Cao Dai Holy See and Cu Chi Tunnels tour

Cao Dai Holy See Travel Blog

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The Cao Dai Holy See Temple

Bored with being trapped in Ho Chi Minh City waiting for our visa extension to be issued we booked ourselves onto an organised tour to the Cao Dai Holy See and Cu Chi Tunnels with TNK Travel. Our guide for the day was a true gentleman called 'Slim Jim'. What a star, he has been a tour guide for the past 11 years and knows lots of cockney rhyming slang, Aussie sayings and colloquialisms he has picked up along the way. He was super helpful and very knowledgeable too.

Caodaism is a new religion created in southern Vietnam in 1926. There are about 8 million adherants to it's teachings in Vietnam or approximately 10% of the population.

The service held at the Cao Dai Holy See Temple
It teachings combine aspects of other religions such as Catholicism, Buddhism and Confuscianism. The Holy See, an area 1km square similar to the Vatican in Rome, house the Tomb of the first Cao Dai Pope and the Central place of worship. The temple is brightly painted and is a combination of architectural styles which gives it a unique appearance. The most prominent symbol of the religion is the all seeing eye which appears on the outside of the temples much as a cross of figurine or jesus would in christian churches. We arrived at Tay Ninh in time for the twelve O'clock service, one of the four daily services held every six hours. Cao Dai adherants believe there are nine steps to Nirvana that you can advance through in life to save from being re-born.
The "higher ups" of the service held at the Cao Dai Holy See Temple
The inside of the temple is divided into 9 steps with the holy alter sitting on the ninth. The adherants of Cao Dai are all graded as to how close they are to the ninth step and sit on the relevant level within the temple. The eigth step is reserved for the pope, there currently isn't one as they conduct seances to decide these things and apparantly there is currently nobody worthy enough, The seventh step is reserved for the seven cardinals, again these positions are currently vacant. The fifth or sixth step was the highest we saw someone on idicating a high status church elder. At this level they usually wear one of three coloured robes Red to represent Catholicism, Yellow to represent Buddhism and Blue to represent Confuscianism. If they wear the coloured robes they must be permanantly vegetarian.
The service held at the Cao Dai Holy See Temple
All other temple members wear white robes and must be veggie for 10 days every lunar month. Hooray for Cao Dai we say.

The service itself was quite beautiful and the temple was awesome. Easily the most interesting church we've ever seen. The three saints of the religion are Dr Sun Yat Sen, a Chinese revolutionary, Nguyen Binh Khiem, a C16th Vietnamese administrator and poet and Victor Hugo the French author and poet. Very strange.

After the service we went for a fantastic lunch at a little roadside restaurant on the way to Cu Chi Tunnels. We were hoping for a full on veggie restaurant as so many of the locals are from the Cao Dai religion but we were disappointed that they also had dead animals on the menu. Oh well our food was murder free and lovely.

We should have already mentioned that this area is the hottest part of Vietnam and the temperature was apparantly 32 degrees.

A demo on the ease of a surprise attack and departure
Most of us were dripping with sweat but several locals were wearing jumpers and cardigans. It's amazing what acclimatisation can do. We jumped back on the beautifully air conditioned bus and on the way passed through Trang Bang where one of the most famous photos of the Vietnam War was taken by photographer Nick Ut of a little girl (Phan Thi Kim Phuc) running down the road from an explosion, who had been badly burned by a napalm bomb dropped by the South Vietnamese in a friendly fire incident. We have both recently read her biography so seeing where the incident occured added an extra something to our experience.

At Cu Chi we were taken to buy our ticket which costs 70,000VND for foreigners or 7,000VND if you are Vietnamese. It's not a huge amount of money but we have to say this is a practice not uncommon in Vietnam and it does make you feel a bit sick.

An example of one of the traps used by the Viet Cong
I don't think many places could get away with it in the west, particularly shops and street vendors charging according to the colour of your skin it's not even thinly disguised racism it's utterly blatent.

The tour of the tunnels begins with a propoganda film which was made in the 1960's. The commentary of the film would be hilarious if the images wern't so gruesome. Listening to the propoganda gives a real insight into the marketing practices and slogans used today for everything here. There is no sublety at all its all sledgehammer to crack a nut kind of stuff. To be honest we decided that it makes you almost blase to everything as you find yourself focusing on the ludicrous propoganda messages and not the already horrific and very real underlying facts they seek to exagerate.

Adam in one of the Cu Chi tunnels

The tour continues with a look at the traps the local guerilla fighters used in the forest around the town of Cu Chi against the US and South Vietnamese soldiers. Horrific is simply not an adequate word to describe them. The guide says that not all that many people were caught in them but the psycological effect of knowing they existed had a major impact on the soldiers who faced them. We can certainly believe that. Next up was a trip to the firing range where all the budding psychos in the group can fire guns which is very unpleasant but appealed to the macho numbskulls in the group, how dull, and very noisy.

Finally you get to the tunnels which Slim Jim informed us had been made double size to cope with fat westerners. The originals were 80cm by 60cm so you basically had to crawl through on your stomach.

Steph in one of the Cu Chi tunnels
The Guerilla fighters kept the US and south Vietnamese army at bay for years with these tunnels and their determination and skill against all the odds has to be admired. We stepped down into the tunnels and despite being widened they are still extremely small and the taller among us could barely shuffle along almost on hands and knees. Definately not one for the claustrophobic.

The day was superb. As tours go it was excellent and if you can live with the structure of an organised tour we'd thoroughly recommend this one.

Virginiagoodings says:
Very interesting...I do not think I could cope with the tunnels!
Mum/Virginia xxoo
Posted on: Jan 30, 2008
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The Cao Dai Holy See Temple
The Cao Dai Holy See Temple
The service held at the Cao Dai Ho…
The service held at the Cao Dai H…
The higher ups of the service he…
The "higher ups" of the service h…
The service held at the Cao Dai Ho…
The service held at the Cao Dai H…
A demo on the ease of a surprise a…
A demo on the ease of a surprise …
An example of one of the traps use…
An example of one of the traps us…
Adam in one of the Cu Chi tunnels
Adam in one of the Cu Chi tunnels
Steph in one of the Cu Chi tunnels
Steph in one of the Cu Chi tunnels
Cao Dai Holy See
photo by: stephandadam