Despite leaving late we still arrived in Nha Trang earlier than expected, about 5:45am. Luckily the sun had come up already (affording us some excellent views of the red sky over the sea on the bus). We wern't far from the hotel so we walked a couple of blocks before we saw the "Summer Hotel". This was a nice 3 star hotel Alicia booked for us to relax in for a few day. We couldn't check in until 2pm so we had to hang around for a good few hours, we played some pool in the roof top bar, looked into our plans for Christmas on the computers and inquired about onward travel. We took at stroll to the train station to buy our tickets (the first hotel that actual recommended us to save ourselves some money and buy them directly). We stopped for some cheap breakfast/lunch at a food court above a department store before heading back to the hotel. At 12pm they let us into our room early, it was the biggest room we've had in Asia and possibly the second biggest on our trip (the apartment in Manta was bigger). It had a queen sized bed with a humongous mattress, a single bed, chaise long, table and chairs and big bathroom with a bath. We took a nap then headed out to find some food. We didn't look far, just a few doors down we stumbled upon an open air restaurant called Lanterns, it was lit by Chinese lanterns surrounded by water features. We had a great meal, with beef wrap in leafs and a pork clay pot with caramelised onions. As we were still getting over being ill, we didn't drink and after food had an early night watching TV in our room (I even got to watch the most recent Conan film - what a treat!)
Day 13: My birthday! We woke up late and whilst Alicia dosed in bed I went for a bath - the first proper bath in a very long time. After I got out I was given some great gifts (Good Morning Vietnam singlet and custom made silk boxers which I had said I wanted and Alicia took me to be measured for in Hoi An), I got a card and money from Alicia's parents and some monies from people back home.
We headed out about midday for the beach where we walked up and down a little, found a spot and relaxed in the sun (it was around 30 degrees C). We took it in turns to swim in the warm water whilst the other watched the stuff.
After a couple of hours we headed to a beach side bar called "The Sailing Club" and had a jam jar of sangria.
The alcohol and sun had taken its toll so we headed back to the a/c comfort of the room. We were only in the room a few minutes when we heard a knock at the door, it was the receptionist who had a parcel, she gave it to me and said "happy birthday", after unwrapping, it turned out to be a full sized birthday cake! We promptly scoffed only about half of the cake, then needed a nap. Alicia woke up an hour later with a hangover.
In the evening we went out for a meal at Lanterns again for a hotpot, the food was great (we thought it had been our find, but when looking later at tripadvisor for things to do in Nha Trang, Lanterns restaurant was the #1 attraction. Not such a secret after all) then we head down to stroll along the sea front and stopped off at a swanky hotel called "Louisiana" to have a drink in their microbrewery bar (we managed to get a table in the sand next to the shoreline). Alicia had recovered enough for a cocktail, I had a litre of home brewed pilsner whilst we listened to the just-better-than-kareoke band and the sound of nearby waves. A nice end to a nice day.
Day 14: We didn't have much planned to do. We were going to the natural mud baths, but it was overcast and drizzly, so we decided against it. We pretty much just ate the buffet breakfast (bacon and sausage sandwich, with a pancake and load of fruit) then headed to the beach to walk around a little more. For lunch we stopped off at a restaurant and had some noodles. Then we watched films and researched where to go for New Years. Of course, we went to Lanterns once again in the evening. There wasn't a great deal to see in Nha Trang so we didn't feel like we wern't making the most of our time, and the couple of days doing nothing much was needed.
Day 15: Early breakfast at 6:30, then we checked out and took a taxi over to the train station. We couldn't face the buses anymore so we took the opportunity to train it to Saigon. The train was a little different to the ones in China, it was pretty old and there was none of this "high speed" nonsense, it was pulled along by a big diesel engine you normally see pulling freights. It had a tv showing Assassins though (Stallone film). It was a uneventful 6 hour journey, (but uneventful is good) before we reached Ho Chi Minh City (people in Vietnam all still refer to it as Saigon though).
After a 40 minute walk from the train station we found our hostel down a shady side street, we checked in and went for an explore. The area was full of touts, hostels, shops, restaurants and bars - definitely in Gringolandia. In the evening we walked along the main street looking at all the menus. We seemed to choose the only "restaurant" without a kitchen though as when we chose off the menu they took our order over the road to another restaurant. Seeing our food being precariously carried across a busy road was certainly a sight to behold. Later we found a couple of shops that had converted to the illegal street bars in an evening selling cheap "Saigon" beers (a big bottle for 12,000 dong - about 50p) on small plastic chairs. It wasn't quite the same as Hanoi, but it was the next best thing.
Day 16: After a late start and a brunch at our regular bakery / deli at ABC. In the afternoon we headed to the War Remnants museums. We had planned to spend 1.5 hours there, then the rest of the afternoon in the nearby Reunification Palace, but we ended up staying the entire afternoon in the museum. I haven't seen a war museum from such a recent war, it was packed with photographs, torture devises, guns, aeroplanes and tanks. Now, it is worth saying that it was as if they were still running propaganda there, it was incredibly one sided (but what do you expected from a communist country I suppose?) however it didn't stop it from being incredibly moving, Alicia had to leave one the rooms as she was close to tears and we saw other people walking around crying. One sided maybe, it didn't take away from the fact that this stuff still happened. From the exhibit showing the tiger cages (small cages made completely out of barbed wire that wouldn't fit me in but held 3-5 Viet Cong), victims of poisonous chemical called "Agent Orange" that the US tested, but it was the images of victims of various bombs like napalm and phosphorous that were the worse for me though. The most evenly explained and interesting room was a large exhibit chronicling war photographers and their stories (and pictures), that was the highlight. A tough museum to visit, but was a worth while one also.
After food in the evening we saw Carly sitting at one of the street bars. We get talking and it turned out she got the bus from Nha Trang to Saigon and got all her money and bank cards stolen whilst in transit, so was having to survive in Saigon with no money until Murray arrived the day after via motorbike.
Day 18: We booked a trip to the longest tunnels in the world - the Cu Chi tunnels. We got picked up around 8 in the morning and headed via minibus to the tunnels 3 or so hours away. We were given an interesting perspective on the tunnels as the tour guide fought battles around the Cu Chi area, but was a captain in the American Army (he was Vietnamese also).
We were giving facts on the tunnels like the Cu Chi tunnels are made of 95% clay so when the US dropped napalm it actually made the tunnels stronger, and not a great deal of direct fighting went on here, Viet Cong only came out in the evening but the Americans hunted Viet Cong in the day.
The first stop once we arrived at the tunnels was to watch a completely ridiculous video which instead of explaining how the fought and lived in the tunnels, just showed people (and children) that were awarded as American Killer Heroes and how much they hated the Americans. Mr Bean (our tour guide) did explain in more detail how the tunnels were dug and lived in etc.
I managed to lower myself into one of the tunnel doors hidden into the floor (lucky I've lost weight on this trip, it was a bit of a squeeze) whilst one of the workers set of a small explosion off next to us to make us jump. We then walked around the grounds seeing the air holes for the tunnels and how the VC used to hide them from dogs (American rubbish or strong chilli powder) and witnessed the different kinds of human and animal traps that were used in the jungle - there were some really nasty ones. At the end of the tour we got to crawl through one of the tunnels, Alicia decided against going into the tunnels at all. It was 120 metres long with numerous exit points. As we came to the end it was only me and a couple of others left. The tunnels themselves were very small, you had to kneel/crouch and walk on all fours, but as you got further through it got smaller until I had to try and lay flat and shimmy through a section. It was also incredibly hot down there with little air in parts, despite the exits dotted around. When I reached the end I was dripping with sweat and my thighs felt like jelly. Before we left though we had time for a break, we had a well earned ice cream, then I got a chance to shoot a gun of my choice. I could pick from a M16, a Carbine and a much larger machine gun. But in the end I picked an AK-47 and paid my $17 for 10 live rounds. I got given much needed ear protectors as it was a great deal louder than I expected and got to fire my rounds at the target in the distance. I hit it once. The gun was mounted in concrete so there wasn't any chance of me Rambo-ing it at hip height, but it was also set for Vietnamese height so trying to aim down the sight wasn't easy. I did a lot better when I just shot it without aiming.
We got back about 3pm and we headed over to a church on the other side of town, we stayed to watch a mass take place, we then visited a grand post office building and as it got dark we headed back through a district filled with upmarket shopping and hotels. They had some very impressive Christmas decorations (I couldn't get used to seeing snowmen and things covered in artifice snow when it's humid and 29 degrees C though).
In the evening we went to another restaurant on the main street, then met Murray and Carly for a final couple of Saigon beers on the small plastic chairs whilst watching street performers (one small child around 10 years old was breathing fire and swallowing a snake).
Day 19: We had budgeted well, so we had just enough Dong left to buy breakfast and snacks for the bus over to Cambodia.
We hopped on the tourist bus at 8am and took a 2 hour trip to the border (it felt weird entrusting our passport to some guy who asked for them before we even got on the bus), after we got our visas and headed through immigration, it was then another 3 hour trip through pleasant countryside to Phnom Penh.