The major attractions of any city, town, or village, always seem to be places of worship. After all the time spent building beautiful architectural wonders to please the gods, this is no surprise. One of the delights of Southeast Asia has always been the numerous temples. I’ve had my fill of temples in Bangkok and Ayuthayya having gone there there twice, the most recent just being 2 weeks ago; but I’ve never really been tired of them.
Unlike Bangkok where there seems to be a shrine or temple, Buddhist or Hindu, in every street corner, Saigon’s seems to be lacking in them. Thien, a Vietnamese I met, explained to me that the temples are not in District 1 which is the center, but rather in its outlying areas like District 5. One really interesting temple we went to was the Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh. We booked a full day tour that included the Cu chi Tunnels. It was only $7 per person.
The bus picked us up at the TNK office along Buin Vien along with others we picked up at guesthouses around the Pham Ngu Lao area. Our guide was a 60ish man who referred to himself as Slim Jim. He spoke English quite well having taught the language at secondary school in a Mekong town. He cracked a few jokes and generally gave very helpful information.
Two other Pinoys were in the same trip. The two middle-aged women, one who was a doctor, were travelling by themselves. It was really traffic going t0 Tay Ninh and there wasn’t much to see. After a rest-room stop somewhere out of nowhere, we finally arrived at the temple at 11:30. It was hot and there were hardly any shade. We had half an hour to go around before heading to the balconies to watch the worship service for another half hour.
Caodism is a really interesting religion that combines Confucianism, Buddhism, and Catholicisim. It counts among its saints, Sun Yat Sen, Victor Hugo, and a Vietnamese poet and revolutionary.
The elaborateness and color of the temples however didn’t quite match the service which seemed to be quite drab. We viewed the first 30 minutes of the service from a balcony overlooking the worship area. There really wasn’t much going on except for some chanting. Apparently, people were segregated by gender and by what seemed to be certain positions. Obviously, the elderly people nearest the front, bedecked in elaborate costumes seemed to be the most titled. The ceremony only really seemed interesting because of the colorful attire and the chanting. Musicians played traditional Vietnamese instruments at a loft on the same level as the balcony.
Back at the bus, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant where I had some ban xeo with boiled pork. Mostly everyone stuck to the safest option— an omellette with fried rice. I was really hungry as it was almost 1 pm.
The final stop was at the Cu Chi Tunnels. The elaborate tunnel system built by the Vietcong only proved that it takes more than guns to win a war. They really put one over the Americans who were often left puzzled why the Vietcong managed to move around and surprise them in spite of the constant bomb attacks. Of the two tunnel complexes, we went to the one at Ben Dinh. Inside the bamboo forest were exhibits showing boob traps and some re-constructed tunnel rooms such as a kitchen. Of course, the highlight were the tunnels themselves. It was definitely not for the claustrophobe. The tunnels had actually been enlarged a bit to accommodate tourists. I managed to get about 3 feet inside but turned back when the guy before me also turned around. There were too many people and the tunnel was really low. I didn’t want to get stuck with someone’s ass on my face while waiting for the line to move.
The tour ended with some refreshments of tea and camote and then a film showing about the tunnels. We were back at Siagon at almost 7 due to the heavy traffic.