I WROTE ON ANOTHER PAGE HERE THAT HO CHI MINH CITY CAN BE A PRETTY ROUGH PLACE AT TIMES, AND THAT ON MY FIRST TRIP TO THE SOCIALIST REPUBLIC I WAS SO CULTURE-SHOCKED I FLED TO THAILAND AFTER ONLY FOUR DAYS. This is one insane place, but when you get out into the countryside, things start to mellow out somewhat. If you do get out into the country, particularly the land outside of Saigon, you might start to notice the strange and colorful temples which frequently rise from the rice fields. This will be your first glimpse of what I consider one of the strangest religions in the world -- and a religion only found in Vietnam. Boasting six to ten million adherents, the Cao Dai religion was founded in 1925 by spiritualist Ngo Van Chieu. It is like a mix of a whole bunch of disparate religions, rolled into one -- the head of the church is called a Pope, but the dogma is Buddhist and Confucian. French writer Victor Hugo is revered as one of Cao Dai's prophets. Imagine if you told Victor one day people in Asia would be worshipping him as a prophet -- it's so bizarre! Anyway, if you are in Vietnam you might as well check out the Cao Dai scene, because it definitely is interesting. And the headquarters of the religion -- the place you will find the "Pope" -- is in Tay Ninh Province.
I have got to salute ThingsAsian.Com when they said on their website: "Saigon may well be an alluring city. But if you need a break -- physically, mentally and spiritually -- from this city's frenetic pace during your stay, there are plenty of day trip options out of the city to choose from. Saigon in fact doubles up as great stepping-stone in the south of Vietnam. (ed's note: I would add that Vietnam in fact doubles as a great stepping-stone in the exploration of south-east Asia, and for that reason alone, I would consider buying a house there.)
"Many of the traveller's cafes and tour operators in the centre of town can organize these for you, as you're probably smart enough to pass on the public transport. One such excursion and a real highlight for many travellers, is the Cao Dai Cathedral, or Great Temple of the Holy See. As its only 96km out from Saigon - in Tay Ninh District - you can easily make the trip in one day.
"The journey out to the cathedral, heading northwest out of Saigon on Highway One, is lined with pancake flat paddy fields and farmland. The present day tranquillity belies the ferocious fighting experienced here during wars of previous decades. Tay Ninh District is virtually encompassed by the foreboding lands of Cambodia, and the imposing Nui Ba Den (Black Lady Mountain) holds its lofty head high above. But it is the Cao Dai Cathedral, which surely merits first prize for the most prolific feature here.
"Cao Dai actually means "palace or high tower", which is suitably apt. Built in 1927, the massive nine-story Cao Dai Temple is part cathedral and part pagoda. It is also a rude assault on your eyeballs. No signposts are required for this one, just a massive gateway signaling your arrival. Sunglasses may be obligatory not for the brilliant mid-day light but also the outrageous mixtures of colours, icons and detail that greet you -- and that's before you have even stepped inside the temple. Fluorescent shades of pinks and yellows scream out from its exteriors and rococo walls and mosaic-mirrored tiles glint in the sun. A giant Divine Eye beams down sandwiched between two grand square towers..."
d i v i n e + e y e
AHHH YES, YOU HAVE TO HAND IT TO THAT DIVINE EYE. It sees Everything. And it is Everywhere inside the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh just out of Ho Chi Minh City. As Off the Rails point out: "Cao Daism was founded in southern Viet Nam in 1926 and claims six million adherents. Cao Dai temples dot the Mekong Delta, but the faith's world headquarters is the Holy See compound which lies just outside the Vietnamese city of Tay Ninh, about two hours northwest of Saigon, near the Cambodian border.
"Like the Cao Dai religion, the Great Divine Temple, centerpiece of the Holy See compound, is a vibrant and mesmerizing mix of different traditions and theologies. The immensity of the temple combined with the riotous colours and statuary creates an effect that is at once grand and gaudy. The enormous temple and its accoutrements will inspire thoughts of the Supreme Being, but also of Walt Disney.
"A full appreciation of the temple requires some knowledge of the Cao Dai religion. While many other religions are insular, Caodaism trumpets its foundations in other faiths. Caodaists describe their religion as the unification of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism: These faiths are represented in Cao Dai theology through such concepts as reincarnation, vegetarianism and yin and yang and also on the Cao Dai banner - a tri-colour with one colour for each religion."
The last time I visited the Cao Dai Complex, in summer 1995, the sun was shining brilliant. I took photos in the stunning street and heat outside the yellow temple. I took in the noon services. On the trip there the bus helped de-husk the local Vietnamese rice crop, which farmers had helpfully left strewn across the road. That is agriculture Vietnamese style. I was feeling homesick but the music at the Cao Dai Noon Service was so sublime, it transported me to another dimension.
ミ ッ ク ス し て い る + 宗 教
THIS IS FOR THE JAPANESE FOLKS INTERESTED IN FLOODING IN TO THE LAND OF VIETNAM, THE NEW JEWEL OF ASIA:
Translated intohe name of the province is Tay Ninh. The population is 900,00Mounre."
ANOTHER ATTRACTION NEAR TAY NINH: "Ba Den山＝B標高986ｍ。"
HISTORY: "カオダイ（CAO DAI）教寺演@は1933〜1955年に建てられました。"
c l o s e r + t o + t h e + c i t y
IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE TIME OR PATIENCE FOR A LONG BUS RIDE OUT TO TAY NINH, THERE IS A SMALLER CAO DAI COMPLEX RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF HO CHI MINH CITY. As Vanishing Saigon has remarked, not many foreigners know that this place even exists. I didn't know it existed, until I stumbled right past it, on the way home from my epic walk to Cholon in mid 2010. Interestingly, it is right next to a mosque. It is on a busy street in District 5. Since this place is not so well known, you can basically have the complex to yourselves if you arrive here.
I could be mistaken, but I think I can see jade dragons howling from the rooves. All those round windows look like eyes. Sunbursts and swastikas.
Dragon encrusted columns...
The words above the altar read "Miếu Ngũ Hành". I am not sure what it means, or even if this little temple is connected with the big Cao Dai complex just around the corner. Perhaps it means "Marble Temple". There seem to be a lot of Marble Temples in Vietnam. The words beneath the altar read: "Cúng Nhang Dầu".
Adjoining the altar of the Marble Temple, down the same little side street, is this colorful structure. It reminds me somewhat of a temple I photographed in Bangkok in 2002, they both have the same gold cone on the top.