Turkey and what I would leave here for if/when I could come back. Captain Caveman was in Phong Nha and had got the suitcases out at the Glass House so we could bring them over to pack when he could borrow a car. As is usual there is often an electrical item requiring transporting between countries and this time would be no different. I’d been away from Turkey for almost 18 months and from England for 3 years but I definitely needed to carry an electric BBQ hotplate back with me and, if I had time, I would buy a new phone and take a small rice cooker too.
I had 2 options for flights out of Vietnam that were the most suitable for me and I double checked all of the details, ready for Captain Caveman coming home so that we could book everything with his Vietnamese bank card.

These were my flight options:

Option 1 (the legal one)
•PCR test in Dong Hoi Tues 6/7 09:00
•Pick up PCR test result Wed 7/7 09:00
•Fly to Hanoi Wed 7/7 13:30
•Arrive in Hanoi 14:40
•Fly to Singapore 18:50
•Arrive in Singapore 23:25
•Fly to Istanbul 01:45 Thurs 8/7
•Arrive in Istanbul 07:45
•Fly to Dalaman 11:55
•Arrive in Dalaman 13:10
•Car to Dalyan to arrive at Fire Opal apartment by 14:00 on Thursday 8th July, the day before my visa expires!

Option 2 (the illegal overstay one)
•Fly to Hanoi Fri 9/7 13:30 or Sun 11/7 if that one cancels
•Arrive in Hanoi 14:40
•Stay in Hanoi for 4 days (or 2 days)
•PCR test in Hanoi Mon 11/7 09:00
•Pick up PCR test result Mon 11/7 17:00
•Fly to Singapore 12:35 Tues 12/7
•Arrive in Singapore 17:05
•Wait at airport for 8.5hrs
•Fly to Istanbul 01:45 Wed 14/7
•Arrive in Istanbul 07:45
•Fly to Dalaman 11:55
•Arrive in Dalaman 13:10
•Car to Dalyan to arrive at Fire Opal apartment by 14:00 on Wednesday 14th July, 5 days after my visa expires!

There were pros and cons of both options really but the main one being that if the flight from Dong Hoi to Hanoi cancelled on option 1 there was no wiggle room and I would miss my international flight. The downsides to option 2 was that I had to not catch Corona in Hanoi for 4 days and pay an unknown amount of overstay fine at the airport when I left.

Leaving Phong Nha sooner rather than later, seemed like a sensible approach at first so at 9.30am I was checking the logistics of the PCR test and researching the number of flights which didn’t get cancelled from Dong Hoi to Hanoi. If I did take Option 1, the legal one, there was a massive risk that the domestic flight would get cancelled and I wouldn’t have time to get to Hanoi by train for my international flight. Refunds were taking up to a month in some cases which then meant I would not have the money in the bank to book another flight and I would still be overstaying. I decided to go for option 2, to deliberately overstay and get my PCR test in Hanoi, which gave me much more time to get another flight or overnight train from Dong Hoi to Hanoi if needed. Everything was decided and Captain Caveman would be back from Phong Nha shortly so we could go ahead and book it.
At 10.22 I got a message to ask if I had booked my flights yet and when I said I hadn’t, I was told ‘do not book the ticket’! Immigration had agreed to take another look (maybe they had just got round to reading the memo) and would call back this afternoon. When Captain Caveman returned he was a bit surprised but we were both hopeful that it would be good news and I could stay a bit longer, at least until I could get my second jab and say goodbyes.
Captain Caveman made us bacon and asparagus for brunch, followed by mangosteen, as neither of us had eaten yet and we were going to treat ourselves to pizza night at The Villas tonight, taking my passport so that I could submit it if necessary. We saw that Eric the wasp had come for a visit but got himself in to difficulty trying to drink from the pool, Captain Caveman saved him and put him on the wall to recover.

By 6pm I had still not heard back about the visa situation which was disappointing because now the immigration office was closed until Monday morning and I still didn’t know what was going on. We were picked up by the Phong Nha Farmstay for pizza night and Captain Caveman had drawn out some extra money from his non-vietnamese account to tide us over a bit. When we got to The Villas, Captain Caveman asked if he could borrow the car to collect my suitcases so I could at least get packed. He knew I was stressed so he told me to order what I liked and off he went – I didn’t need telling twice and I ordered a glass of red wine. Tatas was already there so I sat opposite her at the end of the table, Veronika and the family sat at a different table as the long table outside didn’t have as many available seats tonight. Trang, Andrew and their son arrived and were getting their temperature checks as Momma D arrived with Kevin, the dog, then Hien and her daughter arrived shortly after. Even though we have not yet had any cases of Corona where we are it’s good to see that The Villas records all the temperature data of each customer, the tables are set according to the rules and it feels very safe. When Captain Caveman returned he ended up sitting at the other end of the table opposite Andrew and when the Funny Monkeys bunch arrived a bit later they sat on another table. At 7.40pm I was sent a message to say that our contact in immigration would be going in to the office tomorrow morning and a decision about whether I’m going or staying would be communicated to me before lunch. After all the toing and froing I was becoming indifferent about it but still sad that this could be my last all you can eat pizza night! I had 3 glasses of the quality red wine at The Villas and thoroughly enjoyed each one, the pizzas were as delicious as always. Back home we put the suitcases in the bedroom, wondering how soon I’d be checking them in!

Phong Nha – 1st July

Phong Nha – 1st July

My day on Thursday 1st July started with me asking if I should bring my passport over to Victory Road Villas tonight so that it could be submitted for another visa extension. There was lots of information on various Facebook groups retracting the information that said all tourist visa extensions had been stopped and that they were definitely being extended now, so I was pretty confident all would go ahead once the authorities in Dong Hoi ‘read their memos’. At 09:13 I got a reply to say we were still waiting for immigration to reply and we just had to wait. Having wasted too much time faffing about already this morning, I decided to make several pancakes at once and as they were turning out on the crispy side I popped a few in a tuppaware box for later – the walnut milk was not as good as the almond milk but it didn’t taste as sweet so it was a tough one which to use for the best results. When Captain Caveman returned he had picked up 2kg of mangosteen from Mina and we had a quick check on if we still had enough cash to go to Fish and Chips night at The Villas later. We had 832,000vnd (£25.80) left until pay day and the special tonight was 175,000vnd (£5.42) each and a glass of wine is 110,000vnd (£3.41) but we were going for it! For lunch we had Baba Ganoush on what I thought might still be crispy pancakes but they had gone to the consistency of proper pancakes again and were delicious. We shared some mangosteens and discussed our plans for the rest of the weekend, which kind of depended on me staying in Vietnam and me getting the answer we wanted from immigration. I would be sad to leave Phong Nha and Vietnam but of course I had already started to try to keep positive and remind myself of everything I could look forward to if I was to go back to Turkey next week.
We got picked up at 6pm and headed over to meet Tatas and Craig Davis with Veronika and the Farmstay guests. At 18.27, as we were at the dinner table, I got a message which said that immigration could not do an extension this month. It was suggested that I try asking elsewhere, maybe an agent in Hanoi or Hoi An. I asked about an overstay or exit visa but I was told that I must leave before the 9th July, they did not know how much overstay fees were – that was whatever the airport staff wanted to charge. I legally had only 8 days left in Vietnam and the airline which I preferred to use only had flights once per week. It didn’t seem real until, as we were leaving, one of the lovely Phong Nha Farmstay guests gave me a massive hug and wished me well for leaving Vietnam.

16 Things I Googled in June

16 Things I Googled in June

With Captain Caveman at home a lot more in June I didn’t need Google as much, but I still managed a short list. Here is the 16 things I googled in June in alphabetical order:
• baolau.vn
• banana cake gluten free recipe
• Dong Hoi flight departures
• English to Vietnamese
• gluten free Yorkshire pudding recipe
• Home Hotel, Hanoi
• Imagine Dragons
• Israel Corona virus vaccine
• Orgran recipes
• Oppo phones
• renewing UK driving licence
• Uniqlo Vietnam
• UK Red list
• Vietnamese funerals
• weather
• worldlifeexpectancycoronavirus

Phong Nha – 30th June

Phong Nha – 30th June

By the time I woke up on Wednesday 30th June it looked like immigration had made a mistake and tourist visas could be extended in various cities in Vietnam now so I didn’t book the flights or book a PCR test or sort anything else out. I had my usual gluten free pancakes and an orange juice while Captain Caveman went on the shopping trip with Bich, her kids, and a couple of Phong Nha Farmstay customers. 
In the news in Vietnam there was a  supermarket employee with Corona in Saigon, more here:
https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/society/20210630/contact-tracing-begins-as-employee-at-saigon-expats-favorite-supermarket-contracts-coronavirus/61798.html
A friend, who also had to leave at the end of July, had confirmed he was leaving on the 27th and his 2 options to go to were Turkey or Bali, Indonesia, but the news in Indonesia wasn’t looking too clever, more here:
https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/lockdown-pressure-grows-for-indonesia-as-more-doctors-die-from-covid-19
Captain Caveman was back fairly early from Dong Hoi this week, having just picked up some essentials but couldn’t find anything to alleviate my phone and laptop situation.

In his shopping basket at the Co-op Mart were the following items (costs in vnd):
Onions 16,598
Bananas 16,900
Potatoes 20,956
Eggs 29,500
Mangosteens 43,089
Chicken breasts 135,000
There was still almost a week until pay day but Captain Caveman was frivolous and also went to the booze shop where he bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and a bottle of Vodka Smirnoff Red for a total of 510,000vnd.

I’d been busy at home making a masaman curry, some for later and some for the freezer.
For lunch we had Baba Ganoush with toast and in the afternoon we went in the pool with cocktails. I had a White Russian made with walnut milk which was a terrible idea so it followed with 2 vodka and diet cokes.
We heard nothing more about my visa situation and it looked like I was still leaving Vietnam. I made some chapatti type things to go with the masaman curry and we didn’t eat until 8pm because Captain Caveman wasn’t hungry. I was, I always am, but as soon as I had eaten it I was ill and I don’t know why but this is probably the third time I remember being ill with masaman curry. We went to sleep that night still not knowing if I was going to be in Phong Nha this time next week, or not.

Phong Nha – 29th June

Phong Nha – 29th June

Tuesday 29th June was going to turn out to be an extremely disappointing day! Firstly I checked the news while eating gluten free pancakes with the dodgy mixture that, because of the walnut milk, I couldn’t work out how to remedy it. There were 4 more Corona related deaths in Vietnam, all were old or had underlying illnesses, but it was still sad.
Captain Caveman had gone to Phong Nha and it was a warm day for my choice of activity that morning. I had the fan on (we don’t have AC in the kitchen) as I decided it would be a lovely day for making pumpkin and carrot soup. Once I’d combined all the ingredients it went in to the rice cooker and I looked at my phone. We had some bad news from immigration; I was not able to apply for another visa extension and I must leave Vietnam before the 9th July. It was a bit of a shock really because we thought there would at least be one more month or even an extra few days in which to leave, but no – my time in Vietnam was up! With less than 10 days left to leave I decided to make a list of all the things I needed to do, including the different train and flight combos and costs. When Captain Caveman returned he was a bit cheesed off because immigration had told other people who were not paying for visas that they could stay until the end of July, I didn’t even get the chance of a 2 week notice to exit. I found a flight which meant leaving Phong Nha on the morning of Tuesday 6th July. We made some plans including getting a PCR test, then realised we had no wiggle room if anything went wrong at all. I got a lot of messages from people who were trying to help but were telling me conflicting information about whether I could still get a visa elsewhere as the decision for agents working via Hanoi, Danang, Hoi An and Saigon had all reversed the decision and were now able to give 1 more month extensions, some with a proof of flight and some without. I didn’t have time for lunch so snacked on dragon fruit and cashew nuts. Before sunset I suggested we go for a walk round the block and even that didn’t go too well as my ankle started to hurt more than usual half way along. I complained about this to Captain Caveman who suggested we turn back but I wanted to carry on a bit further, we turned round and did a different route, which took longer and was on a small grassy path rather than the road we came on, so I ended up walking for longer anyway. I had my last remaining cider before dinner which was pumpkin soup with sourdough toast and it was bloody delicious. I sent a message to my mom to tell her I had to leave Vietnam within 10 days and had found a flight to Istanbul via Singapore – what a day!!!