Thursday, February 09, 2012

Day 2: Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnel Tour

Note: This is just a continuation of this post. More to come when I get the time again. #superlongoverdue

On our second day, the Cheese and I were supposed to visit Ben Thanh market at around 7am but seeing that he (and Kimi) were still fast asleep, I ended up going out by myself. I didn't go to Ben Thanh, I just walked around Pham Ngu Lao area, taking in the sights, observing the people and various activities on a crisp early morn. While walking past the now familiar street, I met an old lady selling various thingamajigs, from mini flashlights and batteries to scrunchies. I bought a scrunchy to tidy up my hair and parted with 5000VnD. I felt robbed but then thought again, sige na nga, balato ko na sa'yo yun inang!

Morning scenes in Pham Ngu Lao district

I bought a Banh Mi and iced coffee from the corner before coming back to the hotel only to find that the two were still sleeping! Woke them up because the van that will take us to Cu Chi and Cao Dai will be arriving shortly. After everyone had a shower, we traipsed down to the basement to have our breakfast. In HCMC, mapupurga ka na lang sa baguette because that's what they always serve (it's on the house yo!): toast baguette, butter and strawberry jam with coffee or pineapple juice.

At around 8.30 the guide picked us up from the hotel. After picking up other tourists who also signed up for the tour (Singaporean friends, Russian and Irish couples) we were on our way to Cao Dai. But first, a pit stop at this craft store where all the products are made by handicapped people. It was amazing seeing all the end products being sold at the nearby shop, you'd hardly believe they were the brilliant works of war victims/handicapped persons.

How it's done and the end products

Our van arrived at Cao Dai Temple at almost noon just in time for the midday mass being held everyday. All tourists are encouraged to witness this. The temple was built as an attempt to create a perfect synthesis of world religions - a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and even Catholicism. The huge temple sits on a vast compound where everything seems to be in order. Shoes are not allowed inside the temple so is talking when the mass starts.

Cao Dai Temple from the outside, a priest and rituals at noon.

After an hour, we left Cao Dai to proceed to Cu Chi tunnels but first we stopped on an eatery (probably associated with the tour organizers) for a late lunch. The food wasn't that bad despite its prices that were pretty steep for our budget.

Stopover for lunch

I remember falling in and out of sleep on our way to Cu Chi district cos apparently it took us about an hour to get there. We paid VND 80,000 for the entrance (not included with the tour package) which is less than $5 when converted. It was already late in the afternoon but there were still many tour groups being heralded inside.

There are many ways to die and they are all gruesome. Some examples of man-made traps during the war.

Cu Chi Tunnels are quite famous for its network of underground tunnels where the Viet Cong guerillas hid during the Vietnam war. Everything looked so simple: a dugout, a mound with an opening and death baits/traps. It was ridiculously simple yet so brilliant. The Vietnamese had all the advantage because of their small physical built - they were able to lower themselves inside a teeny tiny mound (that doubles as a hiding base) and no Americans can follow suit. However, it was never easy during the war. Sometimes they have to stay underground for many days after heavy bombing which exposes them to natural dangers such as pests, snakes, mosquitoes and hunger from staying too long without any food supply.

After a local guide demonstrated to us how they go underground, they called for volunteers to try it out. The Russian guy, despite his huge frame, managed to fit himself though he had a hard time coming out. Then JC also tried it. Of course it was too easy for him since he has a small frame!

JC and Kimi surfacing from an underground tunnel, you don't wanna get hit with that and me, inside the tunnel.

Then we tried out some parts of the tunnel where our Caucasian brothers and sisters obviously were having a hard time because 1) they have hugely built frames and 2) there's barely air underground, meaning it was so HOT inside not to mention the lack of air is pretty suffocating too. I'm glad I come from a tropical country hee. But we were all equal when it came to "crawling".

After that, we were ushered into a sort of mess hall style dugout where they showed a short video of how the Vietnamese did it to survive in the jungle and underground tunnels. Then we had a small snack of boiled cassava and tea courtesy of Cu Chi tunnels management which was pretty cool!

Pho Bo for dinner, local cigarette (which has a meaning to us Pinoys) and Kimi and I posing in the middle of Pham Ngu Lao

After a long day on the outskirts of HCMC, I'm glad to come home to a steaming hot bowl of Phở bò and iced coffeeAfter having dinner, the three of us got down to the business of scouring the city for some genuine TnF gears. At least that's what we learned before coming here: Vietnam is a haven for everything North Face. However,  like Manila, there are also (sickeningly) too many replicas and trying hard imitations found in Vietnam. It's up to the buyer and their skills of scoring a genuine one when they see one. I'd like to believe that Kimi and I scored pretty decent TnF jackets but its authenticity is actually debatable. But as one of my outdoor friends would say, it doesn't matter if it's authentic or not as long as the quality is excellent. My waterproof TnF jacket passed its test when I wore it during last year's Mt. Pulag climb via Tawangan trail.

After going around Pham Ngu Lao district twice, ooh-ing and aah-ing to various sights we may or may not have seen twice, we returned to our hotel - Nguyen Khang - to pack our things. Our midnight bus awaits to take us to our next destination: Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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