Ca Mau, Spring 2007
We had always wanted to visit the very southern tip of Viet Nam, if for no other reason than to have done it. After talking about it for years, we, my wife and I, finally got our stuff together last weekend.
We hired a car from Mai Linh Taxi for VND 1,000,000 from Can Tho to Ca Mau, the principal hub of southern Vietnam. The trip took just over 4 hours from Can Tho, on roads varying from state-of-the-art highway to not much more than a dirt track.
In Ca Mau, Ha had reserved a room for us at the Hoang Gia Hotel. Opened by Viet Kieu last August, the room at USD 20.00 was well worth the money: large, clean, nice bathroom. The only downside was that the room was noisy, bordering Tran Hung Dao Street (why Dragon Dance at 04:30 in the morning?).
The receptionist recommended the Thanh Truc Restaurant on Phan Ngoc Hien Street. There are quite a few restaurants on that street, but Thanh Truc must be one of the worst. We had Beef Luc Lac, which was doused in sugar and MSG, as was the steamed squid. The Buffalo was covered in Lemongrass, and the Thai rice was inedible. We both like spicy food, but the rice consisted primarily of chilies. Luckily, there was plenty of cold Tiger beer available, used to wash down the disappointment with dinner.
We also met the guide here to discuss our plans for the next day. Ha had called Ca Mau tourism previously and it quickly became apparent that they are not used to dealing with foreigners. We primarily wanted to watch bird but, whilst Ca Mau Tourism advertises the fact that there still is plenty of wildlife there, the guides have zero knowledge about it. We also learned that evening that U Minh forest was closed because of the recent outbreaks of bird flu. Anyway, we had gotten this far, and would go to Mui Ca Mau the next morning.
The guide picked us up at 06:00 to take us to the Ca Mau port, from where we took the speedboat to Mui Ca Mau. Speedboat is an understatement, the boat was FAST!! Sporting an 115HP outboard engine. Barreling through the river traffic at 40 Knots certainly took some getting used to, this was not being helped by the fact that the boat driver was a bit of a show-off, racing with other boats and, at one stage, coming within centimeters of two dogs that were swimming across the canal. He could not understand why both Ha and I became upset.
Our first stop was at Lam Ngu Truong for some birding. The place is supposedly a “Mangrove protection area”, but they were busy upgrading it to a place to visit for local tourists, probably spelling the demise of the place in the not too distant future. For us, it was a chance to stretch our legs a bit, and do some birding.
Back in the boat, we headed to Mui Ca Mau; the whole trip from Ca Mau to Mui Ca Mau is about 100 kilometers and takes 2 hours. Not much to see at the tip, there is a statue proclaiming it the southernmost part of Vietnam, and there are two restaurants. The birding was good, however, but the food was a disaster (again). We had lunch at the Thuy Ta Restaurant, built on stilts, but I am sure the food at the other restaurant would have been no better, typical tourist traps. The squid tasted what I would imagine boiled tennis balls taste like, the sea bass was boring, the Beef Luc Lac was actually boiled meat served with a fried egg, and the steamed rice was old, cold, and hard. Luckily, Ha had brought some biscuits.
After lunch, we explored the area some more, before stopping off at Mr. Tu Na’s bird garden. Our guide was convinced that we would enjoy seeing birds in too small cages, which is certainly not the case. Not only did the guy keep birds, the first thing we saw, and heard, was a pitiful Otter trying desperately to get out of its cage and “crying” its lungs out; a sad sight indeed. I have reported this to the Wildlife hotline, and can only encourage all visitors to do the same when coming across things like that.
We got back to Ca Mau in time for a few cold ones before heading to the Pho Xua Restaurant, also on Phan Ngoc Hien Street. Finally, some good food!!! The Sweet & Sour Shrimps were excellent, as were the spring rolls. A restaurant I can recommend, we did actually go back for lunch the next day.
On our last day in Ca Mau, the guide took us to a place a little bit outside Ca Mau for some more birdwatching. Nice place, but I will not bore you with the birds we saw. As mentioned above, lunch was at the Pho Xua again, the fried Buffalo is also very good. After lunch, we took a car from the hotel at VND 1,200,000 which brought us back to Can Tho in 3 hours.
Overall, it was a great trip and talk about off the beaten track! I pretty much brought traffic to a stand-still everywhere I showedmy mug. People were very friendly, except some drunk idiots at Mui Ca Mau, and there was no hustling at all. If only they could do something about the food.
Ca Mau town is a typical Vietnamese provincial, not exactly exciting architecturally. Mosquitoes were not really a problem, at least not at this time of the year. However, I suggest you become prepared and bring repellent. Also bring sun screen if you burn easily, it is very easy to get grilled on the speedboat without realizing it.
The boat is not too comfortable; we both have aching backs today from the constant hammering across waves.