Brief Recollections from Cu Chi and Cao Dai Temple (Day 3)
And now here I sit at the Peace Hotel internet, post a scrumptious tofu burger (scrambled tofu with mushies, tomato and cucumber with mayonnaise - in a baguette, with french fries of course!) and a couple of Saigon beers. This is in Da Lat. But before I get to my adventures here, best deal with some older news before I completely forget what has gone before me....
On Day 3 of my travels, I braved the final frontier and booked a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple. Without the benefit of my guidebook, let's see what I can recall!
First stop was the Cao Dai temple of which Iwas completely ignorant. This temple is actually what is known as the Holy See Cao Dai Temple, kinda like their version of the Vatican (I guess...) Very impressive. First some background. The temple is located North West of Saigon, it took hours, but one would guess it was less than 100 kms (what with Vietnamese lack of precision with road surfacing). Anyway, this dude basically invented Cao Dai in the early 1900's. incorporating elements of - mainly - Confucionism, Christianity, Spirituality, Taosim (and others I am sure), in an attempt to bring Eastern And western religious ideas together. The actual religion - should I call it a religion? I have since been reading "The Girl In The Picture" (more on this later), which refers to Cao Daism as a cult. To get back to the point, the religion incorporates some rather strange and garish imagery. An obsession with the all seeing eye (as on the American dollar bill) is similar to the Christian iconography of the cross. It is everywhere! The Cao Dai followers have four "rituals/services" a day and we arrived to view one and - while my old guide book said photos were forbidden - were allowed to film and take photos of this strange but colorful procession, with the men dressed in red, yellow and blue, whilst the woman (subjugated again!!) were all in white and had to enter via a door on the lefthand side of the grand building. Again, once I can actually upload photos, you will be able to see. It was definitely a really cool experience, if you can put to the side the hordes of tourists crowding the upstairs balconies, taking their happy shots. Yes, I was one of them! I Know!
Cu Chi is an area about 70 kms North West of Saigon, heavily bombarded toward the end of the Vietnam War. It is also where there were a spiderweb of tunnels created by the Viet Cong. None of which are actually now accessible (compared to the tunnels I last visited around the DMZ). Therefore the tunnel you head into, widened for Western fatties like me, is actually a complete re-creation. Kinda misses the point. Nonetheless I lasted only until the first exit - not far at all - panicattack about to ensure, I am sure! Most of the people on my tour were the same. The only one to make it the whole way was Japanese girl called Heidi (wrong spelling but correct prnounciation, i kid u not!) We did get to see some interesting Viet Cong weaponry and booby traps that would have been quite frightening in their mutilatory powers! Other than that, all very touristy. complete with the option to fire AK47's and the like @ the end! I would have done it, but he price is now close to three dollars a bullet and, as no one else was interested, I piked...
I made my first friend on this tour. Natasja from Holland, via France, who has 6 weeks in Vietnam before heading back home to begin her social work degree. We had some beers when we got back to Saigon before she headed to the nightclub The Cage (where some friends who lived in Saigon were going to be that night), invited me along, but I had to get up early the next day to travel to the Mekong for a 3 day (yep, you guessed it) TOUR, which brings me to.....