New Dream Job:
Step 1: Open a hammock cafe. 2: … 3: profit.

My roommates and I recently took a random bike ride to the southern coast, traveling south through the country, and our goal was Cần Giờ by motorbike.

We stopped for hammocks and coffee, took many ferries, biked through the vast mangrove forest in Cần Giờ district, and explored the area around Cần Thạnh, a small, beautiful town on the southern tip of this peninsula.

The Cần Giờ District is the poorest in Saigon, where most of the locals make their money from fishing and the spotty tourism that comes through. The area is sometimes known as the “Green Lungs of Saigon” because, although it’s far outside the hustle of the city, this nationally and internationally protected biosphere reserve helps buffer storms from the south seas and provide ample oxygen to cleanse what it can of the heavy pollution coming out of the city.

It’s about 80,000 ha of mangroves, and, although much of it was destroyed in the American War, the natural flora and fauna have been slowly recovering and making their beneficial presence felt. As everywhere in the South, folks we encountered were kind and helpful, and dealt with our poor grasp of the language in a heroic fashion.

It was relaxing and refreshing. And here’s the proof!

It doesn’t look like much on paper, but our trip took us through rolling farmland, muddy dirt backroads, long stretches of deserted highway flanked by mangrove forest, and more than a few pauses as we double checked our location on Google Maps (being continually grateful for the solid cell coverage and that smartphone – best purchase ever? probably).

Seafood nutrition for the road!

We took a total of four ferries across the Nha Be river at different points. This would have worried me a lot a year ago. Fortunately, I seem to be able to take stuff like this in stride now, and it’s freeing to know that you can just go and not worry about the end of the trip – the journey is where the fun is, anyhow.

Somewhere in District 4…
seafood, sunscreen, and bottled water stopover.

 

Mot ly ca phe da, cam on! Thanks Betti, Remi, and Francois for a great trip.

Seriously. Hammock cafes. I could have ended here for the day and been totally happy. Thank god someone else made us push on. I got to help a little guy count my money in English (and then practice my Vietnamese numbers on him). I’m pretty sure these four white people made his day.

Bridge to nowhere… yet.

Our first dead end. Just before this we were driving through a market and saw an out-and-out girlfight – hair pulling, screaming, seafood tossing – IT WAS BANANAS. And all I could do not to stop and take a picture.

The soil in the south is a muddy, muddy mess – perfect for large ferns and mangroves.

We lost count of the number of weird little bridges we went over trying to find the first ferry.

Got a bunch of great looks while waiting for the ferry. This is NOT a place that gets a lot of tourists, I can guarantee it.

Lookin’ good, Remi! This is the very face of Relaxed.

Absolutely no worries (except maybe a vague ‘how much does this cost? no idea? oh ok’).

We stopped in a ‘botanical garden’ on the way south. Because why not? Unfortunately it was just a dirt path into the back, and there was a guy with a dog, and another path that led further, and we tried to communicate but to no avail. Oh well. But got to see this…

Thousands of dried fish near the ‘botanical garden’ entrance. Absolutely no idea what the end product is (or maybe this IS the end product – ew).

Outside Cần Thạnh we passed this war monument, which was closed at the time.

Cần Thạnh itself was a sleepy little place – absolutely gorgeous! Mainly bicycles, but a few motos. We were surprised to find that HCMC buses terminate in this village.

We backtracked and inquired about rooms at this resort, the Can Gio Resort. It wasn’t the most amazing place, but it was lush, quiet, and they didn’t seem to mind our fickle foreign ways. With 80 rooms, a pool, and adequate facilities, you could do a lot worse. At 20 USD a bed, it was fine.

“MY FISH SAUCE NOOOOOOOOO”

There was a small, muddy beach on the sea, from which we could see the much, much larger city of Vung Tau (the mountains to the far right of the picture), a mere 15 km away across the bay. Small, muddy, and covered with teeny, tiny shells. We helped make some sand, wandered around a bit, checked out the view, then hopped on our bikes and departed.

We stopped back into Cần Thạnh on the way, taking the beach path with our motorbikes as far as we could and enjoying some coffee near the beach and watching kids spend their Sunday morning goofing around.

On the way back through the mangrove biosphere reserve, we stopped at Monkey Island to check out the crocs and monkeys. I was hungry and bought an ice cream after… but made the fatal mistake of eating it under a canopy. A huge monkey dropped on my head and shoulders, grabbed that thing right out of my hands, and made off with it. I’m pretty sure the group of men sitting over on the benches were watching the whole thing go down, and I can’t blame their laughter. It was too surprising and hilarious not to laugh! The little jerk decided to nom down on my bar near the path back to the motorbikes. Sadly, the phone was dead for a bit at this point, so I missed getting a pic.

We took another two ferries back around to cross over to Dong Nai province, which was my second favorite road of the trip (the first was the tiny dirt road to the first ferry). It was beautiful weather the whole weekend and we sailed along without any problems, enjoying cows, farms, and the breeze.

They show movies at Saigon Outcast every so often – How to Train Your Dragon 2
was playing this evening and the bar (an outside affair) was chill and low key,
with a really fantastic set of DJs spinning tunes.
We finished our loop by taking a ferry across the Nha Be once more, entering the outer skirts of the city proper. We motored back through District 2, eventually ending up at Saigon Outcast in Thao Dien Ward to enjoy a beer and sandwich, before heading back home to collapse into a sleep of the exhausted and windswept.
All in all, a really great vacation, and, dare I say it, my first ever really no-plan vacation in Vietnam. It was a seriously good time. Not only did we explore some of the surrounding countryside, but it was nice to get on a bike and just drive for hours (… well, nice for my mind, not so nice for my buttocks) at a time through nature, with the only stipulation that we get back before class on Monday.
Life is good. I look forward to more roving experiments in the south – there’s a lot to see here, and I’ve only scraped the surface! Being a man without a plan is a good feeling once in a while.
Have you got any great bike trip plans for the South of Vietnam? What you recommend I see next?