The Cao Dai religion is less than 100 years old and is a broad, inclusive faith that sprang from Buddhist origins to embrace Jesus, Mohammed, and other non-traditional, latter day saints such as Louis Pasteur, Martin Luther King, and Victor Hugo. Practitioners of Cao Daism are pacifists, pray four times daily, and follow a vegetarian diet for 10 days out of every month. Cao Daism is practiced by only a small percentage of Vietnamese people, mostly in the south, but you'll see temples scattered far and wide -- easily recognizable by the all seeing eye, which, oddly enough, looks something like the eye on the U.S. dollar. Often included with trips to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the temple at Tay Ninh is the spiritual center, the Cao Dai Vatican if you will, and the country's largest. Visitors are welcome at any of the four daily ceremonies, but all are asked to wear trousers covering the knee, remove their shoes before entering, and act politely, quietly observing the ceremony from the balcony area. The temple interior is colorful, with bright murals and carved pillars. Cao Dai supplicants wear either white suits of clothing or colorful robes, each color denoting what root of Cao Daism they practice: Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, or Taoist.
On the way from Saigon to the Cao Dai Temple you'll pass through the town of Trang Bang, site of the famous photo of 9-year-old Kim Phuc who was burned by napalm and whose story is told in the popular book The Girl in the Photo.
The road also passes Nui Ba Den, the Black Virgin Mountain, which is just 11km (6 3/4 miles) northeast of Tay Ninh (100km/62 miles from Saigon). The story goes that a young girl was forced to marry a wealthy mandarin, and rather than do so fell to her death from the peak. The mountain is dotted with small temples. Most tours just drive by, as your guide recounts a bit of the history. Ba Den also marks the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trial as the supply line descended from the north to reinforce the North Vietnamese guerillas, including the people of Cu Chi . Despite relentless fighting throughout the war, U.S. forces were never able to clear North Vietnamese from the area.
- © Frommer's 2013
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