Coa Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels
Trip Start Dec 31, 2005
56Trip End May 12, 2006
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Both experiences were very carnival-ish.
On the way over, we hit several pot holes and aquired a flat tire. Becca and I were smart enough to bring lunch while we waited to get the bus' flat tire fixed.
We reached Tay Ninh in time for the noon mass. Cao Dai is an indigenous Vietnamese religion that was founded in 1923 from the philosophy of Confusionism, Buddhism, Catholisim, Islam, and Hinduism. The religion has between two to three million followers and also use philosophy from Joan of Arc, Buddha, Julius Caesar, William Churchill, Confucius, Rene Descartes, Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, Vladmir Lenin, Laozi, Muhammad, Napoleon, Louis Pasteur, Pericles, William Shakespeare, Sun Yat Sen, and Victor Hugo
As you walk into the temple, you must remove your shoes. The women enter on the left and the men on the right. The main colors of Cao Dai are red, yellow, blue and white. Red represents Buddhism, Yellow is Catholisism, Blue is Islam and White is Cao Daisim. There is a big pyramid with an eye in the center, which looks like the back of an American dollar.
Tourists can take photos of service on the second floor. Although this is a serious practice, it was difficult to absorb the spirituality since so many tourist were taking photos and flashing cameras were everywhere. I tried to discretely take photos and to listen to the singing. I was so entranced by the singing that I almost missed my bus!
We were then bused to a restaurant to buy lunch (they were not happy to see that we did not order a lot since we had already brought our lunch) and then drove past rice paddy fields to get to Cu Chi to see the infamous tunnels.
Cu Chi is "an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968.
The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters
There was a propaganda video in the beginning on how the residents of Cu Chi were brave and strong. There were wax figures of Viet Cong through out the walk in the woods and an old bombed out American tank that has not been moved. We saw how the residents made equipment (such as rubber sandles from tires), bombs and booby traps from the scraps of American weaponry and examples of their kitchen and hospital.
We got to crawl through the tunnels that have been expanded 40% to fit tourist through. We also got to taste tea and taro dipped in a salty/sugary mix, the staple of the people of Cu Chi during the war.
Normally, at the end of the tour, one could shoot off rounds from several guns that was used during the Vietnam War such as M-16s for $1 a bullet. One of the ex-pats informed us later that earlier in the week, a tourist had bought twenty rounds and then turned the last bullet on himself, thus they have discontinued the shooting range. No one knew if it was a temporary or permanent closure.
After arriving back into Ho Chi Minh City, Becca and I caught up with my friend Dang and his girlfriend. We ate vegetarian pho at Pho 2000, where President Bill Clinton ate in 2000 during his visit to Vietnam.
Becca and I were both tired from the past couple of days and we went home to our host family that evening to prepare to leave to Dalat early the next day.
Here is Becca's experience:
I went to the Cu Chi tunnels today, the underground tunnels where many viet
cong lived and hid during the Vietnam War. We were only able to visit and
crawl through one area of them, but the whole experience was quite surreal.
Tiger pits, torture devices, and underground hide-outs were presented in
that oddly presentational, busch gardens manner that kept making me question
if I was actually in vietnam. I suppose, though, that there's no real
appropriate way to talk about war and its technologies. Before the Cu Chi
tunnels, we also were able to view a Cao Dai prayer ceremony at their
temple. As this religion is a relatively recent fusion of figures such as
Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and Victor Hugo, the temple was quite interesting.
The nuns in the temple were trying to arrange a marriage for lorran with
one of the cao dai monks, as it seems that everybody here wants to hurriedly
arrange marriage for a young woman past her prime (after 20, you're pretty
much "spoiled fruit")
the "immaculate virginity" of mary, the lop-sided freedom of the monks to
marry makes me quite suspicious.
Regardless, the whole tour this morning started quite early after the night
of fabulous birthday celebration in saigon. I did miss you guys so much...I
always like to be with family on birthday...but the night truly was
memorable. Lorran's mother arranged a huge vegetarian dinner for me at a
nearby restaurant where we feasted on spring rolls, fried rice, and fake
meats while marveling at the duck and chicken food art (if you'd like to see
pictures, check out lorran's blog...I'll forward it). She also ordered a
huge, wedding-style, eggless cake (see mama, I do try to stay away from
avian flu:). The dinner was amazing, and the host family that we took with
us had never eaten at a restaurant, so they seemed stunned by the experience
as well. It was incredibly touching. After the feast and experience with
locals, we ended up going out with a couple of friends to a club. One of
the big hotel owners in the tourist district (a quite social friend of
lorran's friend) decided to adopt us for the night and take us out for my
birthday to one of the high-end clubs
entrance (everybody drives up in their scooters), I felt like a member of
the flambuoyant vietnamese mafia. As our host is quite the little
socialite, people kept wandering in and out of our circle all night. We had
our own table, drank expensive cognac, and danced till 3 in the morning.
The whole evening was a wild experience of saigon nightlife, and I had a