If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City (also still known as Saigon) and looking for something a little different to the normal historical and cultural tours then let me recommend a day trip to MONKEY ISLAND!
Located in Can Gio, Monkey Island is only a couple of hours away from District 1 in Saigon. You can pay private tour guides to take you there, but you can save your money and get a taste of being a local by using the public buses instead.
On a budget you can get to Monkey Island for only £0.50 ($0.65 at time of writing) each way plus £2.40 ($3) entry fee.
A bargain compared to the $50 being charged for a private tour!
View the video guide below to getting to Monkey Island from Ho Chi Minh City or keep reading for more detailed instructions.
It is worth keeping in mind all fares must be paid in cash and, ideally, low value notes (1,5 and 10,000 VND max) as change may be limited.
To start head to Ben Thanh Market and then walk a short distance to the new bus station. (Google Maps directions)
Once there find the bus stop for route 20. Note you’ll want to be boarding the bus which is heading AWAY from the direction of District 1. See the Google Maps link above to get the right one.
If you accidentally get on the wrong bus (like I did!) you’ll pay an extra 6,000 VND to end up at the start again.
Once you find Bus 20 going the correct way hop on board and find a seat. You’ll soon be greeted by the conductor who’ll ask for 6,000 VND. It’s a flat fare no matter how far you travel but you’ll be going all the way to the end of the line.
After about 45 minutes you’ll arrive at the Ferry Terminal. Everyone will get off here as it’s the end of the line so you can’t miss it. Head slightly right under the sign and follow the crowd of people and mopeds under the canopy to buy your ferry ticket. It’ll set you back 1,000 VND.
Pay the first person handing out tickets and receive your slip. Walk a few steps to be stopped by another guard who’ll take that same slip from you. Don’t question it, bureaucracy still reigns in Vietnam.
Keep walking along to join the queue in the pedestrian area next to the parked mopeds. If it has all been timed correctly the ferry will be just about to depart when the bus arrived, if not they are very frequent every 5 minutes or so.
Pedestrians will be released first to try and avoid a mad crush. Follow the crowd, keeping to the right to stay out the way of traffic, and board your ferry. Head straight to the front so you’ll be ahead of the cars again when it reaches the other side.
The ferry takes about 5 minutes and before you know it you’ll be disembarking at the next terminal. Once again follow the crowd out the terminal and, if it has all worked perfectly, a bus should be ahead of you with the number 90 showing.
If you can’t see a number 90 bus then just wait a few minutes. They run all day fairly frequently so it won’t be long.
Once you hop on the 90 bus find a seat again and wait for the conductor to collect the fare. This time it’ll set you back 7,000 VND.
If you have Google Maps open you can track your progress on your phone and you’ll want to press the STOP button by the door as you approach Dao Khi Can Gio bus stop. Otherwise when you pay ask the conductor to stop at Monkey Island. It’ll be about 35 minutes.
When your stop comes up don’t be surprised if the bus only slows rather than comes to a halt. Take a breath and jump and you’ll be right next to the sign directing you to the entrance.
Walk a few minutes along the entrance road until you find a hut on your right hand side. Here you pay the entrance fee (70,000 VND for tourists or 35,000 for locals) and collect your ticket.
Another few minute walk will bring you to a restaurant and on your right hand side is the main entrance gate. Provide your ticket to the guard and you’ve made it!
Watch out for the monkeys though, they have no qualms in trying to steal hats, glasses, water bottles and anything else they can get their hands on from unwitting visitors!
Once you’re done simply reverse the above directions and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you saved $$$$ by travelling like a local.