My final eight-hour long open tour bus journey in Vietnam was to take me to the capital: Saigon. Seeing as it was the last one I think they'd stopped caring about their passengers by that point... it was late, leaky, rattley, squeaky, and smelly, and the driver kept stopping to drop in on mates along the way. I was on the bus with Nihar, the Canadian guy and avid 'Lonely Planet' follower I'd been on most bus journeys since Hanoi with, and all of four others, so the driver didn't see the point in putting on the aircon, oh how we sweated. The scenery was pretty impressive as we left the mountains of Da Lat and went through some teeny little local towns along the way, bumping along over the muddy roads. I also had a new book and cream cheese and coriander baguettes to keep me satisfied.
Arrived late afternoon and, as had tended to become customary, that only really left time for a brief wander and food. The hotel offered free brekkie and dinner (well, not really free, it's all worked in with the price and they charge the same whether you eat there or not!) so we opted to have two dinners, early and late, like hobbits. Found a Hue restaurant with a powercut where we ate speciality Hue nodles which we hadn't actually been able to find when actually in Hue; I had mine with 'baby clamletts' (a.k.a. cockels). Walked the long way back to take in the outskirts of the Reunification Palace, and back through the market, which screamed 'tourist'. Given the three million motorbikes in the city I'm surprised I made it across the roads with all my toes, and my bag, still there. Back at the hotel dinner consisted of fried spring rolls and instant noodles, which made me glad we'd already eaten.
The next morning the alarm beeped it's little heart out at 6.15am. I don't remember the last time I had a lie-in, what with buses and tours, but I am in incredible Vietnam to be fair so no complaints. The trip was to the Cu Chi tunnels, used by the Vietnamese locals in WWII to live in. We had a pretty enigmatic tour guide, a former veteran so he said although when we probed he said he was never in the army. He gave his first-hand account of his experience of the war, which was really enthralling and very interesting, but then he went a bit overboard... his father was a former Ambassador in America, his brother worked for CNN, he was friends with John McCain, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates had visited Viertnam and he was their interpreter and took them out and about, he was publishing a book in America and England and the publisher was his famous author girlfriend... you get the picture.
He also included an unmentioned diversion to our tour by taking us to a handicapped handicraft factory on the way. In itself this would be a good cause, but what we saw were about half a dozen people (unhandicapped) sticking egg shells on plates, which they seemed to only start doing once we appeared. Then we were led into a HUGEEE warehouse with literally thousands of different handicrafts, from tables and display cabinets to bracelets, hairbands, and paintings, none of which seemed to have egg shell on them. Something a bit fishy going on there. Empty-handed we went on our way, arrived at the tunnels, and watched a film about Cu Chi people in the war, then we were led around the area looking at trapdoors used by snipers, bomb craters, booby traps and guns (the boys really enjoyed themselves getting to fire AK47s). At the end we went into the tunnels themselves, for 140m and at different levels from 2-6m deep. It was a tight squeeze and very very hot, but I made it all the way to the end. A proud moment.
On the drive back I saw some brilliant things being carried on motor-bikes: five big sacks of what looked like potatoes, a leather desk chair, big wicker baskers full of bananas hanging off the sides, something which resembled skirting board, an entire stall's worth of t-shirts... Back in the city I ran some errands and perused the shops, and had early dinner #1.
Later on I met up with a teacher friend from Thailand who I hadn't seen since our training in October for dinner #2 and a catch-up. She's been in Saigon for nearly three weeks teaching at language schools and is brave enough to have rented a motorbike. We ate at a little street cafe, I had scrumptious tofu with mushrooms (unmagic) in a mini clay pot and fresh local beer; did I mention already that it's 16p a glass? Perfect way to spend my last night in 'Nam.