Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels

One of our side trips from Saigon was to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dai Temple. Travel in Vietnam is mainly by bus. Lonely Planet claims that roads are pretty good now. While we never traveled the roads before, the roads now are paved but rutted in places. The bus was constantly hitting potholes which after a 3 hour ride is not good on the back!

Our guide was in the South Vietnamese army during the war. Once the war ended he was sent to a re-education camp for over 2 years by the communist North Vietnamese to get rid of his capitalistic views and help to understand communism. He said he has since forgotten all that they taught him. He had a very dry since of humor and his one liners were killing us all day! He was very knowledgeable about the war and what was going on in Vietnam at the time.

The first part of our tour took us to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were created in the 1960's to facilitate the Viet Cong's control of a large rural area 20 miles outside of Saigon. At its height the tunnels stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border. In the Cu Chi District alone there were 120 miles of tunnels. Depending on what was going on above, the Viet Cong could spend days to months underground crawling through the tunnels to avoid the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies. Children were even known to have been born in the tunnels! Apparently the tunnels have been doubled in size to allow tourists to have a look. It is hard to believe that people could live in these tunnels because they are tiny now. Helen refused to go in and the rest of us only "crawled" for 75 feet. It was dark, scary and humid.

After looking at the tunnels, we watched a short film on the tunnels and their connection to the Vietnam war. Much of what you see regarding the war when touring Vietnam is very anti-American. At one point they refer to the Americans as "The White Devils". It is very difficult to see it all and to not have some type of emotional feelings about the purpose of a war that killed so many and did nothing to keep communism from invading all of Vietnam. With the effects of Angent Orange on both sides that is still evident today, soldiers still missing in action and the cruel way each side treated their prisoners, it is easy to see why this war was so unpopular.

The tunnels!

A booby trap set to catch South Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers. By the end of the tour Alex understood very well that "War is Stupid".

A secret way to get into the tunnels. Vietnamese are lucky that they are so small and skinny and can fit into such tiny places.

The Cao Dai religion was started in a small area outside of Saigon in 1926. The religion's founder basically combined many facets of many religions into one. Inside the temple you can find pictures of Buddha and Jesus. It is no coincidence there are similarities between the hierarchy of Caodaiism's dignitaries and those of the Catholic Church because Caodaiists claim the same God created both religions. Therefore, Caodai hierarchy includes a pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, etc. and a few more ranks and titles of which there are no official English translation yet. Also, the actual Vietnamese term for Pope, as in the Catholic Pope, is "Giáo Hoàng." Cao Dai followers wear different colors to show what sect they are part of: Buddhism, Confusionis, Taoism. There are 2-3 million followers in Vietnam and possibly 30,000 more abroad.

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