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Winter Vacation - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 2006/12/23

Our trip to the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels

View Winter Vacation 2006 on agc_cwm's travel map.

We had booked a one-day tour to see the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi tunnels. It was about $4 apiece for the full day.

We were told that we someone would come get us at 8:00 to go on our trip. We planned our morning to leave at 8:00, but when we were eating breakfast some guy came and got us at 7:45. I didn't get my coffee and Court's pancake got folded in half and placed in a travel container for her to eat on our trip. Court ate her breakfast while we were waiting for our bus (aside: this situation was a particularly annoying "hurry-up-and-wait" time. Pancakes are NOT good cold ~CW).

We met our tour guide who took us to where the bus was going to pick us up. He made us wait with some other tour group members and told us to, "wait a jiffy" and "I'll be back in two shakes of a lambs tail." Which Court and I were very impressed with; his idiom use was quite masterful. We've spent months trying to get our students to use idioms properly and he nailed two in about 5 seconds. During our tour he also used a lot of Aussie slang, which we didn't understand but made all the Aussies laugh. Once on the bus he introduced himself as Thong (pronounced "Tong" - no giggles!) or "Slim Jim"; he said this was his Australian nickname.

There were fourteen people on our tour. It was a relatively small group which was nice because we didn't have to wait for a long time for bathroom stops, gift shop stops, or any other stops. Plus Thong said he'd leave us behind if we were stragglers, and we believed he would. We met one guy who was teaching English in Japan and was from Bridgewater. And his grandparents live in Amherst and one of his grandparents was a Guitard from Belledune, New Brunswick. We all laughed hard at this one (aside: it's freaking true. The north shore is populating the earth! I couldn't believe it. Wait, yes I could ~CW).

The first stop we made was at a handicraft factory that employed only disabled people. One of the tragic realities of Vietnam is the number of people that have been affected by landmines, the war or all the Agent Orange that was used during the war. However, we discovered there are a lot of handicraft places that train and employ only disabled people. Which I think is fantastic. We watched them make wood inlays (using mother-of-pearl and eggshell to create images on lacquerware) for a few minutes then went through the gift shop. We picked up some lacquerware chopstick holders as souvenirs.

These are a few shots from the workshop

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We boarded the bus and continued on to the Cao Dai Grand Temple in Ben Thien. Cao Dai is a religion that was started in the 1920s. It is a religious cocktail containing some Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, native Vietnamese spiritualism, Christinaity and Islam. Their prophets include Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Shakespeare and Victor Hugo. They have services four times a day, every 6 hours (6 am, noon, 6 pm and midnight). We arrived in time to watch the noon service. In the church there are 9 steps, which represent the 9 steps to Nirvana (not the band). New members start out on the bottom step and every 5 years they move up a step. The people wearing blue robes represent Taoism, yellow is Hinduism and red is Catholicism. If you want to read more about the Cao Dai religion check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cao_dai. At the back of the church by the altar there was a trap door that led to the basement. This is where they used to have seances. But, seances were banned by the Communist Government, so the trapdoor is locked now.

This is the main temple.


Here are some shots from the grounds.

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Here are some pictures from inside the temple.

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Here are some pictures from the service. At the back of the church there was a group that played instruments and a small choir. All the members walked in and knelt for the full 40 minutes of the service. Someone would ring a gong and everyone would bow.

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These are a couple short videos from the service as well.

After the service we left the temple and continued on for lunch. We stopped at a restaurant on the side of the road on our way to the temples. We had lunch with a guy from the U.K. who was drinking his way around the world.

After lunch we continued on to the Cu Chi tunnels. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cu_Chi_Tunnels The tunnels were used by the guerillas that lived in the area. They were soldiers who lived 40 kms from Saigon, but fought for the North Vietnam army during the war. During the day the guerillas worked the rice fields, but at night they fought against the forces from Southern Vietnam and their allies (Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and others). They started to build the tunnels in 1948, and they were initially used to fight against and hide from the French. By 1965 they had excavated over 200 kms of tunnels.

When we first arrived at the museum near the tunnels, we watched a video that was made in the 1960s that held a very anti-American perspective. During the video they called them the "American aggresors" and referred to the American planes as "a flock of flying devils". After the video we went into the forest to see the tunnels.

The first place we stopped was to see how they entered the tunnels. At this spot the Cu Chi guerillas would stand in the hole to snipe any soldiers coming by. When they got too fast they would drop down into the tunnels and put the top (which they had covered with leaves to hide it) back over the hole. Then they would escape from the enemy. A few other people tried to fit in; one guy couldn't get his shoulders through the opening, but another guy did get in. This Vietnamese guy showed us how to do it first.

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We also stopped to look at a lot of the different traps they used. This trap was a pit that if they stepped on the top they would fall down onto bamboo spikes. The traps didn't kill many people, but they sure slowed the soldiers down.


We continued on to see the actual tunnels. Each tunnel was 60 x 80 cm (2' x 2' 8"). They enlarged a 100' length of tunnel for the tourists (i.e. the fat westerners) to waddle through. They doubled them in size to 120 x 160cm (4' x 5'6").

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Once we stopped being amazed by the size of the tunnels we contiuned on to the firing range. Were you the option of shooting an AK-47, a M-16 or an M-60 (Rambo's gun). I choose the AK-47 and fired off five rounds. And, I didn't come close to hitting anything at all.

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Once most of the guys had a chance to shot some rounds we went to the tourist tunnels. They had 100m of tunnels open that you could travel through, with panic exits every 30m. We both went down to go through, but when I saw them I decided to pass. Court went through. There were so many people in there and people stopped to take pictures that it was not a quick "waddle" through: it was more like a traffic jam. Go, stop, go, stop, go, stop. I passed. Court went through 30m then decided to come out (aside: I'm not claustrophobic, but the stopping, going, stale air, heat, darkness, and the behind of the person in front of me made the decision to come out at the first available exit an easy decision to make ~CW).


Before we left we stopped to have some tea and tapioca roots for a snack, which was surprisingly good. This is a picture of the chimney that they used. The kitchen was probably 20 ft away, but the chimney was designed to let the smoke escape away from the kitchen and on the forest floor so it was hard to find.


This is a shot of a B-52 bomb crater and me on a broken down tank.

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This was the last stop on our tour and we all boarded the bus to head back to Saigon. We arrived back around 18:30, had some supper. During this meal we counted how many people came to sell us something and we reached 18 people during the 2 hours we were at supper. We bought one gorgeous silk painting for 2 bucks. But, that was it. Then we hit the sack.

Posted by agc_cwm 04:09 Archived in Vietnam

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