In search of fresh air and wildlife, Kyle Phanroy, Francis Xavier and Nick Ross take a day trip out of Ho Chi Minh City by speedboat and get charmed by the often under-rated district of Can Gio
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“I came here 35 years ago,” says the man, his face taut yet lined with the harshness of the elements. “It was just after the Liberation. There were no roads and we had to get here by boat from Long An. There were so many mosquitoes and we often got sick. Life was really difficult.”
His five-year-old granddaughter is staring at me, riveted by the whiteness of my skin. Receiving such attention is a rare occurrence in the Ho Chi Minh City of today. Despite geographically lying inside the confines of Vietnam’s largest metropolis, this is far from being in the city. Here we’re in the swamps, on islands in the swamps. This is Can Gio, the area southeast of Saigon known in the war as The Forest of Thieves.
For a place that is so close to Saigon and, is in fact, within the boundaries of the big city, Can Gio gets few visitors. It’s not a surprise, really. A huge area of mangrove swamp once known as The Forest of Thieves (Rung Sat), the beaches facing Vung Tau across the sea may be nought but a hop, skip and jump from downtown Saigon, but the brown sand and the tendency for the tide to go out almost a kilometre at odd times of the day, means that few visit.