Achim Fock, a German development expert working in Hanoi, had been in Ho Chi Minh City for business before.
But this time he said he needed to try something new.
He took a boat trip with several local partners along the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal one morning and they all enjoyed the clean water and the nice scenery of the city.
The tour on wooden boats opened early this month as the city hopes to offer a new activity to tourists, sailing them on an eight-kilometer canal that used to be badly polluted.
The canal no longer looks, or smells, as bad, after being cleaned for 20 years under a project funded by the World Bank.
Thousands of houses along the canal were relocated, Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Streets along it were repaved, and trees were planted in the small parks both sides of the canal.
The tour covers 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) from Thi Nghe Bridge near Saigon Zoo in District 1 to Le Van Sy Bridge near Nguyen Van Troi Market in District 3.
A boat with artists performing southern traditional opera don ca tai tu will accompany the tourists’ boat.
Fock said after his tour that the water was quite clean and the two sides of the canal were green.
He said he would recommend the service to his friends and would bring his family next time.
A number of city locals have also tried the service and they said it was not bad as they had thought, and it gave them some precious quiet time, away from the busy traffic on nearby roads.
“There was no strong smell and it was very windy,” one of them said.
A boat with artists playing traditional music comes along. Photo: Tran Tam
Hoang Thi Hue, a guide with the Saigon Boat Company, said the section of the canal opened for the tour is the downstream part connected to the Saigon River, and thus it is cleaner than the other part deep in the city.
Pham Xuan Anh, chairman of the company, said the tour has brought a sense of nostalgia to many locals.
He said in the past traders in the city used to sail their boats here. The new tour gives tourists a little more insight, and a fresh look, into the city and its rich history, he said.
Each tour of one and a half hours takes tourists through nine bridges, each having a historical story that is closely linked to the formation and development of the city.
“A new way to see the city, and it’s very romantic,” Anh said, after being asked why he invested VND10 billion (US$440,000) in the canal tour.
His company is running ten small boats and two large boats that can carry a maximum of 20 people at a time.
Tourists now can only start the tour from Thi Nghe Bridge, but Anh said his company will add another ten boats next month at the Le Van Sy pier.
He said he will ask the city authorities to add more lights to facilitate night tours and to build bigger and better toilets.
“The current toilets are just too small for many foreigners.”
Tao Van Nghe, another tourism operator in the city, said the tour will help improve locals’ behaviors.
“Many dumped trash into the canal in the past. But now when the canal has become a tourist attraction, they will think again about their littering habit, hopefully.”
Travel agencies said they will consider adding the boat service to their itinerary.
Tickets now cost VND220,000 ($10) per person for row boats with six passengers, and VND110,000 for cruise boats with a capacity of 20.