We shrugged off the city on Wednesday and headed for Can Gio island in the midst of a mangrove jungle. Guide Randy said we’d get to see ‘many specie’ and should take bananas to feed the monkeys who can get very put out if you arrive bananaless. We bought these at a small food market where a lady was washing a dog next to the butcher’s shop. The meat of the day lay in the open in the sun. Oddly, the flies didn’t seem interested in it. Randy said the meat had been on the hoof only hours before and would be cooked before it could go off.
Along the way we saw, in the distance, a tall stand of classy apartment blocks that turned out to be part of a satellite city built by wealthy Koreans on land that their government leased for fifty years from the Vietnamese government. The lease runs out in 10 years and Randy said, ‘I dunno what happen then.” It is like a science fiction city where only rich people, most Korean business families and Vietnamese political fat-cats, live in isolated western luxury while the rest of Saigon rushes around like angry ants outside. The only restriction on who can live there is how much money they have.
The Toyota took us across on a ferry to the island where there was a waiting speedboat. Well, that’s the travel company’s description, but the boat was no threat to the water speed record. We crawled under a low, flapping fabric roof and settled into back-modifying plastic seats as we hacked into the caramel coloured chop. Getting on off the thing was a major balancing act. However, we were grateful that it didn’t sink, and it didn’t break down during the hours we spent on it.
Not so speedy boat
First stop gave us a long walk through the mangrove jungle where Randy had to use most of our bananas to keep the aggressive monkeys at bay. If you shout at them to go away they stop and display their scary full sets of teeth. That got us to a lake among the mangroves and a shallow boat in which we were serenely rowed to look at two small water fowl swimming and some bats high in the trees. Another breezy speedboat ride brought us to a jungle path that led to some listless brown Vietnamese deer in a bald paddock and crocodiles which we were permitted to feed, from a protective cage, tiddler fish on nylon lines. The crocodiles would clearly have much preferred to eat us.
“Is Michelle on the breakfast menu?”
We also saw the occasional small crab and dragon eel. “You see good specie!” Randy roared with delight. There were more monkeys, but not so nasty as the other lot. In fact, I sat down over a cold banana and had a chat to one who pointed out that they had occupied the land before humans invaded it and should be acknowledged as the traditional owners and put on a banana pension. That led to a spirited discussion about ownership in general and we agreed that amoeba really owned all the land when they crawled out of the primeval ooze. There were difficulties, of course, in seeing to their welfare because they’d evolved into animals which had all taken turns in ownership. “So what are you going to do about monkeys’ rights?” my companion screeched as we parted. I said I’d mention it to our next prime minister.
“We were here before you.”
More semi-speeding delivered us to the Toyota and lunch at a seaside ‘resort’ where we sat and partook of tasteless fare. Randy had suggested we take a dip in the swimming pool rather than the dirty looking South China Sea across the road. Although we hadn’t brought our swimming costumes, the pool rules would have kept us out of the water anyway. They stated, on a large official sign, that we were not permitted to swim if we ‘ran around and jumped straight in the water’, that ‘footwears, food and beverage are not allow to use in pool area,’ that ‘children and adult who can’t swim shouldn’t swim,’ and that guests who are ‘mental or have skin and eye infections are not allowed to swim’, nor are those who are ‘full or influence of drug, and liquor,’ and that smoking is not permitted while you are swimming. The final rule related to solicitors: ‘Hotel are not responsible for any lost cases at the pool.’
We drove home in Saigon’s peak hour traffic which is the stuff of nightmares. At one point we had to cross two roads to visit a Buddhist temple Michelle wanted to see at dusk to contrast traffic chaos with religious calm both taking place in the same place. There was a service in progress where men and women, dressed in grey robes, chanted over a PA system that drowned out the traffic noise. This temple was relatively new, built on four levels and beautifully appointed with splendid representations of Buddhism. But I preferred the incense smoke and decay of the old temples we’d visited previously.