War and Peace in Saigon
A recent trip to Saigon gave our contributor, Michelle Lee, the chance to explore Vietnamese hospitality in four short days. After trying out original Vietnamese noodle (Pho), she went off to experience the attractions in the city. In this second part of the four-part story, she visited a contrast of experience, that of war remnants from the Vietnam war, and of the uniquely Vietnamese religion of Cao Dai.
The easiest way to get to great sightseeing and historical sites located at the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, is to book a tour with the local tour agency. There is an assortment of half-day to two-day tours offering different tour packages. With so much to explore, I took a day-tour to visit the Cu Chi tunnels and the Cao Dai Temple, reserving the Mekong Delta expedition for the next day.
The Cu Chi tunnels are glorious remnants left behind from the Vietnam War, used by the Vietnamese in defeating the Americans. It runs 600 km long and 0.5m to 1m wide, just enough space for a person to walk bending over.
We took a 100m “trial” walk in the tunnel, through amazingly small enclaves and secret entrances. By the end of it, everyone was silently cursing under their breath as our thighs ache from constant squatting. There are also various display life-size bombs, craters created by the bombings and merciless booby traps.
After the gruesome displays of violence, we wanted to have a change of scenery. We headed to the town of Tay Ninh to visit the Cao Dai Temple – a stark contrast to our previous destination. The Cao Dai religion embraces beliefs and teachings from Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity as one. Known as the Religion of Many Spirits, this relatively new religion (established in 1926) claims up to 6 million following in Vietnam, its place of origin.
Their colorful ceremony is interesting to observe. An orchestra of musicians and a choir of youths led the congregation in prayer. The music, a combination of western Christianity and Vietnamese melodies, is both very exotic and incredibly spiritual. Monks and nuns donned in different colored robes fill the hall of the temple, symbolizing their spiritual allegiance within Caodaism: yellow for Buddhism and virtue, blue for Taoism and pacifism, or red for Confucianism and authority.