Our tour guide picked us up at 8:00 am sharp. We were ready downstairs and waiting for our exciting day. We purchased a tour recommended to us from: lesrivesexperience.com. We got the Can Gio Mangrove forest tour for $107 per person. While this is really expensive it was definitely worth it. The experiences we got and the things we saw were amazing. Additionally, all food and beverages were included (the exception being beer and alcohol). They had an assortment of fruit constantly available. They provided pork and chicken sandwiches for those that maybe didn’t eat breakfast. We also had a huge lunch with multiple dishes. The boat and dock area were very nice and clean. Our guide spoke English very well.
One group was running late I guess. They didn’t fill us in on the details but they gave us an option to have a huge breakfast there at the dock or go for a small quick tour of the Ho Chi Minh city area. We opted for the later. We headed from district 2 where the boat went north about 14 km to Mieu Noi floating temple. This tour is normally $62 per person and is in their Saigon river sunset cruise.
The first thing I noticed were all of the wild water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Our guide told us that these were natural but a pest. He said the name and we looked into it a bit. They are actually from South America and are invasive in SE Asia. They tend to accumulate more in slower moving water and produce a beautiful flower if you are here during the right time. It is common for locals to go out on boats and collect these flowers to sell in the market. Our boat driver was dodging them the best he could but we ended up caught on one of them. To get unstuck he tried to rev the engine and move forward and reverse but that didn’t work. The boat mechanic lifted the propeller out of the water and pulled the plant debris off himself. Then off we went again. This happened more than once. They are a problem for smaller boats.
The second time we stopped our guide pointed out a ferry that connects district 12 to the rest of HCMC because there is no bridge. It costs $0.50 to cross and it makes a lot of money for the government so they don’t want to build a bridge even though they keep promising they will.
Mieu Noi or floating temple is only accessible by boat. The temple is a mix of Vietnamese (Buddhist) and Chinese (Taoism). Many of the temples we saw in HCMC fell into one of those categories, or more often than not a uniquely Vietnamese combination of the two. The temple was beautiful and very peaceful. Without the sound of honking horns or motorbikes this temple really gave you a sense of calm.
After the temple we picked up our last remaining couple and were off on our tour. Our first stop was at a local market. Our guide walked us around explaining different tools, foods, and religious things at the market. One thing that is very interesting about Vietnamese is the vast majority of people believe in ancestor worship. The smoke from incense is a way to commune with their ancestors and ask them for assistance or luck. They also burn things such as paper shirts, paper motorbikes, paper houses, paper money, and everything else they may need. This is a way to give them everything they need in the afterlife. You can buy sets of burnable paper items at the market including an iPhone!
The fruit bat sanctuary was our next stop. We departed our boat and switched to a row boat of sorts. The ladies paddled it around the mangrove forest. It was beautiful. We parked the boat at an area thick with mangrove roots so we could not go further. You could hear the fruit bats screeching and occasionally see one or two fly around. They were perched on some high branches. It was a little skin crawling but we were at a distance so it was okay. Our guide told us the wing span is a meter in length!
One note about bats. They do carry diseases. You do not want to get bat urine or waste in your mouth, eyes, or open wounds. If you do get it in you then see a doctor immediately. If you get it on your skin then wash the area with soap. This was not a danger at all on this tour, but I wanted to pass on the information. Specifically, bats are known to carry rabies. Most of the cases I have heard of with tourists catching rabies are due to bats!
The next stop was lunch at the monkey and crocodile sanctuary. First we saw the monkeys. They were waiting for us when we pulled up on our buggy. Our guide brought fruit for them. He warned us that you do not want to smile or show your teeth since that is seen as an act of aggression. They are, after all, wild monkeys. We kept our distance. They are really cute though, especially the small babies.
After the monkeys we saw the crocodiles of all sizes including babies! The babies make this noise when they are calling for their mom. We got on different boats to protect us from the crocodiles and used wooden poles with fishing line and fish at the bottom to fish for the crocodiles. If you get a good one they make a loud snapping noise with their mouth. Be warned that these guys can jump out of the water at a surprising height so keep your distance.
Lunch was delicious. It was a 5 course meal with authentic Vietnamese food. They served us calamari, rice cakes, rice chicken curry, fish curry, fish soup, and fruit. After lunch we had some free time to wander around and check out the mangrove forest a bit more. This tour was definitely worth the money. There is no way we would have been able to do this stuff on our own. Also, by doing the tour on the speed boat we saw many miles of rivers instead of even more roads.