Day 6 – Monkey Island

One of the good things about the hostels I stayed in was that there is a local market right outside, which makes it a perfect place to get breakfast.

I feel like I should reduce my concentration risk in pork rolls…but there’s just so many variety here and I couldn’t help after seeing those crispy pork belly through the window, so I ended up getting one. Plus they are so much valueeeeeeeeeeee.

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Today is my last day in HCMC, will be heading off to the next city over night. I actually initially ran out of things to do here so at a whim (also at the suggestion of Tuan, my guide from yesterday), I decided to take a day trip out to Can Gio island, otherwise known as the monkey island.

Tuan offered to be my tour guide for this trip as well, but a. I wanted to save money and b. I kinda enjoy the adventure of trying to figure out my way to somewhere (not tooooo remote however). Getting there was a bit tricky, as rather than a tourist destination for foreigners, it was more of a escape for city dwellers in HCMC, since it had a nice beach (by Vietnamnese standards). So I had to take a local bus to the port, take a ferry to the island and then take another bus to get to the monkey park. The first bus wasn’t too hard, as the HCMC bus terminal was right next to Ben Thanh Market, in the center of District 1. I took it all the way to the end, where I lined up for the ferry along with other daily commuters, which is pretty cool as most of them are on scooters that will be loaded onto the ferry.

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Once on the other side, there’s only 1 major road on the island and pretty much only 1 bus that runs along the road. So finding the right bus wasn’t a problem…but figuring out where to get off was! The old man on the bus stop selling tickets was quite friendly and through a series of hand gestures he seems to understand I’m trying to get to the monkey park. Placing my trust in him, I got off where he indicated, where there’s a long road stretching out into the distance.

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So here I am all alone melting in the sun (well not really you can see people in the picture but I can’t talk to them), no internet (really should’ve gotten a SIM card) and no idea which way to go. Do I trust the old man and walk down this road? It seems awfully long and when I looked at Google maps the walk looks like it could easily take 1hr, and there’s no guarantee what I want to see is at the end. A man in a resting station nearby tried to sell me a return ride on his scooter, to where I still don’t know – but based on my research at the beginning of the day I *think* there’s a nature reserve at the end of the road with like mangroves and shit, with possibility of monkeys. I would’ve taken a gamble except he quoted me something like $40 for a return trip, obviously he has all the bargaining power at this point but I wasn’t prepared to pay him that much. There’s a limit to how much I wanna stimulate this economy.

I decided yolo keep moving, got onto the next bus and kept going until the point where on Google maps it says monkey park. If you’re wondering why I didn’t trust that in the first place, Google maps aren’t exactly that accurate when it comes to marking places of interest in remote locations, most of the island was basically blank space. Anyway in this case I lucked out and got the right place. There’s a office with a sign saying monkey park and a few people camped there, waiting to transport tourists on their scooter. The ticket officer takes my money and ushers me to one of the drivers, who dissuaded me from walking to the actual park by saying it takes super long. While I was skeptical, he quoted me a much more reasonable rate to take me there so I thought meh, time to stimulate this economy.

The actual monkey park is just another nature reserve where monkeys run wild. The first few I spotted sat next to a bin and seemed to claimed a few items as theirs, e.g. a water bottle. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure I guess.

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This one seems to be contemplating the meaning of life, to the extent a monkey can.

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Next comes the slightly disturbing part, so PETA fangays please look away, you have been warned. I came just in time for a run of their monkey circus(?) show, although I have no idea how many times a day they do this. Crowds of domestic Viet tourists circled the stage and watched as the ringmaster bought out dressed up monkeys and got them to do a variety of stunts – handstands, tight ropes, swinging, cycling etc. Sometimes the monkeys don’t seem to keen but the ringmaster would yell at them until they complied.

While there wasn’t any actual physical coercion, it was a bit uncomfortable to watch as the monkeys would routinely try to slack off. However, I think I was the only one to feel this as if you zoom in on the crowd, everyone loved it from kids to grandparents. I think they genuinely see nothing wrong with this, but obviously the culture and mindset is different. You could argue this is not much different from circuses in the West that uses animals to do stunts, although I believe in at least the famous ones, their animals are well cared for but there’s always the question of taking them from their natural habitat to perform for our entertainment.

Moving on from the circus, I walked down the only path in the park until there wasn’t many tourists left. It was just me and an older couple at a small resting stop, along with a few monkeys sitting around watching us.

Like monkeys used to tourists anywhere, the general advice when being around these mischievous things is to avoid carrying any small items that could uh, come loose easily. This woman next to me did not get the memo and was punished by having her hat stolen, it was pretty funny watching her pleading with it to give it back, but to no avail.

Good thing I’ve put all my stuff away and locked everything down, so they weren’t getting anything from me. Bad thing is I think they weren’t too happy with seeing nothing to steal, so the 3 monkeys sitting down in the previous picture all jumped on me and clung to my clothes or my bag. My thoughts were somewhere along the lines of “ooooooooooomgggggggggggg fkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk” as I swung wildly side to side to get them off. While successful, they didn’t take too kindly to that either, and one of them took a bite on the back of my hand before being spun off. Great, now I’ve been bitten by a monkey. It wasn’t a deep wound, in fact it didn’t pierce my skin at all, but you could see a tiny bit of bleeding beneath the skin – hope that makes sense? I was not vaccinated for rabies because it was too expensive as I found out before I went to South America last time – 3 courses of injections at $120 each, and it’s not even a vaccine! It doesn’t prevent you from getting rabies, just gives you more time before the symptoms destroy you, so it’s only recommended if you think you’re gonna be in contact with monkeys at a place that’s at least 24 hours away from the nearest hospital. Infrastructure in Vietnam is bad, but not THAT bad, so it wasn’t really worth it for me to get the shots.

So the real decision is whether or not I want to get to a hospital, I do have travel insurance so money isn’t a problem per se. But tbh I really ceebs dealing with doctors and hospitals in a foreign country for something of this magnitude, not to mention how much it will derail my plans especially since I’m meant to leave HCMC tonight. Final decision: give it a few hours to see if I start feeling weird, if not then keep calm and carry on.

The monkey park also contains a crocodile farm, where you can walk over a swamp on elevated platform while observing and feeding the crocodiles beneath you, which I was actually more interested in than the monkeys tbh. But unfortunately the crocodile farm is closed :(. So with nothing much more to see, I headed back to the main road. Although the driver on the way here convinced me to use his scooter services because the walk was 1hr long, I noticed while on the scooter that this was grossly exaggerated, so walking back took a measly 20 minutes. Scammed.

Back at the main road, I alighted the next bus all the way to the end where the beach is. Now coming from Australia I’m not really full of anticipation when I hear the Can Gio Beach is considered one of the go-to beaches for residents of HCMC, and I was right. Here’s a view of the beach:

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10/10 for the casual cow chilling.

Here’s a closer look. Yeah I think I’m done here.

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A bit of a weird sight for westerners here would be people splashing about in the water fully clothed. I believe this is a combination of two cultural norms here:

  • Vietnam is socially conservative, people don’t like to wear revealing clothes even if that means swimming with a t-shirt on
  • Vietnamese people don’t like to be tanned (even though some of them are dark AF) since being pale skinned is traditionally associated with wealth, i.e. you don’t have to work in a farm under the sun

However, I think if you wanted to go for a dip with swimwear nobody will give a shit (assuming you’re white and look super different).

One redeeming quality of this beach is the myriad of seafood restaurants lined along the road, and carrying on from all the shells and snails last night I decided to order a few more of those, namely scallops and the big snails. However, food here isn’t the cheapest so I held back.

Followed by a break lying on one of the complimentary sun lounges facing the beach. There’s a few older women making a living going around selling random street snacks to beachgoers, and I kinda felt bad for them so I bought one. She was super excited at making a sale, and even peeled all the prawns and crabs off the stick for my even though I tried to signal that I could do it myself.

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Skip the crab next time, it’s just full of shells and not much meat. The prawns was pretty good however.

After that, I retraced my steps back to the ferry, then back to Ben Thanh Market in HCMC. This is the first time I’ve been in HCMC early enough that the inner Ben Thanh Market is still open, so I finally got an opportunity to go inside and check it out.

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It’s basically your typical Asian market selling all kinds of clothing and trinkets, and every store there’s a woman trying to make a sale. Needless to say most things here are fake and/or mass produced, with no actual cultural value, so if you are looking to buy, bargain HARD. I bought a pair of “Rayban” since I realised Vietnam weather requires sunglasses, and I ended up paying $10 for it, which is about 1/4 of the original price she quoted (which is probably still too much, but at that point I took pity on her). What annoys me the most is how she tried to convince me it’s genuine, like c’mon are you fucking kidding me as if you would sell me a genuine Rayban for $10. Tbh, if you’re tight on time I’d just give this place a miss, although there is a rare Citibank ATM at the front entrance so that’s very useful.

On my way back I walked past the central park where I saw all the people hang out and play sports yesterday. I noticed before there was an underground complex too but didn’t get to check it out. Turns out it’s like a shopping mall beneath, with a fairly big food court selling food at a step above street food price/quality. I decided to try this place specialising in banh canh, a type of thick noodle soup. I got the middle one with crab meat for reference.

While not that bad, I didn’t realise how little crab/shrimp/meat there would be in this noodle soup, and most of the stuff you see in the pictures are just random filler stuff like veggies. The soup was great so that was the redeeming factor.

Bit more chilling around and it’s now 7pm, and I got onto a overnight bus that takes me to my next stop – Mui Ne.

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Word of advice, these overnight buses are not the most comfortable. If you’re over 6 ft or you’re fat or you’re a light sleeper, then you’re not gonna have a good sleep as the “bed” is pretty small and narrow and the roads in Vietnam aren’t exactly first world, so there’ll be lots of bumps. Plus the wifi is next to useless 😦

Also, so far so good on the rabies front, didn’t feel anything strange so I guess I’m clear?

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One thought on “Day 6 – Monkey Island

  1. Pingback: Day 22 & 23 – Watching Snow Monkeys Bathe & Clutching My Flight Home | Poor Man's Backpack

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