Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Temples and Tunnels

The colourful Cao Dai Temple
We were up early for our free breakfast, which consisted of eggs, bread, jam, banana and coffee, before boarding our bus. It took almost an hour to do the rounds and collect everyone around town, but that’s usually the case with these tours. Our tour guide turned out to have been a translator for the Americans during the war and, as interesting as he was, he spent more time philosophising about life, mainly dwelling on how hard it is and how he only had ten years left if he was lucky. It was a little bit full on but everyone tried to listen attentively, and besides he had a captive audience as we had a three hour bus ride and nowhere else to be. 

Cao Dai Worshipers
We arrived just before the 12 o’clock prayers at the colourful Cao Ðài See Temple, and we observed with interest as the congregation all gathered and worshipped the all-seeing left eye with interesting ancient and yet modern music and some form of group meditation. It’s a fairly recent religion, as far as religions go, and at its essence it believes in all religions, and preaches that Moses and Jesus were the first and second revelations and this religion is the third… 

After the ceremony, we were boarded back onto the bus and travelled about half an hour before we made a lunch stop. Unfortunately, lunch was the typical tour rubbish meaning that we were dropped somewhere where the only place to eat that was a way overpriced restaurant that was poor quality, and who no doubt gave the commission a fat commission, but as there were no other options we had to deal with it. 

Now you see him...
...now you don't!
An hour after forcing down some greasy noodles we were at the famous Củ Chi tunnels. Our tour began with a 20 minute video showing hthe Vietnamese fought during the war – which had some not-so-subtle anti-American undertones! The group then walked into the ‘jungle’ where we were shown the traditional entrance to the tunnels. We watched in amazement as one guy vanished quickly down the tiny hole covering his head with a wooden lid that blended perfectly with the jungle floor. A few in the group had a turn fitting down the hole before we were shown some gruesome traps that were set using simple weapons like bamboo, it is amazing how many different ways bamboo can be used actually. 

Into the tunnels
A few of the Americans in our group had chosen to spend the extra cash to experience the joys of firing some of the weapons available, so the rest of us waited while they enjoyed themselves, and then it was finally onto the tunnels....

To state it simply - they were small!! It was a tight squeeze and only a few made it all the way to the end, with one of the girls having to be coaxed out by the guide who usually doesn’t go down into them as he had done it enough times in during the war. It was a muggy, cramped experience and really bought home how hard it must’ve been for the soldiers (with all their weapons and clothing) to navigate these tunnels for so many years, it would’ve been a hard life for sure.

About half-way through...
Once everyone had made it out we again boarded the bus for the hour and a half ride back to town, where we jumped out as soon as we recognised where we were so as to not spend another hour during the circuits while everyone was dropped at their respective hotels. We’d fluked jumping out near the café that we’d eaten at the night before and since it had been excellent food and since we didn’t feel like hunting down somewhere new to eat, we sat down to another fantastic meal, washed down with a couple more Saigon beers. Afterwards we took a walk around the main part of town to see the city at night. However, we still had most of our trip through Vietnam to plan, so we soon headed back to our comfy room to make use of the Wifi and try to organise ourselves just a little bit for the next couple of weeks.

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