26 September – Saigon – Can Gio
Awake at 7.00am, but today there is no time for sleeping in. We get ourselves organised, including packing up the majority of our stuff, and try and work out what we’ll need for the next 24 hours.
That sorted, we head downstairs and have a quick chat with Markus and Eleanor. They have new guests staying with them from Germany, and seeing as Markus is also originally from there, he seems quite excited at the opportunity to catch up with some of his fellow countrymen.
A quick goodbye; Markus and Eleanor very kindly offering to look after our main bag; and then it’s out into our hems, before finally reaching the main road.
It’s not long before a Vinasun taxi comes along, and we flag him down. I’m not 100% sure where we’re going, but I do know we are catching a boat, so I show him the address I have written down on my phone.
He seems to understand, so that’s a good start. Heading up through District one, past all the usual tourist attractions, and the traffic is just complete and utter madness. Regardless of how far we have to go, this could take a while….
I keep an eye on Maps.me, trying to get a feel for where we’re headed, but it’s all a little confusing at the moment.
In fact, the only landmark I really notice after going through the main tourist district, is when we pass the Saigon zoo. We continue on, and not too long after the zoo, we pull over. Our driver seems to be of the belief that we are here. But knowing we are to be catching a boat, and currently not being able to see any water nearby, I am of the belief that we are not actually ‘here’.
Suppressing panic, I manage to call Khoi, even though I do not have a Vietnamese sim card. Fortunately he answers, and he speaks to our driver.
Seems the penny has dropped, and we’re soon, once again, on the move.
More driving, more traffic, and more really not having any idea of where we are going. It’s not a great feeling, but it is all part of the adventure.
On we go, and any confidence that I had that things were going to all work out, quickly disappears as we pull up yet again.
The driver knows we are still not ‘here’, but I can tell by the look on his face that he is very confused about where ‘here’, actually is.
I try to call Long, the guide that we’ll be meeting when, or if, we actually get to where we need to be. But whatever magic ability I had to use my phone earlier to reach Khoi, has now vanished.
We try Lisa’s, and success, Long is now giving our driver directions. It turns out we were that close, that we actually pull into the carpark, of what turns out to be some sort of conference centre / resort type thing, before Lisa even has a chance to hang up her phone.
The fare has come to 161 000 Dong, and having a 200 000 Dong note, I hand that to the driver along with a 1000 Dong note, to make it easy.
With a big smile on his face, he refuses my 1000 Dong, and hands me 40 000 Dong in change. It had all been a little frustrating, as well as a bit concerning at times, but it certainly didn’t seem intentional. And I think he actually felt a little bad about the mix up.
Out of the car, and bags retrieved, we start walking in the general direction of the river in front of us, which just happens to be the Saigon River.
Up ahead, a guy is walking towards us, and it turns out to be Long. It’s lovely to meet him after our navigational issues, and he seems like a really nice guy. We take a seat by the river and have a bit of a chat. Apparently, we’re waiting for another group who are also travelling to Can Gio with us today.
Long asks if we’ve had breakfast, and because we haven’t, he heads off in search of a couple of banh mi opla’s. A few minutes later he returns, and I’m not sure where he found them, but it is one of the best banh mi opla’s I’ve ever had. The freshest of cucumber, along with plenty of coriander, it was really good.
Still awaiting the arrival of our travel companions, Long then suggests a caphe sua da.
I liked him before, but I think I now love him.
We sit and savour, while just taking in the scenery of the river, and chatting to Long. It’s all very relaxing, and I’m actually not in any great hurry to move. A cool breeze off the river, along with a bit of cloud cover, makes a nice change to the usual heat and humidity, that normally is Saigon.
Long makes a phone call to see what’s happening with the other guests, and it seems someone forgot to set their alarm clock. Plan B is then put into action, which involves a Grab car.
Grab car called, and a few minutes later, we’re once again on the roads of Saigon. The traffic had been horrendous before, and in the time that we’d been relaxing by the river, nothing has changed. In fact, it’s probably worse, seeing as we’re now heading back in towards the city.
We drive past a cluster of modern hotels / apartments / office buildings, and apparently, they’re all owned by the Vin group. Yep, Vin, as in Vin Pearl. Along with Vin – insert multiple other options from their extensive list of other subsidiary companies – and the size, scale and money involved, is just massive.
And I think it stands out even more so, when you see the way it contrasts with many other buildings and areas of Vietnam.
The divide is rather large.
We drive past the zoo for the second time this morning, and continue on, taking in the ever changing sights of Saigon. While I’d like to think that I sort of have a rough idea of where we are, if push came to shove, I doubt I’d be able to find my way back to the Little Saigon Homestay.
And as far as where we’re going, I have absolutely no clue. And that’s okay, as that’s not really my problem, nor is it overly important, at the moment.
We drive past a park, and it looks really nice. I quickly check Maps.me to see if I can get a name, and as it turns out, I do.
This embarrasses me somewhat, as the park is actually Tao Dan Park. The very park we walked through just three days ago.
Yep, a bit embarrassed that I didn’t recognise it, although, to be fair, we did drive past it from a different side to the one we’d normally enter from.
Anyway, that’s my excuse…..
Through the rest of District one, where everyone else that looks like us congregates, and we’re soon back out in the non-touristy areas. The real areas.
I still don’t really know where we are, and I’m still more than okay with that. There’s plenty to see out through the window, and with the sun now able to cast shadows, the air-conditioned car isn’t a bad place to be.
Our drive continues. And then continues some more, before I finally get the feeling that we’re getting close to the end of the road we’re on.
Turns out I’m correct, which can be a little rare, as up ahead is a river. And what looks like might be a ferry station.
Sure enough, it is, and we say goodbye to our Grab diver. A short walk later, and we’re sitting down undercover waiting for the next boat. Timing is good, as we only have to wait a few minutes.
Ferry pulls up; trucks, cars, bikes, and people disembark; and as we make our way towards our next mode of transport, a new load of trucks, cars, bikes, and lots of other people, also begin to board.
Boarding is quick and efficient, and we’re quickly on our way. It’s a reasonable size river, but it’s the busyness of it, as well as the size of some of the ships that we’re sharing it with, that really stands out.
Off in the distance there’s a rather large bridge being built, and it makes me think that when it’s complete, there’s likely to be a few, no longer required, ferries floating about.
It could also quite possibly open up the area that we’re about to experience, and while it’s an area that I really can’t imagine at the moment, I can’t help but feel that improved accessibility may not be in this particular area’s best interest.
But I don’t really know, and anyway, they say that’s progress, I suppose….
About 15 minutes after beginning our ferry journey, it comes to an end, and disembarking and boarding once again takes place.
We walk a short distance with Long, and then, over the road, we find our car, as well as the car’s driver, who is going to now get us to where we next need to be. Wherever that is…..
We’re soon on our way, and it doesn’t take long before the scenery changes from town outskirts, to very green and lush vegetation, interspersed with the occasional dwelling or small town.
There’s also a few of those birds nest ‘houses’, that we’d seen for the first time down in the Mekong. I still can’t believe I’d never noticed them on our previous trips.
I’ll just have to assume that they’ve only been built since our last trip…..
On we drive, and around 30 minutes later, we pull into a small village with very narrow roads. So narrow in fact, that I’m not sure they were designed with cars in mind.
We pull over at a house, and our driver, Nhan, squeezes the car through the front gates.
I’m glad he was in charge of that……
We hop out, and Long has a chat to the owner. It seems they’re in the seafood business, judging by the crabs they have in baskets.
Noticing the amount of water about, as well as the abundance of natural vegetation, Lisa quickly has the deet infused insect repellant out.
Hating the feeling of deet on my skin, I have no intention of imbibing, however Lisa seems to be of a different opinion. Occasionally, knowing when to pick my battles, I decide that I’m unlikely to win this one.
Meekly I surrender, and I soon have that crappy oily, slimy feeling on my arms and legs. As well as all over my hands, which makes me really reluctant to want to touch anything at all.
Looking all righteous and pleased with herself, we go for a bit of a walk through the village, while waiting for our next boat to arrive. There doesn’t seem to be a lot around, but it does seem to be a quaint little place.
We don’t get far, when we find out our boat has arrived, so we head back.
It’s already docked when we get there, and I’m a bit surprised when I see a group of eight Vietnamese locals already on the boat, having forgotten all about our missing tour companions from this morning.
Yeah, memory ain’t always what I’d like it to be, but then again, with what we’d be doing and seeing, I guess it proves that it’s not always just about the destination, but the journey as well.
We hop on, and a young girl, who seems to be their guide, apologises about the earlier mix up.
No problem at all, I say, but neglecting to tell her that I’d forgotten all about it, anyway.
We’re soon on our way, and I notice the driver is wearing a life jacket.
This concerns me slightly, but not because we are sans life jackets. It’s because he feels the need to wear one.
Does he know something we do not?
I guess we’ll find out…..
Leaving the little village, and the scenery quickly begins to change. It’s now very much mangrove forest, and, while it’s a bit difficult to get a close look at anything much more than water and lush green foliage, it is beautiful.
As we scoot on by, past various barges and everyday life, I needn’t have worried about our life jacket wearing driver; he is very good at what he is doing. Our fellow guests also don’t seem to be concerned, although a few of them appeared to be a bit more wrapped up in each other than the scenery that was all around us.
On we go, and while the view was ever changing, it essentially remained the same; water and mangroves. This gave me a bit of an insight as to how vast the area was, but still, I have very little idea as to where we are headed, and what we are going to do when we get there.
And again, this bothers me not one little bit.
About 30 minutes after boarding our second boat of the day, we pull up to a house at what appears to be the end of this particular section of the river.
It seems we’re here, so we make our way towards firm ground. As we do, the owner’s three dogs begin protecting their property, by barking at us and running backwards.
Guard dogs they weren’t, but at least they were trying.
We head around the other side of the house where there is some shade, and just generally try to take in our surroundings. The house seems, essentially, to be surrounded by water. And again, lots of green. A kind of oasis, if you will. There’s also a fairly big open area of water; bit like a dam; that sits beside the house, which I notice has some small fish in it.
Because we seem to have done not much more than sit for most of the day, we decide to do some more sitting at the outside table, under the watchful gaze of a small bat trying to hide above us.
Our fellow guests, while a little noisy, come across as quite pleasant, and they soon have a plate of crab in front of them. A couple of them are quite insistent that I try some, even though our lunch is still coming, so not wanting to offend, I do as requested. And it didn’t disappoint.
We leave them to their lunch, and head around the corner, and while Lisa takes a seat nearby, I have a closer look at the small fish I saw earlier in the dam.
While standing there, the owner, Mr Chinh, hands me a bamboo fishing rod and line. Now when I say rod, it’s probably more accurate to say stick, and when I say line, well, that’s exactly what it was. A length of line with a hook and a small sinker attached, tied to my ‘rod’.
But as far as I was concerned, it was best fishing rod I had ever used, because, quite simply, it was more about where I was, rather than what I was holding.
Small prawn on the hook for bait, and I was soon ‘wetting’ a line, with absolutely no expectations to catch anything. Just standing there taking it all in was good enough for me.
A few minutes later, I can feel a nibble on my hook. Suspecting I’ve just fed one these little fish, I pull my line in.
Hmmm, second small prawn bait is attached to hook.
Line back in, and again, nibbles felt within a minute or two.
And then, surprise, surprise, there’s weight on the end of my line!
“Oh, oh, oh”, I exclaim with a child like, high pitched squeal, “I’ve caught a fish!”
Lisa races to get the camera, while I nervously try to drag my catch to shore.
I manage to do that, and Nhan, our driver, hearing the commotion, comes out to see the bounty and remove the poor unlucky fish from the hook.
Now this is where there may be a discrepancy in the actual size of this particular fish. And unfortunately, looking at the photos, it seems the camera wasn’t terribly good at accurately capturing the actual size.
Like most things that belong to me, it was bigger than it actually looks. Lisa on the other hand, says no, it’s not that big at all, and actually asks Nhan if we should throw it back.
But being in Vietnam, where pretty much everything is eaten, Nhan is of the opinion that it is legal size.
Nhan’s eyes, and perception, seem to be much better than Lisa’s.
Very large bucket, filled with water, found, and I’m soon back hunting fish.
And again, within just minutes, I’m dragging another fish in. I’m absolutely stunned, but having so much fun.
Now with two fish, but probably not quite enough to feed us all, I go back for a third attempt. And once again, nibbles can be felt. This fishing caper all feels so easy, and I’m pretty confident of bringing more in.
And sure enough, a third one jumps on my hook. But this one is different, and in the split second I realised there was something there, I knew it was big. It felt very different to the previous two, and as I was about to start dragging it in, it had other ideas and took off in the opposite direction.
My skinny little bamboo stick – sorry, rod, was no match, and it snapped about halfway up, leaving me with something about the length of a conductor’s baton.
While the other bit, still attached to both line and fish, continued to be dragged up and down the dam, following the fish wherever he swam.
It was just so funny to see, and even though we’d only been here for about half an hour, the whole thing had already been so much fun.
Although I did feel a bit bad that I’d broken Mr Chinh’s rod….
Fishing was then put on hold as lunch was ready. Crab, pork, morning glory, and rice, and as is usually the way in Vietnam, there was plenty of it, and it was all really good.
Lunch done, and now feeling very full and lethargic, Lisa has a snooze in a hammock, while I return to being the great fish hunter. But this time sitting down.
The fish seem to be about as active as Lisa is at the moment, so I continue the staring out over the water, but minus the fishing rod.
A little later, suitably rested, we go for a bit of a walk around the other side of the dam, which gives us a totally different perspective. Although it does, a little embarrassingly, take a bit of time for me to actually have some understanding of how this mangrove system works.
On the other side of the dam it’s mangroves, exposed roots, and mud. And so, so much of all three. But no water, which puzzles me slightly. Or maybe a lot.
It’s ridiculously overgrown, very dark, and also incredibly eerie. It reminds me of something that Bear Grills would do a show about, and I have absolutely zero desire to venture off the path we are on.
The sounds of, which we find out later are mud crabs, just adds to the whole atmosphere.
So while it’s eerie, and perhaps even slightly scary, it is incredibly beautiful. I can’t believe I’m looking at a landscape like this.
Khoi was most definitely right.
We head back towards the house, and then around the other side where the boat dropped us off earlier.
And it’s at this point that my understanding of mangroves increases exponentially. (I’m not sure how I came up with a word like exponentially, considering my embarrassing lack of mangrove knowledge….)
Anyway, the water has gone!
And when I say gone, I mean it’s really gone. I can still see some water, but it’s that far out, that there’s no way you’d be bringing a boat anywhere near to where ours was moored this morning.
So yes, it’s all tidal, as I knew, but I never actually put two and two together.
About 3.30pm, our fellow tourist’s day trip comes to an end, and they’re back in the boat that brought us all here. Albeit from a slightly different area of the river that still contains some water.
Back at the table just outside the house, and things are all incredibly peaceful. It really is a stunning place, and again, Khoi was so right.
I’m offered a beer, and seeing as I can think of no better place than right here to actually be having a beer, it is quickly and eagerly accepted with much appreciation.
Mr Chinh then grabs some real fishing rods, and they are soon set up. Not even through the first beer, and there’s something on the end of one of the lines. Mr Chinh races over, and judging by the bend in the rod, it’s rather large. As he begins to pull it in, he yells out to Nhan to get some sort of bucket to put it in.
Nhan quickly appears with a large-ish, but as it turns out, not large enough, plastic colander type thing.
Fish gets dragged to shore, Nhan, now standing knee deep in water, colander at the ready, waits for fish to get close enough.
And the first sighting of said fish, confirms that it is rather big.
Moment of truth arrives, along with the second confirmation. Fish, is in fact, bigger than the colander.
Some of him is in, but a fair bit of him is out, and as Nhan lifts the colander with the fish balancing on top, the hook is dislodged and our dinner returns to where he’d come from.
I haven’t laughed that much since Quang stepped in that unfortunate mess a week ago. Mr Chinh and Nhan also thought it was hilarious.
We head back to the table, as well as the beers. And apparently, seeing as lunch was a good three hours ago, we need more food. More crab, as well as some octopus. Crab again was beautiful, while octopus was part all tentacle-y, which was good, and part all soft and squishy, as you would imagine an octopus’ head to be.
I’m very pleased I had one, but one is more than enough. And perhaps proof that heads are never as good as other body parts…..
Grabbing another beer, I walked the long six paces to the edge of the dam. Partly to keep an eye on the fishing rods, and partly, once again, just taking in my surroundings.
It was all picture perfect, but this dam just looked slightly out of place. Not in a bad way, but I just couldn’t work out how it all fit in with the rest of the area.
And then, something, somewhere deep in my brain, clicked. I was pretty sure that it had been man made. My problem however, was that I couldn’t work out how it had been done.
The way we had got here, meant that the chance of any significant earth moving equipment being used, was highly unlikely.
And the sheer size of the dam, meant that doing it by hand, once again, seemed highly unlikely.
More than a little puzzled, I returned to the table and asked Long if he could ask Mr Chinh how the dam came about.
Question asked, question answered, translation begun.
First of all, yes, it was man made.
And second, yes, Mr Chinh had dug it all out by hand. And it had taken him three years.
Stunned, shocked, flabbergasted, and any other of those describing words you want to insert, I was speechless, and able to do little more than walk over and shake his hand.
The way he has been able to create what he has, is truly an amazing accomplishment.
Eventually being able to regain my ability to speak, I then asked about how the fish got in there. It is connected to the main mangrove system, but it is very narrow, and probably not terribly conducive to larger fish ‘migration’.
Question asked, and translating complete, and it turns out that whenever Mr Chinh caught fish out in the main rivers that were too small to eat, he would keep them and then release them into his dam. Hence, those little fish would do their growing there, to be caught another day.
The whole self sufficiency thing then began to play on my mind, along with how the every day things we take for granted, are so much more difficult to deal and live with, out here.
No mains water, no sewer system, no electricity, no real room to breed and keep livestock. Well, apart from the seafood variety.
Yep, a very different life to the one that I, along with the vast majority of people, live.
But gee, what an amazing area in which to live that life.
Realising that too much thinking is both tiring and time consuming, I returned to beer drinking, fishing, and just flat out admiration for what Mr Chinh had built for himself and his family.
The admiration bit had to be put on hold temporarily, as the sound of a falling fishing rod indicated we had another chance. And this time, with a slightly bigger bucket, Nhan was able to help Mr Chinh land some dinner.
He was a good sized fish, too, and was just the first of three or four more that were caught. Unfortunately, none of them were attached to a piece of bamboo stick, though…..
It had, seriously, just been a brilliant afternoon. And one that I could never have imagined having, when we left Saigon this morning.
As it got dark, we packed up the fishing rods and adjourned back to the table. Time for more food, which I’m not sure I really needed, but gee, fresher fish I have never eaten. That, along with more crab, as well as rice, and all of it just beautiful.
But again, and I know I keep saying it, it was all about where we were, and who we were doing it with.
More beers to wash it all down with, and then Mr Chinh brings out some rice wine, which, like the dam, had a bit of a story behind it.
A couple of years ago he had found a beehive, and seeing a possibility for the honeycomb, he was able to ‘steal’ some of it. It is now soaking in this very large jar of rice wine.
While beer is always my preferred drink, when in Vietnam I’m always keen to try a local wine. And this particular one was right up there with best that I’ve had over the journey.
So while the beer continued to flow, it was interspersed with shots of rice wine, and much ‘mot, hai, ba, yo-ing! (one, two, three, cheers!)
Lisa only had a small taste, as she was adamant that the honeycomb that she could see in the jar, was in fact a snake. Now while the honeycomb appearance did have an ever so slight similarity to the skin of a snake, it didn’t matter what I said, she could not be convinced that it wasn’t a snake.
In the end it didn’t matter, as it just meant there was more for us.
At one point, in the pitch black, we went for a walk up toward the end of the dam with Long and Nhan. The eeriness of the mangroves earlier, was nothing compared to what it was now, with all the shadows from the torchlight, as well as the sounds, which Long now told us, were coming from the mud crabs.
It was an amazing sight, and one that was topped off when Nhan caught a firefly.
Yep, the little things that really make a day and night.
We head back to the table for more beers, rice wine and yo-ing. It really was just a brilliant night, and equal to some of the best nights we’ve ever had in Vietnam. And one that I just didn’t want to end.
But, as with everything, end it had to, and we headed off to bed a bit after 9.30pm.
While we could have slept outside in hammocks, we decided a non-swinging bed inside, might be the better option.
Mosquito net down, and after all that rice wine, it didn’t take long for sleep to arrive. But not before thinking about what we had done today.
Not really knowing what to expect, before our journey began, and then the initial hiccups with our travel plans, to ultimately arriving here and seeing, as well as experiencing, some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen. And not to mention, the hospitality and incredibly generous nature of our hosts and guides.
It had been an unbelievable day, and night, and one that I will forever remember.
But, it now meant I had two things to deal with tomorrow. One, an alarm set for 5.00am to watch the sun come up, along with a boat trip up the river. And two, we now also had one of those goodbyes to do, when it came time to leave Can Gio.
And that goodbye, is going to be far harder to deal with than the 5.00am alarm.