Vietnam Day 2 – (Cao Dai Temple & Cu Chi Tunnels) (08/06/2008)

Today is my day 2 in Vietnam. It was very interesting yesterday to see most part of the city. Today I had an option to either go to a place where they have some beach and other where we can see the famous cu chi tunnels. I asked for the Cu Chi tunnels trip. I was asked to get down by 7.45AM as the tour starts at 8AM. I got up early and came down had some breakfast and was ready for the trip. I was taken to other road where a vehicle was waiting for me. There were already 12 people in it. As I told in my post they were from diff countries and cultures.

We had a guide who was a real nice and funny guy. He introduced him self and he started telling us about the Vietnam History and Culture. This is when I came to know that Ho Chi Minh City is also called as Saigon. He also told us that Vietnam people call Ho Chi Minh as Uncle Ho. He discussed about the war, the culture, the religions, the gods they believe, the motor bikes in the city, about north and the south Vietnam etc. We actually did not feel the pain of travelling so long because of his silly yet funny jokes.

The trip was planned such that we go to Cao Dai Temple first and then to Cu Chi tunnels. We travelled for sometime and first stopped at
handicraft factory where handicapped workers make beautiful works of Vietnamese art. Most of these physically challenged people are children of the Vietnam war veterans whose parents were poisoned by the Agent Orange chemicals that the Americans poured on the forest to kill the jungles, then seeped into the drinking water causing their offspring to be born with deformed limbs. Julia from UK from my group bought some painting here. I have taken some photographs and they came out well. I wore a Singapore T-Shirt by seeing which one of my group members YC came to me and started a conversation. That is how I started making friends in the group.

After 30 minutes of strolling around in the handicrafts factory we started off to the next destination which was Cao Dai Temple. This was founded in 1926. The Cao Dai Temple was a 3-hour ride away from Ho Chi Minh City Centre. The people here believe this as a separate religion called Cao Dai. We saw that the devotees here were dressed in robes of different colours. Each colour being a symbol of different religion
Yellow for Buddhism
Red for Confucianism
Blue for Taoism
White for Catholic
Also each color has its own meaning and importance. In this temple the prayers are offered 4 times a day. Noon, 6pm, 12 midnight & 6am in the morning. We were lucky to be there by noon to see the prayer. The temple holds it’s service around lunchtime and hundreds of tourists come along to watch from the upstairs balcony.

The worshippers are very colourful. They are not at all disturbed by the huge audience they have. To my luck, Photography was allowed inside and I took many pics in the temple. The worshippers chant and bow before the ‘eye’. There is a large sphere with an eye looking at the worshippers. The symbol of the religion is “The Eye” symbolising truth. We all had a great experience and this is where we as a group started talking to each other and made some good friends. We discussed about the lord shiva statue that was there on the top of Cao Dai temple. We also discussed about other religions. We got fresh here in the rest room (Happy room thats what the guide used to call it) near by. From here we were supposed to go for Lunch.

We went to a local hotel road side. We ordered food. I ordered for Rice and some Chicken curry. The taste was good and it was a satisfying lunch. From here we all slept for sometime as it was going to take sometime to go to Cu Chi tunnels. By the time we reached Cu Chi tunnels it was alsmost 3 in the afternoon. Cu Chi Tunnels were really interesting. On our tour they took us around the original tunnels, but some had been made wider so that some fat westerners could crawl through to really appreciate what they went through. Before we go through the tunnel we were shown all the places around the cu chi tunnels. The guide showed us the way people lived there.

Vietnamese actually lived in the original sized tunnels during the war. There were rooms below the ground that acted as bedrooms. We were also shown the way kitchen was used. The way they used the exhaust system. It really made me think just how lucky I am having such an easy life back home. I started imagining how strong the people were to bear something like that. No wonder the American’s couldn’t defeat them. We were told some of the stories as how Americans tried to bring the soldiers out of the tunnels. Americans tried to get them out of the tunnels firstly by sending down sniffer dogs. By knowing this Vietnamese put chilli by the holes so when the dogs sniffed them it hurt their noses. The next plan was putting water down the holes. But again the Vietnamese outsmarted Americans by creating an extra layer of tunnels for the water to do down, which went back to the Saigon river which was around 2KM from the place.

My tour guide also showed us the spider holes that the Vietnamese could disappear down. These are really tiny holes that they covered up with leaves so that the American’s wouldn’t know where they would appear from. They could then disappear back down the holes again. We one after the other tried the similar way and most of us were able to go in and come out of these holes. We were also shown the boobytraps that the Vietnamese used. We felt as if we have seen such traps in Indiana Jones series. They had so many different types of traps which were actually very scary. Finally the wait ended and we were supposed to go through the tunnel. We were allowed only to go through 40 metres of the tunnel and that was enough. The dark, the heat, the lack of fresh air and the lack of space were so uncomfortable. Most of them couldnt really finish this tunnel journey. Out of 12 people we were 6 who completed that. It was a great experience. After all that we were given some tea and we started back home.

On the way home I, Barry, Marieke and Julie discussed about our journey experiences. We did not feel the pain of travelling 75KM. They asked a lot about India and I wanted to know about their places. It was a real good discussion of hard core travellers. We came back to Uncle Ho city by 7PM. We had dinner together and shared some discussions and went back to rooms. This was a great experience for me. I had a real good time during this trip of Vietnam. Tomorrow at 8 I have the flight back to Singapore.

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