Disclaimer: I reached out to Les Rives and they kindly gave us a discount on the whole tour, but I would have written this article no matter what. Good things have to be shared!
While in Ho Chi Minh City we explored The Can Gio Mangrove Forest by speed boat with Les Rives, in my opinion the best company you can find for guided tours in the area. The attention to details, the privacy of the tour, the preparation of our guide Henry, the perfectly-paced stops and the fact that the kids absolutely loved it made this our favourite guided tour in Vietnam! But let’s go in order.
First, our best friends joined us all the way from Spain too spend a couple of weeks with us in Saigon:
The tour departed somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City, but I wouldn’t remember where because Les Rives picked us up in a minivan straight in front of our place. Perfect!
The Mekong River is one of the longest rivers in the world, and it crosses 5 countries before getting to Vietnam where it has its delta. Vietnamese people don’t call it Mekong (mother of river), but they call it (translated) “night dragon river”.
As leaving Saigon, we passed the illegal houses along the river in district 4: the government is trying to relocate the people into apartments, but it’s taking a lot longer than expected, because they don’t want to leave. The owners of the houses use the river as their personal trash and sewage: sadly the whole area looks like a landfill, which brought up some interesting conversations with the kids.
1st stop: riverside market
Thanks to Henry, our Les Rives guide, I learnt more about Vietnamese culture in this 1,5h interesting market tour than in 1,5 months in Vietnam. Also some bad, bad stuff, like people skinning frogs alive to sell them… Vietnam is full of contradictions, and life and traditions inspired a lot of important conversations about right and wrong with Oliver and Emily (then 4 and 3) in the 2 months that we lived there.
Henry told us lots of anecdotes, like the one about the fake money that you can buy from the market for funeral parades: they throw it out of a funeral car as it passes through the village (the whole village joins by walking behind the car).
2nd stop: mangrove forest and bat sanctuary
This gorgeous forest was bombarded in the Vietnam war (here in Vietnam they call it "American war"), so they replanted it entirely in 1979, and little by little animals came back.
There are red and black mangroves here and Henry explained that we can tell them apart by looking at the roots: black mangrove’s roots come out of the ground, almost as little snorkels that the tree uses to breathe.
The bat sanctuary is reached by a stunning boat ride (with kids, this might be a good time to have some snacks): the bats are hard to spot, but Henry was very good at directing our eyes to the right direction.
3rd stop: “Monkey Island”
We stopped to see some monkeys and brought the grandma (30 years old) some bananas: the rest fo the monkeys are a bit mean – also towards the grandma – so no bananas for them. Ok, maybe just a few.
4th stop: “fishing” crocodiles!
Henry then took us to a crocodile sanctuary where about 40 crocodiles live “free”, only restricted at the edges of the sanctuary. In fact, crocodiles are not free anywhere in Vietnam, they’re all in nature reserves.
We got put on a boat and sent out at river to fish for crocs! Just kidding, of course, but we did get a close ancounter with crocodiles: we fed them by attaching little pieces of eel to the tip of a fishing rod, and waiting for the crocodile to… SNAP! The sound, the power, the elegance of these animals… this is something we will never ever forget!
5th stop: Vietnamese meal
The last stop was… food! The boat took us to a remote place in the middle of nowhere where Les Rives set up a private terrace with a table and chairs and where locals catch, grow and cook delicious Vietnamese food. It’s 100% private, and simply WOW!
On the way back, all kids fell asleep and we had a super relaxing boat ride… enjoying some more fruit, coffee, and cold water on a hot day. Just perfect!
Ps. And if this is not enough, the tour is now 100% eco-friendly: instead of plastic cups, they provide numbered glass bottles for each guests that we got to take home. What a great idea!
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