inconsistent news from southeast asia

Travel time: September 2005 - March 2006  |  by Matthew Audley

Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels

Dec. 1st (Day 79), we booked a tour to go see the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi tunnels, both outside of Saigon, closer to the Cambodian border. It was a good day.

Our tour guide for this was quite a character. Hard to describe. He was a 60 year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, having fought for the South with the American Navy and he certainly approached his material with passion. Okay, he was a little bit scary at first, always suddenly asking questions like "You clear right now?" in an aggresive tone - maybe it's what happens what you're an officer in any military group for too long. Once you got used to the delivery, he was a great source of information and his English was much better than he seemed to think it was. Good showmanship, too.

the man in action.

the man in action.

The Cao Dai religion is the third largest in Vietnam, though I believe that means about 5% of the population subcribe to it. It claims to unify all major religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroasterianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam in the name of halting religious wars (of which Vietnam has had it's share.) Check out if you want to hear what they have to say.

The Holy See.

The Holy See.

The Great Temple or Holy See we went to.. umm.. see, was constructed starting in 1933 and it is very colourful. We arrived in time for the noon service, where there was lots of music and lots of people kneeling on the hard stone floor and bowing periodically. The music was interesting, though. I wish we'd had more than half an hour to see the service and look around the grounds, but we didn't get to see much (or take too many pictures) before we were whisked off on our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Inside the temple.

On the bus ride between the two sites, our guide told us about the history of the tunnels, focusing mostly on the ingenuity displayed by the Viet Cong guerillas in thwarting many varieties of U.S. attack on the tunnels. Again, he was very passionate (scary) about the subject, having been posted in the area, though fighting for the losing (American-backed) side.

The information presented at the tunnels themselves was less inspiring. The film they showed us was an old Communist propoganda film, interesting in it's own way, but not exactly educational. There was then a pleasant walk through the jungle to see a few things:

  • a U.S. tank destroyed by a mine, left exactly in the spot it was destroyed.

  • a sniper hole that both Catherine and I had to try out, despite the fact that our guide kept referring to the fact that North Americans have "big asses". That's why the "tunnel rats" the Americans sent in to Cu Chi were Mexicans, you see. Their asses are much smaller.

sniper mat.  very dangerous.

sniper mat. very dangerous.

  • a tiger trap, which our guide informed us we were also welcome to try out. No one did, however.

  • some recreations of guerilla life, featuring mannequins. Some of them were even automated, sawing bombs in half and sharpening bamboo.

The tunnels themselves were the highlight of the day, if you can say that about the experience. As far as I knew beforehand, the tunnels at Cu Chi are a 100m length of recreated tunnel. I think the demensions claimed to something like 1m high by 0.8m wide. However, those tunnels were too busy and our guide claimed he could take us to a "real" tunnel. I never read anywhere that there were real tunnels still available, so it was probably part of the showmanship.

Nonetheless, the tunnels were quite an experience. Not high enough to stand up in no matter how far you bent over, and with very little elbow room, one has to do a sort of duck waddle down the pitch black tunnels, aiming for the next little orange light that tells you which direction to go without casting any light. It's crushingly hot and humid. Really, the only way to survive is to NOT comtemplate the fact that you're 4 or 5 metres underground and descending. I still managed to grab a couple pictures.

In the tunnels.

In the tunnels.

Beer and excellent pizza followed and it was a most righteous day.

© Matthew Audley, 2005
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The trip
Leaving for bangkok on Sept. 12. Where we go from there is anyone's guess. Hoping to see Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Be back in six months or so if everything goes well. There really isn't much of a route planned - we'll see what happens.
Start of journey: Sep 12, 2005
Duration: 6 months
End of journey: Mar 19, 2006
Travelled countries: Thailand
Southeastern Asia
The Author
Matthew Audley is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 19 years.
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