Saigon’s Monkey Island

Monkeys everywhere

What we say: 3.5 stars

Roughly 60km from the centre of Saigon — a beautiful two-hour trip by motorbike and ferry away — sits Can Gio, an island formed where the Saigon River hits the sea. Over the last few years this island has become a popular getaway day trip for savvy locals. Tourists to Can Gio don’t come for the beaches, which are packed mud, but rather to experience the vast mangrove forest and their chief residents, monkeys. So many of the creatures live on Can Gio that it’s also known as Monkey Island. If you have a desire to see hundreds of monkeys assault tourists and taunt salt-water crocodiles, then jump on your motorbike and head to Lam Vien Can Gio, the main park of the island.

A group of monkeys is called a troop. That's not even a joke.

After catching a Binh Khanh ferry in the Nha Be district, follow the main road through Can Gio to the park. After a long ride on the bike, and a small 15,000 VND entry fee, you get to explore the park and its mangrove forest, which gained UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status in 2000. The hundreds of monkeys here run the place, fearing no tourist and attempting to take anything they want: food, hats, cameras. Luckily, the monkeys are small, so just be sure to keep a tight hold on your belongings and don’t take food on your walk.

How many crocodiles can you find?

Another part of Lam Vien Can Gio is the salt-water crocodile sanctuary. In this fenced-off area more than 50 crocodiles live together in relative harmony. While the sanctuary’s fences keep the crocodiles from escaping into the wild they don’t keep the monkeys out. So, as you navigate a narrow wooden walkway that stands two metres above potentially human-eating reptiles, you are easy prey for the simians. The walkway is a little scary, as some parts seemed potentially too weak to support the average Western tourist and a fall through the boards would put you in the water with the crocs.

They know you have to walk by, so they just wait. Wait. Wait.

The biggest problem I had while visiting Monkey Island was that I visited during high tide. This means that the monkeys that are normally spread all over the park flee the rising water by moving to the high ground of the walking path. This created a perfect storm of hundreds of tourists leaving the park having to run through a gauntlet of hundreds of mischievous primates. Any food carried by an unsuspecting tourist was stolen: I saw a monkey jump onto a boy’s chest and snatch a bag of chips right out of his hands (the look on the kid’s face was priceless!) While the tourist versus monkey showdown was fun, the park closes down as the high tide floods the area, forcing you to either wait it out or leave.

Using the shrub as cover, Private David looks out for food-carrying tourists.

Monkey Island is worth a visit if you have time to spend in Ho Chi Minh City, and although you may be relieved of some possessions it’s as good a day trip as the Cu Chi tunnels. Head out for a day to remember, but maybe check the tide charts first!

Last updated: 18th September, 2014

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