Saigon, Day 3

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January 24th 2010
Published: January 25th 2010
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Cao Dai TempleCao Dai TempleCao Dai Temple

A view from the side, as we got out of the bus.
Another lovely day in Saigon has come and gone. We pulled ourselves out of bed a little after 7, an impressive feat given we'd gone to bed late AND the wake-up call never came. We enjoyed another free breakfast at the hotel and then headed just a few storefronts down to Sinh Travel, where we'd booked a tour yesterday. We took off at 8:15 for a full day tour of the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels on a fairly comfortable air-conditioned bus.

After about 2.5 hours of listening to music and playing hangman on our iPods, we arrived in Tay Ninh province, the area of the temple. Caodaiism, as described online: Syncretist modern Vietnamese religious movement with a strongly nationalist political character. Cao Dai draws on ethical precepts from Confucianism, occult practices from Daoism, theories of karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and hierarchical organization (including a pope) from Roman Catholicism. It was formally established in 1926 by Ngo Van Chieu (1878 - 1926?), a colonial administrator in French Indochina who professed to have had a communication from the supreme deity. The movement met with resistance from the Vietnamese government both before and after the communist takeover in
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View from the front of the temple.
1975. It was reported to have some three million adherents in Vietnam and abroad in the early 21st century.

So there you have it. We'd read that the temple was beautiful and worth visiting, but we felt a little strange about it once there. The temple is indeed beautiful, but watching a bit of their service felt intrusive, as many things can when you're a tourist. We always strive to be aware of this- there are so many inconsiderate tourists who go to things like this in tank tops and shorts and completely ignore the fact that there is someone praying right next to them as they snap their pictures. Ugh. Ugly Americans indeed...or French, or Norweigian, or whatever. We spent an hour at the temple and then climbed back on the bus, stopping soon again for a quick lunch at a local restaurant. Martin had pho that he LOVED and I enjoyed some rice with veggies and spring rolls, another common Vietnamese dish.

After lunch, it was another 1.5 hours of driving before we arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels. Again, to quote Wikipedia (can you tell I'm lazy?): "The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense
Inside ViewInside ViewInside View

The temple was beautiful inside.
network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tết 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. The role of the tunnel systems should not be underestimated in its importance to the Viet Cong in resisting American operations and protracting the war, eventually culminating in an American withdrawal."

It was both sad and fascinating to see the conditions in which men and women were fighting and living during the war. We were able to actually crawl through a portion of the tunnels (about 30 meters) that have been expanded by 40% to accommodate foreigners. Let me tell you, the extra 40% definitely didn't help us big Americans out too much. Martin had received the advice to crabwalk from

Amazing food on the side of the road.
our friend Kris, who is also 6'5'', which allowed him to actually get through-- otherwise, he might have been stuck! It was dark, hot and awful. And yet, our experience was absolutely nothing like the soldiers during the war. Incredible. They had models of all the 'booby traps' that had ben set up, as well as the hospital and kitchen the guerrillas had built. A pretty amazing system, and another good reminder of how awful war is. I'm not sure how anyone can come to Vietnam and leave thinking that war is an answer to any conflict.

We arrived back outside our hotel at 6pm, another 2 hours of driving later. It was an interesting day, but we both agreed that it was far too much traveling for the amount of things we saw/did. Perhaps we would have skipped the temple if we did it again.

We grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant- this time I had fake chicken (vegetarian) pho and Martin had cashew chicken. We enjoyed a couple of Saigon beers, bought some random pastries off the street and called it a night in our room with internet and HBO. 😊

On to Hanoi tomorrow!

Additional photos below
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One of the soldiers demonstrated how fitting in a hole would look like.

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