HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monkey Island

Last Saturday I cycled down to Can Gio District with a couple of friends for the sake of adventure and getting out of the city. Can Gio is home to a national park that is famous for its mangrove forest, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Home to a huge amount of wildlife, this park acts like a green lung for nearby Saigon (the park is about 60km southeast of the city), but it is under threat from saltwater intrusion and rising sea levels thanks to climate change. It is also commonly referred to as Monkey Island, thanks to its huge population of primates. This day trip was fantastic at times, and horrible at others.

We met up downtown and headed out around 7:30am, with an estimated travel time of about three hours. I try to go for a cycle a couple of times a week, but it's hard to get much distance in the city, so this was set to be my longest ride since the end of H2H in February. As we headed south through District 7 nearly 10 military trucks full of young men in uniform (we weren't sure if they were soldiers or some sort of police) passed us while the guys raucously shouted at us.

Eventually we reached a ferry crossing on the river, and the soldiers were on the same boat. The short journey across the river allowed us to catch a few glimpses of life on the water, as well as the skyline in the distance.



a navy ship

As we got off the ferry we had to wind our way through all of the military men, who appeared to be heading towards Can Gio on R & R - they were rowdy, and I was hoping they wouldn't be in the park at the same time as us.

Once we exited the town situated around the ferry landing the road opened up to a six-lane highway with a median down the middle, which is bizarre because there isn't really anything out there. I wasn't about to complain though, as this meant our cycle would be relatively smooth and traffic-free. It was a hot morning, and we lathered up with sun screen before continuing on.

We maintained a fairly relaxed pace, and the kilometers fell away easily on the flat, paved road. I reveled in the silence - outside of the odd motorbike or car hurtling by at ludicrous speed, the only noise was our chains clicking through the gears. Eventually rice paddies gave way to the mangrove forest, and both sides of the road were enveloped in verdant green. Unsurprisingly, this being the rainy season, storm clouds appeared after a while. Fortunately by the time the rain started falling we were only a few klicks from the park, so we just donned our rain jackets and soldiered on.
After paying the VND60,000 entrance fee we stopped at the park's restaurant and enjoyed a hot lunch while the storm blew itself out. One of the friends I was with had been to Monkey Island several times before, and he said that normally there were monkeys all over the place. We guessed they were hiding from the rain and, sure enough, as soon as it stopped we heard a commotion outside and saw a woman being harassed by a large monkey. They had come out to play. We paid our bill and walked into the park.
mangrove trees
There is also a saltwater crocodile enclosure at Can Gio, and when we reached the footbridge that led to it there was a big monkey sitting on one of the handrails. There was very little room to pass, and we were leery of walking past the animal. The monkeys on the island have become very used to visitors, so they are completely comfortable approaching humans. They are also known to be thieves - a friend of mine who visited a few months ago was relieved of nearly all of her belongings. As we stood on the path debating whether to walk past the monkey, it yawned, revealing a mouth full of surprisingly large fangs. We decided to turn around.

After ambling around for a few more minutes we saw that the bridge was clear, so we went to check out the crocs. They were all just hanging out in the water, not moving at all. I wondered what would happen if a monkey fell out of a tree and into their pond.
Luckily the monkeys mostly left us alone, probably because several idiotic visitors were feeding them, which you aren't supposed to do. One couple fed a few some peanuts and then started freaking out when the monkeys followed them. What did you expect? Here are a few of the mischievous animals.


I shall call you Ebola

When we got back out to the road leading out of the park we saw that a troop of monkeys had formed a gauntlet. I wasn't thrilled about riding my bicycle through that, but we got out untouched. Just as we were leaving the trucks carrying all of the soldiers we had seen earlier came barreling down the opposite direction. Judging by the amount of hooting and hollering coming from the troops, they had done a bit of drinking in between the ferry and the park. We had left just in time. Dealing with 50 drunk soldiers and a bunch of monkeys would've been the stuff of nightmares.
We hit the highway back to Saigon, and about 15km from the ferry the sky looked like this:
We got absolutely dumped on, and after slogging our way through the storm we reached the boat. The sky dried out as we crossed the river, and the rest of the ride back to Saigon was fine. We had cycled around 120km (75 miles), and despite the rain it had been a thoroughly enjoyable day on the road. I had kind of forgotten how much fun cycling out in the open is. 

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