The outskirts of Can Gio in Ho Chi Minh City is home to a UNESCO-recognized mangrove forest, a colony of monkeys and a world of fresh seafood.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Can Gio is from December to March when the temperature is 26 to 32 degrees Celsius, ideal for outdoor activities.
WHAT TO EXPLORE
Spread over an area of more than 310 square kilometers, Can Gio is connected to the rest of the city only by ferry, although authorities are considering building a bridge to make the only coastal district more accessible.
Home to a 75,740 ha mangrove forest designated by UNESCO in 2000 as the first mangrove biosphere reserve in Vietnam, Can Gio is often referred to as the “green lung” of HCMC.
A canoe ride through the verdant mangrove forests costs 600,000 VND for a group of eight people or visitors can hire small wooden boats for 300,000 to 350,000 VND for a group of four or more.
It is also home to the Sac Forest tourist area where entrance fees cost 35,000 VND per person.
a tram takes visitors one kilometer into the forest from the entrance for 15,000 VND. Then, visitors have to board boats to explore the attractions inside the Sac Forest Tourist Area.
One of Can Gio’s main attractions are its 1,500 wild rhesus monkeys, who give him his nickname “monkey island.”
Visitors are allowed to feed the monkeys but must protect personal items such as cameras, phones, hats and glasses from curious simians.
The Sac Forest Tourist Area is one of the few places in Vietnam where bats are kept.
A short boat trip also takes visitors to a lagoon where hundreds of large bats are found.
While the bat lagoon is quiet, a bird sanctuary with over 20,000 individuals of 26 species is incredibly loud.
The sanctuary is only occupied during the annual nesting season between April and October.
Some tour companies also offer birding tours that take tourists to see rare species such as the collared kingfisher, Indian white-eyed gull and black-tailed gull.
Yaz, an American tourist who visited Can Gio in July, raved about the “beautiful” nature, lots of monkeys, crocodiles and taking a canoe to the bat lagoon, his “favorite part”.
Britain’s Stephen said: “It really is an amazing place. Our team took a short trip from Ho Chi Minh to Can Gio last August. We were delighted to travel by boat through the mangrove forest. The seafood are very cheap and diverse.”
Hidden in a dense mangrove forest, the tourist area of Sac Forest was once a Vietnamese revolutionary base during the Vietnam War, making it a curiosity for Western tourists, especially Americans.
From the main entrance, you can walk to the Sac forest guerrilla base occupied by soldiers during the war.
There are signs in Vietnamese and English describing their life there and how they survived the middle of the war.
There is a small shrine dedicated to soldiers where locals offer food and votive money.
Popular camping destination in Can Gio is the Dan Xay ecotourism area surrounded by mangrove forests.
Since its launch in 2014, it has attracted many Saigonese, especially on weekends, with outdoor activities like kayaking, foraging, biking and boat trips.
Visitors can climb a 30-meter tower for a bird’s eye view of the mangroves.
For those who want to buy fresh seafoodHang Duong Market is the place to go.
It’s open all day and packed in the morning when the seafood catches arrive by boat.
At the front and back of the market are cooking areas where, for 150,000 VND ($6.43), customers can get seafood they buy at the market cooked to their liking.
People call this market, where you can find almost all types of seafood at reasonable prices, a paradise for seafood lovers.
The whale temple is a spiritual place for fishermen in Can Gio where most locals make their daily living at sea.
Vietnamese fishermen regard the whale as a sacred animal and believe that by giving dead whales a proper burial and worshiping them, sailors will have good luck, good weather, abundant catches and safety at sea.
Every year on the first and 15th of the eighth lunar month, local fishermen hold a traditional festival to pray for safety and luck, as well as to protect themselves from the whale at sea.
But a trip to Can Gio would be incomplete without visiting Thanh An, the only island municipality where cars and motorcycles are rare.
Surrounded by a primitive forest, the town is home to 4,500 inhabitants who live from fishing and salt production.
Since there is no high-speed boat between Can Gio Pier and Thanh An, transportation to and from the township relies on fishing boats.
About five to seven trips carry people back and forth to the island commune. Each ride takes about 30 minutes, with ticket prices around 15,000 VND ($0.65).
Near the center of the island commune, people hold a daily street market between 5am and 9am.
WHERE TO STAY
The growing popularity of Can Gio has prompted investors to develop resorts in the island district.
Some high-end resorts like Can Gio Resort, Phuong Nam Can Gio Resort, Mangrove Hotel Can Gio, and Gio Long Boutique Hotel are surrounded by thriving nature, with room rates starting at 700,000 VND per night.
For budget travelers, homestays are also an ideal option.
Some popular addresses are Phuc homestay, Eco homestay, Tan Tan homestay and Mangrove homestay with prices starting from 100,000 VND per night.
In the island commune of Thanh An, residents also offer accommodation services to improve their income.
WHAT TO EAT
Bun rieu cua (crab noodle soup) is a popular breakfast in Can Gio. The key protein component of this soup is the crabmeat mixture of mini freshwater crabs, pork and egg which resembles a patty.
A bowl of vermicelli soup includes toppings like pork feet, pork blood sausage, beef balls, fried tofu, and crab cakes. The dish is served with fresh Vietnamese herbs like perilla and cilantro.
You can find the dish at 114/3A Duyen Hai Street in Can Thanh City.
Seafood fried rice is also a must-try in Can Gio. A plate includes fresh seafood like prawns and squid, fried eggs, grated carrots and other green vegetables.
You can sample the dish at food stalls on Giong Ao Street in Can Thanh City, with prices ranging from 30,000 to 60,000 VND.
Canh chua ca khoaia soup made from Bumalo fish, tomatoes, pineapple and green herbs, has become part of daily life in Can Gio.
In some restaurants, the soup is served with rice vermicelli or noodles.
Known as a cheap seafood paradise, there are hundreds of stalls serving countless snail dishes from apple snails, oc len xao dua (fried snails in spicy coconut milk) and salt-roasted crab claws or grilled oysters.
Sentinel Crabs and Mantis Shrimp are popular items. A kilogram of sentinel crabs costs between 400,000 and 500,000 VND, while mantis shrimp are more expensive, at around 600,000 VND per kilogram.
You can visit Hang Duong and Can Gio markets at night to taste seafood.
HOW TO GET HERE
From Pham Ngu Lao street bus station in District 1 near Bui Vien backpacker area, you can take bus No. 20 to Binh Khanh ferry port in Nha Be district, then take another bus to Can Gio district.
It is easy for motorcyclists to reach Can Gio as the journey takes an hour and a half. From downtown, drive to Tan Thuan Bridge in District 7, turn to Nguyen Van Linh Street then Huynh Tan Phat Street to reach Binh Khanh Ferry.
After crossing, follow the road to Can Thanh commune.