Friday, August 25, 2006

Cao Dai

If you spend any time on travel logs of people who have been to Vietnam as tourists you will find reference to the Cao Dai Temple. Cao Dai a combination of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Geniism, and Taoism.

I was told that during the war, neither the VC/NVA nor the South Vietnamese or Americans bothered Cao Dai to any great extent. To those of you who were not there, that may not seem significant but it was. They were located about 90KM north/east of Saigon right in the path of the infiltration of the Communist forces. Right next door to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. In other words, in the middle of the war.

You will find essentially the same pictures you see here on countless websites just as you see the Eiffel Tower on most all picture logs of Paris. There is a reason for that and if you go to Vietnam you need to visit Cao Dai to see why that is for yourself.

I was in and around Tay Ninh towards the end of my war year in Vietnam but not unexpectedly had no idea of the existence of this wondrous place. Just as well. At 20 I would not have known how to begin to appreciate it as I do now.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Most all who visit Saigon will as well visit the Cu Chi Tunnels located about 45 miles southeast of Saigon. Seventy-five miles of underground honeycomb tunnels that during the war were an underground city unto itself sheltering hundreds of VC fighters and in some cases their families.

Really an amazing feat of personal engineering. The predecessors to the Viet Cong, the Viet Minh who fought the French throughout the 1950’s, began digging the tunnels in 1948, mostly by hand sometimes no more than two meters a day.

Now as with so much else in Vietnam, Cu Chi Tunnels are a tourist destination where one can do as you see me doing, crawling, literately through sections of the tunnels and, if you wish, shoot an AK47 assault rifle for $1 a bullet. And, of course, buy all the requisite souvenirs including “authentic” GI Zippo lighters supposedly from the war but in reality, fresh off the production line in some Saigon back alley shop.