District Can Gio.

Recently it was the most glorious holiday (TEACHER’S DAY!) and I was able to rearrange my office hours to take a much-needed trip outside of the city – fresh air, fewer people, fewer bikes, nature… and monkeys.

So many monkeys. And so many pictures!

You can see the map of Cần Giờ District (yes, still part of Ho Chi Minh City, crazily!) that we traveled to. Our destination was Lâm viên Cần Giờ (Cần Giờ Forest Park), in the southern region – almost as far south as you can go while staying both on land and in HCMC’s expansive boundaries.

Lâm viên Cần Giờ is a designated UN Biosphere Reserve, recognized as such for the best practices exhibited by the Vietnamese government in regrowing the massive and extensive mangrove forests following the destruction of over 80% of the total biomass through American gas attacks during the Vietnam War. Today, the area is a quiet haven for thousands of monkeys (called a troop!), a group of crocodiles (called a float!), and a beautiful and calm alternative to the endless shouting, honking, bustling throngs of Ho Chi Minh City.

It’s picture slideshow time!

We started our expedition by choosing to take the city buses. It involved two buses and a ferry, for a total of about 2.5 hours on buses each way (although it took substantially longer to get out – close to 4 hours).

The ferry was just like every ferry ever.

The bus would have dropped us off at the turnoff if we were able to ask. We weren’t, due to a huge amount of high schoolers going to party at the beach 4km farther than Monkey Island (30/4 Beach), keeping us in our back seats, but it was easy enough to get back up the road using a xe om when all the riffraff Youth got off the bus.

Youths!!

NO ONE AROUND. NO BIKES. CLEAN AIR.
 FLIPPIN’ BIRD SOUNDS, MAN. WHAT IS THIS PLACE.

Since the xe om only had one extra helmet, Erin and I had to take two trips when we came to a police checkpoint (they’re really strict about helmet laws in Vietnam, refreshingly) but we soon met up again and coasted into the entrance to the park. While I was waiting for him to come back, I met two German backpackers looking for a national park in the region. I couldn’t help them… I hope they got where they were trying to go.

Do not toss watermelons. No holding pineapples while striking a jaunty pose. No corn, grapes, carrots, cherries, or bananas. Definitely no fruit baskets. WE ARE NOW ON MONKEY LOCKDOWN.

Four hours after we leave my house on foot, we arrive. FINALLY. OMG, MONKEYS. I want to see some monkeys. Crocodiles are cool too, I guess. I’m so hungry I could eat a whole monkey, though.

First things first. Solitude, fans,
and ca phe da at the park restaurant.

But hello, priorities – we’d last eaten vegetable noodles hours ago. Time for lunch! Down in the delta areas there are two things you can count on – the seafood is fresh, and the mangos are sweet. There was absolutely no one but staff and a few locals milling around, and occasionally we’d see some Vietnamese sight-seers come down the path, but the restaurant was completely deserted.

MMMMMM DELICIOUS CIGARETTE BUTT CUISINE

Mmm. A delicious lunchtime feast for these monkeys – cigarette butts and tissue paper. It’s part of a balanced meal, yo. Don’t hate. But seriously, they were pretty dirty. The monkeys were fun to watch scamper around – they hung out next to the roads everywhere. Our simple question that we had was, how on earth do they get the monkeys to stay in a few areas?

Don’t tease the bastards, they’re really aggressive – one latched onto my messenger bag with an iron grip – only flying off when I whipped the bag around in surprise. He got his prize, though – my luggage tag, which he promptly tried to eat. Erin didn’t have anything taken, and this was my only physical encounter with them. Probably a good thing. I was pretty nervous to take out my phone at all to capture them – which is why I have so few pictures of my favorite part of Monkey Island.

One thing you can do here, for about 25 USD, is take a guided boat tour
through the winding forest to see the main hidden rebel base located here
during the War. The rebels were responsible for destroying fuel shipments
to HCMC. Erin and I chose not to do this, since we were trying to keep our
trip costs down.

All the beaches in this area are packed mud, which I gather is because of the mangrove forests – no pristine beaches in the area for tourists! The weather was cooperating brilliantly – overcast and not too hot, but with no rain and a light breeze. Perfect for a walk in a park!

No monkeys as we approach the crocodiles. Clever animals.

We eventually moved past the bulk of the monkeys. I don’t know what kept them where they were, but none of them followed us down the road to the crocodiles. Weird.

OH PLEASE LET US SEE THIS MANY!

Real Semi Wild Preserve of Saltwater Crocodiles! Will we see this many? Let’s find out!!

It was a pretty cool looking bridge – all bamboo, all the time.

First we had to cross this bridge. I’d read a few reviews saying that they were rickety, but I felt ok on it. Besides, if you fall in, what happens? The worst that could happen would be being eaten by a crocodile. No biggie.

Captain No Fear. Except of monkeys.

Pics or it didn’t happen. We totally walked on it. It was awesome. And totally not kinda scary.

How many can you find?*
There was this really fun-looking thing were you can “fish” for crocs by threading a big chunk of eel on a bamboo fishing pole and line and taunting these mammoth animals until they catch it. A bunch of younger Vietnamese sight-seers were occupied with it and looked like they were enjoying themselves, so we observed for a bit, took some pics, checked out the giant crocs…
I’M A MONSTERRRRRRR
Only step on the supports… only step on the supports…
watch for monkeys… only step on the supports…
Erin was looking forward to getting off the boardwalk and back onto solid land. I don’t blame her… but I do have to say I’ve become accustomed to things looking like they’re going to fall apart at any minute. They usually – usually – don’t. Falling in these waters would probably have been… bad. We learned in the history museum attached to the park that these crocs were infamous for eating humans on a regular basis. Let’s hope their tastes run to eel now!
12-1:30 – monkeys closed due to siesta and ennui. 
This guy was playing sentry. We were convinced he was going to go for my bag or a pair of sunglasses… but he couldn’t be bothered. The middle of the day is a peaceful time for all primates and humans.
Where the sidewalk officially ends.
Beyond the crocodiles, we thought we might be able to get to the rebel base on foot. Screw that paying for a boat thing, we’ve got better things to spend our money on, like food. All the time, food, and also ice cream. 

Heaven. My most peaceful moments since traveling to SE Asia. Birdsong, few insects, a light breeze, shady… ahhhh…

We strolled deeper into the forest. The monkeys didn’t follow and the laughing of the kids with the crocs faded as we went deeper into the mangroves. Soon it was entirely quiet save for the sounds of nature – another continent’s sounds. Every so often we would chance upon the abandoned and overgrown foundation of a structure, or a tiny shack, or ramshackle bench.

On one offshoot there was even a dilapidated dock on a river, the muddy brown water still and peaceful. We saw no boats or locals in the forest – this is all firmly within the parklands. Eventually we came to an impasse, held back from progressing to the rebel base by a lack of bridge over a wide stretch of water. Ah well, the walk was worth it! We hiked back, enjoying the quiet and clean air.

The best maintained structure on the premises.

Near the entrance to the park there’s a one-room structure that houses a museum of the natural history and recent war history of the region. It’s well-manicured and the fountain has a grate on top of it, presumably to keep the monkeys from being little pool-dwelling monsters. There were artifacts and human remains recovered from thousands of years ago, rebel tools and weapons from the war, maps of the area, samples of the flora and fauna found in the region, and more information on mangroves. I think. That part was not super clear.

It featured some truly bland communist artwork celebrating the triumph of the human soul or some kind of BS, or maybe they’re superpeople taking off into orbit, I don’t care. I’m so sick of this aesthetic. What are these people doing with their arms? Landing a plane? Signaling incoming hurricanes? Yoga? This is the same frame of artistic mind that creates all the propaganda posters around town, and can be seen in high-profile public artwork around HCMC. While it was unique at first, upon reflection I find it lacking dimension (ironic, given that it’s most commonly found in sculpture). I miss seeing many kinds of artistic expression. …I should probably write a blog about this, huh? Ok, moving on!

This cat has marbles for eyes.

Also present: horrifying taxidermied animals from 30 years ago….

KILL… MEEE….

…LOOK AT THIS ONE. STRAIGHT FROM STEPHEN KING’S NIGHTMARES. Yes, the skull has ripped open, and that’s it’s taxidermy-ed insides. Mmmmmm.

There was also a closeup of the region we were touring – down at the bottom of this orange area there is a resort with bungalows available for about 30-60 USD a night (which I later stayed at!), the 30/4 Beach (Youths!!) and the opportunity to drive about on the open roads. Besides a great place to eat seafood, there’s not a ton going on down here. You can see, however, that the whole region is indeed an island – a fact which had been up for debate for several hours at this point.

One final point worth noting is that, as this is indeed an island, the water level in Monkey Island park is determined by the tides. We were warned not to come during high tide, as the park closes – the thousands of monkeys (we maybe saw 100-150 different monkeys – total guesstimate) that inhabit the park congregate on the highest points – the walking trails. Tourists beware! Fortunately, armed with this knowledge, we planned around it.

We left Monkey Island behind after a relaxed Cornetto in the shade and walked the km up the entrance to the main road. After lazily strolling and chatting a bit, along came our bus. We hailed it down from alongside the road – just like a cab! – and eventually made it back to ‘civilization’ and the City in time for dinner and bedtime. Sleep felt great. Teacher Day – you were a complete success.

It was a fantastic day trip and a worthwhile excursion, and all for less than $15 USD! I’d recommend it to anyone looking to get outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

There may not be a lot to see, but there’s a lot to like.

*I count 16 crocodiles! Did I miss any?