One day tour - Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi tunnels

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Sep 16, 2006

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nui Ba Den was a bit much to handle. I'm not sure exactly how to reconcile what we just saw with the bloody battle stories I had heard from my friend. Eva and I were ready for something more grounded. How about a visit to a less-commercialized holy site? What better way to get your bearings?

Haha, well not this time, Mr. or Mrs. straight-laced religious American. This is Tay Ninh, home of the outrageously eccentric religion of Cao Daism. Without getting into too much detail (you can click on the link for that), the Cai Dai religion combines many religions into one universal philosophy, all overseen by the Divine Eye. Not only are Moses, Jesus and Mohammed considered prophets in Cao Daism, but so is the Buddha, Confucius, author Victor Hugo as well as Joan of Arc. It's fascinating stuff-- check our photos for some stuff that's, like, out there, man.

We were, however, a bit stuck. You see Tay Ninh is sort of a public transportation no-mans land. I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to translate to people through emotive hand gestures and Vietnamese phrasebook patchwork that we needed a ride back to Saigon. The only option we could find to get back to Saigon was to pay some outrageous fee to a pair of moto drivers.

We were lucky enough to have hooked up previously with a super cool girl named Tina, a manager at the Saigon STA Travel office. We called her for help, and she arranged it so that we could meet up with one of her tours at the Cao Dai temple, and we'd get to see the restored Cu Chi tunnels on the way back as well. These were a sort of restored outdoor museum of the tunnels used by the Vietnamese during the American War.

What follows is an alternatingly surrealistic and sobering view of a quirky side of Vietnamese culture as well as a look at the war-torn history of Vietnam which most Vietnamese people have moved past. Why then does Vietnam continue to haunt the memories the memories of people like my veteran friend? Many American images of Vietnam have been permanently set by thirty-year-old headlines-- or worse, first hand memories of untold horrors. To paraphrase Nelson DeMille in his novel Up Country, for modern Americans Vietnam is a war-- not a country. Unless people come to see the modern Vietnam first hand, this country will occupy that anachronistic place in their minds forever.

The Vietnamese have lived through it, overcome it, and moved on. I believe we should too.
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