When I asked my four-year-old son where he wanted to go for the weekend, he said he wanted to visit a place where monkeys lived.
"Real monkeys, not the ones you see on television or in cages at the zoo," he said.
Searching the internet to find such a destination, I discovered Monkey Island in Can Gio District, HCM City.
We left home at 9am on a sunny Sunday.
The sunshine in HCM City is really different. It did not make us feel worn out and tired like in the north and the central areas, where we just want to stay at home, especially in the summer.
We decided to open the car's windows to enjoy the natural wind and gaze at the landscape outside.
The drive to Monkey Island from the centre of HCM City is not really far. It is about 70km and the beautiful view along the road makes the trip feel much shorter.
After a little over one hour, we reached Can Gio.
The road from here to the island was very beautiful with many trees, green rivers and tiny yellow flowers, which we guessed were wild peanut flowers.
The flowers, together with the light green leaves, created a colourful carpet along the road. The sight energized us and made us excited to start our trip, on which we hoped to have many new experiences.
The amazing landscapes, cool winds and blue sky made me realise that Viet Nam's winding coastline was home to many beautiful sites that we had not discovered. Some places, I thought, were more beautiful than similar places in other nearby countries and even Europe.
A sign at a crossroads told us that we had reached the Monkey Island.
Passing the gate, we saw our first monkeys: a family with parents and two little monkeys.
My son was really excited that his dream was coming true. He shouted out a series of rapid-fire questions: "Why do they live together? Why do they climb up the tree? Why do the little monkeys hug their mothers?"
We walked around the island on a cement road while trying to answer all of these questions.
It's called an island because it is surrounded by a mangrove forest. But just 200m from the gate, we really saw an island of monkeys. There were some 1,000 monkeys! They ran around and climbed up mangrove trees. They followed us or just stood still to look at us with no fear.
Other visitors told us that the monkeys were sizing us up to see if we would give them food.
My father decided to buy some food for them. He bought four small bags of potatoes, gave them to my son and taught him how to feed the monkeys.
When the first potato bag came into my son's hands, tens of monkeys came around him and stared at the bag.
He started to deliver the potatoes to the monkeys very happily. He threw the snacks as quickly as possible because the small amount was unlikely to be enough for the primates.
Suddenly, a monkey quickly ran to my son and took the bag away. Although we had been warned at the gate that monkeys might take stuff from us, this action really surprised all of us because the monkey was so quick that we did not have any time to react.
We all laughed out loud but my son looked so tense and sad. His face turned grey and it looked like he was going to cry.
To console my children, I promised to show them a new thing that they had never experienced: canoeing.
We decided to go on a boat tour to visit Rung Sac, a guerrilla base during the American War inside the Monkey Island. It was lucky for us that the water level was high that day. If not, we could not use boats because this is a muddy area.
This is a famous historical place, dating back to a majestic period of Vietnamese history. A commando regiment of the liberation force was stationed at the jungle from 1966-75. It served as a spring board for them to fight in Sai Gon.
In fact, the place we visited was just one part of the whole base but it was enough to help us understand the challenges that Vietnamese fighters had to face in the past.
The landscape was very beautiful with thousands of mangroves growing in a big muddy area. Sometimes, we all had to bend down low to avoid being hit by the mangroves' branches. The boat sped quickly through the water, splashing water on us: a really amazing experience.
The bamboo bridges connected me and the other tourists to places where we could see how the commandos had meetings, slept, fought and ate.
The sudden advent of a rainstorm cut our visit short. We came back to the boat station with many feelings.
My parents especially liked the tour as it reminded them of the days of the war against the Americans.
To say good-bye to the forest, we treated ourselves to ice creams. When we turned around, we were startled to see five monkeys waiting for us.
"You have potatoes. The ice cream is for me," my son told the monkeys and held onto his ice cream, very tightly. — VNS