What a day!
We were picked up at 7:30am and drove 1.5 hour to go visit the Cu Chi tunnels. Never discovered by American forces, these tunnels were an important Vietcong base during the war and stretch more than 200 km (125 mi). The underground network, dug by hand out of hard laterite with simple shovels and makeshift tools made up of parts from recycled American weapons, connected a command post, a makeshift hospital, a kitchen, shelters and weapons factories.
We plunged into history, very sad but also impressive for the ingenuity and industrious nature of the local people that built these tunnels that were very narrow and low so that only small frame Vietnamese fighters could fit through them. Ventilation was a simple piece of bamboo sticking out or even just a hole in the ground and entrances were hidden and camouflaged. Life in the tunnels was extremely difficult and diseases, especially malaria and intestinal infections were rampant. To find out more about the Cu Chi tunnels visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%E1%BB%A7_Chi_tunnels
We then set out for another 1.5 hour drive to Long Hao village, 25 km (15.5 mi) from the Cambodian border in the province of Tay Ninh and where the The Great Divine Temple, the largest Cao Dai temple in the world is located. Cao Dai is a religion fusing Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and Vietnamese native beliefs. This religion was founded in 1926 and counts more than 3 million worshippers.
The building is absolutely incredible, a mixture of Asian and French architecture dominated near the altar by the “All seeing Divine eye”, representing supreme knowledge and wisdom. Images of the Eye also line the sides and decorate the doors of the building. Colours are bright: yellow for Buddhism, red for Catholicism, blue for Confucianism, greens and pinks are also all around and used for the giant carvings of dragons and serpents. Normally, there are religious services every day at 6am, noon and 6pm that can be attended by all but exceptionally, because of the holidays coming up, the place was pretty much deserted and we could not observe the colourful priests and worshippers. We were a bit disappointed to miss this but hey, that is part of travelling!
Monks were guarding the place, making sure we did not step over the lines separating where priests can go versus the general public. This was one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen in the world and well worth the visit if you go to Vietnam.
To make this day even more special, we had lunch at a family restaurant run by a war hero officially recognized by the Vietnamese government and we met her. She was originally from Cambodia and was very involved helping the war effort by hiding ammunitions, cooking for the fighters, etc.
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