HCM City River Festival showcases water tourism wonders

June 07, 2024 - 14:41
The festival features a wide range of tourism and cultural activities held across the city, and many other activities like watersport competitions, outdoor art exhibitions, a food court, and night boat parades.
The grand outdoor opera performance 'The Legendary Voyage' on May 31, one of the highlights of the 2024 HCM City River Festival. — VNS Photo Việt Dũng

The 2nd HCM City River Festival is not just a series of fun activities for people; it is an affirmation of the city’s great strengths in river tourism and highlights the importance of its development.

The event, being held from May 31 to June 9, has been inspired by the success of the inaugural festival in 2023, which attracted 60,000 visitors and greatly boosted the city’s tourism services and accommodation revenues.

This year many people, including myself, were surprised and overwhelmed by the wide range of tourism and cultural activities held across the city, such as at the Nhà Rồng Khánh Hội Wharf, Bạch Đằng Wharf, and Nhiêu Lộc Thị Nghè Canal.

One of the highlights of the festival was definitely the outdoor opera held during the festival’s opening ceremony at the Nhà Rồng Khánh Hội Wharf, titled The Legendary Voyage.

Using massive sets and modern technologies, this grand performance recreated historical stories and events which the city’s rivers and canals have witnessed, including the Ba Son strike in 1925 and the boarding of the cargo ship Admiral Latouche-Tréville in 1911 by Nguyễn Tất Thành, who would later become President Hồ Chí Minh.

Vương Hồng Linh, an audience member, told Việt Nam News that he was moved by the emotional scenes and stories, and loved being immersed in the experience with thousands of other viewers.

When he saw many people pull out their smartphone flashlights and wave along with the final song of the show, and then burst into cheers when the fireworks and drone show appeared, he knew he would remember the event for a very long time.

Another noteworthy feature of the festival is the “On the Wharf - In the Boat” activity on the Nhiêu Lộc Thị Nghè Canal (at 1 Hoàng Sa Street), which re-creates the Mekong Delta’s traditional and iconic floating markets.

Visitors experience a re-enactment of a Mekong Delta floating market, where they get to buy foods on boats. — VNS Photo Việt Dũng 

​Many visitors went on a boat tour on the canal to take in the scenery and learn more about its history. They also got to buy foods prepared from a nearby boat, a unique activity that has made Mekong Delta floating markets such a beloved cultural treasure, without having to leave HCM City.

Đặng Thị Thanh Tú, who went on a boat tour, told Việt Nam News that she has lived in HCM City for 40 years but this was her first boat tour around this canal.

“I feel this event is like 80 per cent close to a real floating market in the Mekong Delta. I think this activity is very meaningful and I hope that the tourism authorities will organise more similar events in future.”

The festival also features many other activities like watersport competitions, outdoor art exhibitions, a food court, and night boat parades. There is always something for everyone to enjoy at the 10-day celebration.

Foreign visitors also show interest in the festival, like Peter McMillan, a tourist from Australia who arrived in HCM City on May 30. The next day he told Việt Nam News that he found it very interesting there is a festival about the city’s river, and he is keen to see how locals celebrate the beautiful natural surroundings they have.

The festival is organised by the city Department of Tourism together with other agencies and districts.

Promoting river tourism

HCM City has a large network of rivers and canals that add up to 101 navigable waterways measuring around 913km long in total, including the iconic Sài Gòn River.

They are a great resource for tourism development. Sightseeing and hanging out near the city’s rivers have become among its most attractive tourism activities.

While admittedly the city is encountering problems in exploiting this natural advantage (such as pollution and waste), it is clearly a top priority when it comes to tourism development.

Over the years new tourism products have been introduced, such as the Sài Gòn water bus, which since 2017 has been expanding with new routes, acting not only as a means of public transportation but also a recreational activity.

The double-decker water bus service Saigon Water Go. HCM City has been constantly introducing new waterway tourism products to make use of its rich natural resources. — VNA/VNS Photo

​On the Sài Gòn River in the evening, one can also occasionally see fancy cruise ships blasting music while carrying diners and sightseers, who wish to bask in the city’s beauty at night.

By the end of this year the city targets having up to 10 new waterway tourism products and a 12 per cent increase in the number of people using these services.

The river festival itself serves to remind everyone how attractive HCM City’s river tourism can be, as it aims to become a unique branded tourism product that contributes to positioning the city as a culturally rich riverine metropolis.

Tourism companies are selling river tour packages at discounts, such as a tour to watch the sunset on the Sài Gòn River from the Indochina Queen Cruise, a river sightseeing tour on the double-decker Saigon WaterGo water bus service and others that entice locals to experience what they have to offer.

Even the success of the open-air opera performance was partly thanks to the rivers’ rich history, ripe for inspiration, much like the performance during last year’s festival and likely shows in future.

Nguyễn Thị Ánh Hoa, director of the city's Department of Tourism, told Việt Nam News on a Nhiêu Lộc Thị Nghè boat tour last Saturday that introducing new river tourism products, such as interactive experiences and incorporating Mekong Delta culture into tours in HCM City, is a new method the organising committee would look into further.

“We will not stop at just activities for the HCM City River Festival, we plan to make them into regular activities in future on this canal and other waterways.”

The festival has definitely left a positive impression on many people, who are now left wanting more, a big thumbs up for HCM City to continue looking for new ways of harnessing its beautiful rivers. —  VNS