|Saigon City||Tay Ninh||Cu Chi tunnels|
Saigon, officially re-named Ho Chi Minh City is a thriving metropolis with an unavoidable western flavor or influence offering quite a different experience than Hanoi. While Hanoi is a smaller city where you can savor more traditions and the obvious traces of the red-tape which can be found in any capital city, Saigon is in continuous transition as it takes in the best and worst sides of "doi moi" movements (renovation of the country) based on the market economy rules. This is the commercial hub of Vietnam, the industrial muscle of the nation. This is the rendezvous of business people and business movers.
Saigon has seen itself grow at a rapid pace and its skyline is constantly changing as multinational interests seem to be "fighting for a seat on a plane into the country". Doi Moi and the lifting of the crippling embargo have opened the floodgates to an unstoppable torrent of foreign capital. Now everyone wants to be friends, after all, there is a lot of money to be made. After twenty years of forced sedation, Vietnam is now stirring but Saigon is wide awake.
For many of the inhabitants of Ho chi Minh City, nothing has changed. The streets still swarm with life. People buy and sell things, bargain, cook, wash, sleep, eat, drink and live on its streets. Despite the large amount of money being thrown around, the filter effect is yet to manifest itself and thousands of people have to survive on virtually nothing while the people at the top of the filter enjoy enormous profits. Cyclo drivers, often unable to do other work due to government policy, earn next to nothing and are still feel the pressure of being on the losing side. As they bed down for the night on their cyclo, across the street from the La Lai Hotel, wealthy Vietnamese arrive in their Mercedes Benz for a night of indulgence.
In summary, Saigon faces all that is good and all that is bad brought on by the new movements of Vietnam. It obviously promises lots of interesting things to discover, while it remains an exciting centre for shopping and hanging around as it moves to regain its once famous name; "the Pearl of the Far Orient".
Tay Ninh is situated 95 km north-west of Ho Chi Minh City and is the original home of the Cao Dai religious sect. It is from here that Cao Daism has spread its influence onto surrounding provinces. In the years gone by, this sect had its own army and they were ruthlessly oppressed by the Diem regime. The Cao Dais did not support the Viet Cong and as a result, following Reunification, they were punished for this intransigence by the confiscation of their lands and temples which were not returned to them until 1985.
The central temple, the Cao Dai Temple, is located 4 km from Tay Ninh in the village of Long Hoa. Surrounded by a series of schools and administrative buildings, the temple contains an awesome array of colors and symbols unlike anything else you will see in Vietnam. Built entirely with donations from its parishioners, the temple is built has nine levels and the inside is lined with a series of pillars with ornate colored dragons curling upwards around the pillars. The ceiling of the temple is painted sky blue and adorned with white fluffy clouds as they represent the heavens or sky above. In fact, almost everything in the temple has some symbolic value. At the far end of the great hallway is a large brightly colored globe upon which is a large eye. This is the divine "all seeing eye" believed to represent the creator of the universe and similar eyes can be seen lining both sides of the building within its lattice windows. The temple always looks like it has just had a fresh coat of paint and is an extremely great place to take pictures.
Masses are held at 6 am, midday, 6 PM and midnight. It is worth timing your visit to the temple for one of these ceremonies as they are quite spectacular. Men enter from and pray on the right side of the temple whereas women enter from and pray on the left side. During festivals, all of the worshipers are dressed from head to toe in white to add a bit of formality to the scene. The three colors you will see are red, yellow and blue which represent Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism respectively. If a funeral is in progress, an icon is placed on the central altar for each of the deceased. Although you are not allowed in the actual area of worship during prayer, you are allowed in the foyer from where you can take some great photos of the mass. The Cao Dai do not mind having their photo taken, though it is always polite to ask first.
These tunnels are a symbol of Vietnam's continual fight against foreign incursions. The tunnel system covers close to 200 km including under what was once a US air base. The tunnels once spanned an area stretching from close to the Cambodian border to the city limits of Ho Chi Minh City. They are a symbol of Vietnamese ingenuity, loyalty, hard work and determination. They were originally constructed to fight against the French in the 1940s. Their purpose was to provide the peasant army with a means of communication between villages while remaining undetected. In 1960 the Viet Cong repaired and added to the tunnels to fight against the South Vietnamese and American forces. The Commander of the American forces in the region was of the opinion that the Viet Cong who were responsible for digging these tunnels were "human moles". Although the tunnels were mainly designed with a fighting role in mind they also contained a wide array of chambers including field hospitals, meeting rooms and even private offices and sleeping quarters for senior officers. To repel attacks and infiltration, the tunnels contained many elaborate booby traps including concealed pits with bamboo spikes at the base, along with mines and crossbows which would be triggered by trip wires. When you visit the tunnels, your guide will point out some of these traps. You should look back once you are by them and try to decide how many of those you would have triggered or located by yourself! Some of the tunnels even went under water, with a primitive S-Bend effect where the tunnel would open just under the surface of a river. This allowed the Viet Cong to leave the tunnels virtually undetected.
Before entering the actual Cu Chi tunnels, you will see a screening of a film with some amazing footage about the tunnels . You will then be guided around the tunnels by an English speaking guide. You will only visit some of the tunnels which have been preserved in a state not dissimilar to how they were during the war including those areas used as a field hospital, meeting room and other official quarters. It is also possible to fire an AK - 47 for $1 US per bullet. The firing range closes at 4.30 PM, while the tunnels close at 5 PM.
|SAIGON & MEKONG DELTA page 1|