Friday, 23 May 2014

The Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels Tour

Since discovering how fun it is to explore local sights by motorbike, Angela and I haven't been going on as many tours recently. However, we were less than thrilled at the prospect of riding a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh, so we decided to do a tour on our last day. It took us outside the city, close to the Cambodian border, where we visited a Temple dedicated to the new religion of Caodaism. We also went to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels.

This temple is the "Holy See" of Caodaism, a religious movement founded in 1926. Cao Dai draws upon various influences, such as Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, and has a wide variety of different saints, including the likes of Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Sun Yat Sen and Victor Hugo.


We weren't allowed to enter the temple until the start of mass at midday, so we wandered the temple grounds for a bit.
Monkeys!

As it was time for mass, hundreds of Caodaists entered the temple in their white robes.


Apparently, Victor Hugo appealed to the early Caodaists because of his interest in spiritualism and social injustice. He also foresaw the rise of a new faith uniting Eastern and Western religions, which the Caodaists believe refers to their own faith.


The whole time we were in the temple these musicians and singers were playing traditional music.

We also explored the temple gardens.


This all-seeing eye is the main symbol of Caodaism.

After leaving the temple, we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a huge network of underground tunnels built by the Vietcong as a hiding place during their resistance to American forces. Our guide was a very eccentric man who called himself Mr Bean. He seemed to relish the chance to tell tourists stories about his experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War.
Here I am, seeing if I can squeeze into this tiny entrance to one of the underground tunnels.

Mr Bean demonstrates one of the traps used during the war.

More tunnel entrances.

Walking deeper into the jungle that was once a battlefield.
This American M41 tank was destroyed by a delay mine in 1970.
See? It says it right there on the tank.

At the end of the tour, we got a chance to properly explore one of the underground tunnels.
It was very dark, hot, muddy and cramped.

Don't make the same mistake I did and bring a backpack into the tunnels. It made walking through them extremely difficult!
Once the tour was over, we returned to Ho Chi Minh City. That evening, we met up with Angelino and Carina, brother and sister from Germany, who we'd met previously in Phu Quoc. We shared a delicious meal that included broiled ostrich.
Then we went to a bar called Apocalypse Now. We'd read in a travel book that it had ceiling fans that looked like war helicopters, but the book must have been out of date, since the helicopters had been replaced by simple lanterns.
Walking around Ho Chi Minh at night.
We also met up with our Chilean friend, Pablo, and had some drinks on a rooftop bar.

The great view we had over the city.

There ended our time in Ho Chi Minh. We were surprised how much we liked this city, and would have stayed longer if we didn't have so many other places to visit during our one month in Vietnam.

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