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
Tay Ninh town, the capital of Tay Ninh province, serves as the headquarters of one of Vietnam's most interesting indigenous religions, Cao Daism. The Cao Dai Great Temple at the sect's Holy See is one of the most striking structures in all of Asia. Built between 1933 and 1955, the temple is a rococo extravaganza combining the conflicting architectural idiosyncrasies of a French church, a Chinese pagoda. Hong Kong's Tiger Balm Garden and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, Tay Ninh province, northwest of HCMC' is bordered by Cambodia on three sides. The area's dominant geographic feature is Nui Ba Den (Black Lady Mountain), which towers above the surrounding plains. Tay Ninh province's eastern border is formed by the Saigon River. The Vam Co River flows (rum Cambodia through the western part of the province. Because of the once-vaunted political and military power of the Cao Dai, this region was the scene of prolonged and heavy fight ing during the Franco-Viet Minh War. Tay Ninh province served as a major terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the America'. War, and in 1969 the VC captured Tay Ninh town and held it for several days. During the period of tension between Cambodia and Vietnam in the late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge launched a number of cross-border raids into Tay Ninh province and committed atrocities against civilians Several cemeteries around Tay Ninh are stark reminders of these events.
Tay Ninh Tourist (210B 030/4) is located in the Hoa Binh Hotel (opposite). Tay Ninh's post office (Đ 30/4) is down the street, but it does not offer internet services.
The Cao Dai Holy See, founded in 1926, is 4km cast of Tay Ninh, in the village of Long Hoa. The complex houses the Cao Dai Great Temple (Thanh That Cao Dai), administrative offices, residences for officials and adepts, and a hospital of traditional Vietnamese herbal medicine, which attracts people from all over the south for its treatments. After reunification the government 'borrowed' parts of the complex for its own use (and perhaps to keep an eye on the sect). Prayers are conducted (our times daily in the Great Temple (suspended during Tet). It's worth visiting during prayer sessions - the one at noon is most popular with tour groups from HCMC - but don't disturb the worshippers. Only a few hundred priests participate in weekday prayers, but during festivals several thousand priests, dressed in special white garments, may attend. The Cao Dai clergy has no objection to your photographing temple objects, hut you cannot photograph people without their permission, which is seldom granted. However, you can photograph the prayer sessions from the upstairs balcony, an apparent concession to the troops of tourists who come here every day. It's important that guests wear modest and respectful attire inside the temple, which means no shorts or sleeveless T-shirts, although sandals are OK since you have to take them off anyway before you enter. Set above the front portico of the Great Temple is the divine eye. Americans often comment that it looks as if it were copied from the back ol a US$1 bill. Lay women enter the Great Temple through a door at the base of the tower on the left. Once inside they walk around the outside of the colnnnaded hall ill a clockwise direction. Men enter on the right and walks around the hall in an anticlockwise direction. Shoes and hats must be removed upon enter ing the building. The area in the centre of the sanctuary is reserved for Cao Dai priests. A mural in the front entry hall depicts the three signatories of the 'Third Alliance Between God and Man': the Chinese states man and revolutionary leader Dr Sun Yatsen (1866-1925) holds an ink stone; while the Vietnamese poet Nguyen Binh Khiem (1492 1587) and French poet and author Victor Hugo (1802-85) write 'God and Humanity" and "Love and Justice' in Chinese and French (Nguyen Binh Khiem writes with a brush; Victor Hugo uses a quill pen). Nearby signs in English, French and German each give a slightly different version of the fundamentals of Cao Daism. The Great Temple is built over nine levels, representing the nine steps to heaven, with each level marked by a pair of columns. At the far end of the sanctuary, eight plaster columns entwined with multicoloured dragons support a dome representing the heavens - as does the rest of the ceiling. Under the dome is a giant star-speckled blue globe with the 'divine eye' on it. The largest of the seven chairs in front of the globe is reserved for the Cao Dai pope. a position that has remained unfilled since 1933. The next three chairs are for the three men responsible for the religion's law hook.'.. The remaining chairs are for the leaders of the three branches of Cao Daism, represented by the colours yellow, blue and red. On both sides of the area between the columns are two pulpits similar in design to the minbar in mosques. During festivals the pulpits are used by officials to address the as-sembled worshippers. The upstairs balconies are used if the crowd overflows. Up near the altar are barely discernible por-traits of six figures important to Cao Daism: Sakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism), Ly Thai Bach (Li Taibai, a fairy from Chinese mythology), Khuong Tu Nha (Jiang Taigong, a Chinese saint), Laozi (the founder of Taoism), Quan Cong (Guan-gong, Chinese God of War) and Quan Am (Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy).
Several kilometres south of the Cao Dai Holy See complex is Long Hoa Market (5am-6pm). This large market sells meat, food sta- ples, clothing and pretty much everything else you would expect to find in a rural marketplace. Before reunification the Cao Dai .sect had the right to collect taxes from the merchants here.
Sleeping & Eating
Anh Dao Hotel (Tell: 827 306; 146 Đ 30/4;r 180,000-270,00d). About 500m west of Hoa Binh Hotel, this place is old and rather nondescript, though the rates here also include a decent breakfast. Hoa Binh Hotel (Tell: 821315; fax 822 345; 210 Đ 30 Thang 4; r 200,000-350,000; This is the main place in town, 5km from the Cao Dai Great Temple, where travellers stay if they do spend the night. It's a classic Russian-style concrete slab; rates include breakfast. Both hotels have in-house restaurants, but there's cheaper and better Vietnamese food right next door to the Hoa Binh Hotel at Thanh Thuy (tell: 827 606; Đ 30 Thang 40; mains 35,000-60,000d). You won't find prices on the menu, but the-cost is reasonable and portions are large. If you're heading to Tay Ninh with your own wheels, one of the better restaurants to look for along Hwy 22 is Kieu (Tell:850 357; 9/32 Hwy 22; mains 10,000-16.000d), around 5km from Cao Dai Temple towards HCMC. The food is cheap and good, and the brick kilns out the back arc interesting to poke around in after lunch.
Getting There & Away
Tay Ninh is on Hwy 22 (Quoc lo 22), 96km from HCMC. (The road passes through Trang Bang, the place where the famous photograph of a severely burnt young girl, screaming and running, was taken by a journalist during a US napalm attack) There arc several Cao Dai temples along Hwy 22, including one (which was under construction in 1975) that was heavily damaged by the VC.
There are buses from HCMC to Tay Ninh that leave from the Tay Ninh bus station (Ben Xe Tay Ninh) in Tan Binh district and Mien Tay bus station in An Lac.
As there's no public transportation to Cu Chi from Tay Ninh, you'll have to hire a motorbike in Tay Ninh. Look for XE OM drivers in tront of the hotels. It will probably cost you around US$6 for a return trip.
An easy way to get to Tay Ninh is by chartered taxi, perhaps on a day trip that includes a stop in Cu Chi. An all day return trip from HCMC to both .should costabout US$45