Around Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels - Tay Ninh - Nui Ba Den - One Pillar Pagoda - Can Gio - Buu Long Mountain -Tri An Falls - Vung Tau - Long Hai - Loc An Beach - Ho Tram Beach - Ho Coc Beach - Binh Chau Hot Springs - Cat Tien National Park - Con Dao Islands


IDD Code: (+84) 66
Fifteen kilometres northeast of Tay Ninh, Nui Ba Den (Black lady Mountain; admission adult/thild 8000/4000d) rises 850m above the rice paddies, corn, cassava (manioc) and rubber plantations of the surrounding countryside. Over the centuries Nui Ha Den has served as a shrine for various peoples of the area, including the Khmer, Chams, Vietnamese and Chinese, and there are several interesting cave temples on the mountain. The summits of Nui Ba Den are much cooler than the rest of Tay Ninh province, most of which is only a few dozen metres above sea level. Nui Ba Den was used as a staging area by both the Viet Minh and the VC, and was the scene of fierce fighting during the French and American Wars. At one time there was a US Army firebase and relay station at the summit, which was later, ironically, defoliated and heavily bombed by US aircraft. The name Black Lady Mountain is derived from the legend of Huong, a young woman who married her true love despite the advances of a wealthy Mandarin. While her husband was away doing military service, she would visit a magical statue of Buddha at the mountain's summit. One day Huong was attacked by kidnappers but, preferring death to dishonour, she threw herself off a cliff. She then reappeared in the visions of a monk who lived on the mountain, and he told her story. The hike from the base of the mountain to the main temple complex and back takes about 11/2 hours. Although steep in parts, it's not a difficult walk - plenty of old people in sandals make the journey to worship at the temple. Around the temple complex a few stands sell snacks and drinks. If you'd like more exercise, a walk to the summit and back lakes about six hours. The fastest, easiest way is via the chair lift (one way/return adult 30,000/50,000d, child 5,000/25,000d) that shuttles the pilgrims up and down the hill.You can also opt to slide down the hill on the mountain's toboggan run. At the base of the mountain there are lakes and manicured gardens and (as with many such sacred sites in Asia) a mix of religion and tacky amusement park - style attraction: paddle boats for hire, ceramic beaver rubbish bins, and a choo - choo tram car (tickets 2000d) to save the weary a bit of walking. Very few foreign tourists visit the mountain, but it's a popular place for Vietnamese people. Because of the crowds, visiting on Sunday or during a holiday or festival is a bad idea. Nui Ba Den appears prominently in a re cent memoir published by a former American soldier in Black Virgin Mountain, A Return to Vietnam by Larry Heinemann.
Sleeping & Eating
If you get stuck having to overnight at Nui Ba Den. grotty A-frame bungalows and camping options are available at Nha Nghi Thuy Dong (Tell: 624 204; bungalows 140,000d); A-frame platform tents 75,000d). Bungalows are situated about 500m inside the main entrance gate, on the side of the lake. Each bungalow has a basic squat toilet, and showers are outside. Tent accommodations have shared toilets and cold showers available for 500d. Alternatively, you can shower free of charge at the nearby Trung Pagoda, where the monks will prepare you traditional vegetarian meals with a day's advance notice (the food is free, but a contribution is suggested).
Thuy Dong Restaurant (mains 12,000-25,000d) is attached to the bungalow complex and has nice views of the lake. There are also a few nearby food stalls and kiosks selling cold drinks and souvenirs. Outside the main gate in the parking area, look for the stalls selling locally produced dried fruit and sweets made from coconuts and sugar cane.
Getting There & Away
There is no public transport to Nui Ba Den. If you're not travelling with your own wheels, the easiest way to reach the site is to take a xe om from Tay Ninh for around 50,000d.
A fascinating fusion of East and West, Cao Daism (Do; Dao Tarn Ky Pho Do) is a syncretic religion born in 20th-century Vietnam that contains elements of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, native Vietnamese spiritualism, Christianity and Island - as well as a dash of secular enlightenment thrown in for good measure. The term Cao Dai (moaning high tower or palace) is a euphemism for God. There are an estimated two to three millon followers of Cao Daism worldwide.
Cao Daism was founded by the mystic Ngo Minh Chieu (also known as Ngo Van Chieu; born 1878), a civil servant who once served as district chief of Phu Quoc Island. He was widely read in Eastern and Western religious works and became active in seances. In 1919 he began receiving revelations in which the tenets of Cao Dai were set forth. Cao Daism was officially founded as a religion in 1926, and over the next few decades attracted thousands of followers, with the Cao Dai running Tay Ninh province as a virtually independent feudal state. By 1956 the Cao Dai were a serious political force with a 25,000-strong army. Having refused to support the VC during the American War, the sect feared the worst after Reunification. And for good reason: all Cao Dai lands were confiscated by the new communist government and four members of the sect were executed in 1979. Only in 1985, when the Cao Dai had been thoroughly pacified, was the Holy See and some 400 temples returned to their control.
Much of Cao Dai doctrine is drawn from Mahayana Buddhism, mixed with Taoist and Confucian elements (Vietnam's Triple Religion'). Cao Dai ethics are based on the Buddhist ideal of 'the good person' but incorporate traditional Vietnamese beliefs as well. The ultimate goal of the Cao Dai disciple is to escape the cycle of reincarnation. This can only be achieved by refraining from killing, lying, luxurious living, sensuality and stealing, among other things. The main tenets of Cao Daism are the existence of the soul, the use of mediums to communicate with the spiritual world and belief in one god - though it also incorporates the duality of the Chinese Yin and Yang. In addition to seances, Cao Dai practices include priestly celibacy, vegetarianism and meditative self cultivation. According to Cao Daism. history is divided into three major periods of divine revelation. During the first period God's truth was revealed to humanity through Laotse (Laozi) and figures associated with Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The human agents of revelation during the second period were Buddha (Sakyamuni), Mohammed, Confucius. Jesus and Moses. The third and final revelation Is the product of the Third Alliance Between God and Man', which is where seances play a part. Disciples believe that Cao Daism avoids the failures of the first two periods because spirits of the dead guide the living. Among the contacted spirits who lived as Westerners are Joan of Arc, William Shakespeare, Vladimir llyich Lenin and Victor Hugo, who was posthumously named the chief spirit of foreign missionary works owing to his frequent appearance. All Cao Dai temples observe four daily ceremonies, held at 6am, noon, 6pm and midnight. These rituals, during which dignitaries wear ceremonial dress, include offerings of incense, tea, alcohol, fruit and flowers. All Cao Dai altars have the 'divine eye' above them, which became the religion's official symbol after Ngo Mjnh Chieu saw it in a vision. If all this sounds like just what you've been waiting for, you can always Join up.