The surroundings of Ho Chi Minh offer a great variety of activities that we can carry out to learn more about Vietnamese culture and history. Just a few hundred kilometres from the city, as we saw in previous articles, we find the territories of the Mekong Mekong delta, where the infinite landscapes of rice fields and lagoons will transport us to the most rural Vietnam. In this occasion we will move not to the southwest but to the north of Ho Chi Minh, to visit in the same day first a temple of the little known Caodaist religion and later to introduce us in a very important part of the Vietnamese history related to its more contemporary past: the Vietnam of the War initiated in 1955.

Cu chi tunnels

Itinerary summary

  1. Departure from Ho Chi Minh at 8.00h
  2. Arrival to Tay Ninh to attend Cao Dai prayers at 12.00h
  3. Transfer to Cu Chi and visit of Vietcong tunnels
  4. Return to Ho Chi Minh at the end of the visit first thing in the afternoon

Caodaism: the union makes the force

Cao Dai is a religion of the so-called syncretic. Syncretism is defined anthropologically as any doctrine (not necessarily religious) that tries to reconcile different beliefs under the same form of worship . Syncretism has occurred naturally throughout human history by simple cultural assimilation between different peoples or beliefs of the world. In the case of religion, syncretism has led to the appearance of new gods, cults and religions; it is the symbiosis between two different religious cults that has led to the birth of a totally new cult.

Religion of religions

Cao Dai is a religion practiced in Vietnam and founded in 1926 that actively seeks to integrate believers of any other type of religion by gathering and assimilating the best aspects of each. Cao Dai is based on the principle that all religions have the same divine origin although named differently by each of them – Allah, Yahweh, God…-, that each of these religions is also based on love and justice, and that each of them has its own method of expressing that love. According to caodaism, religious wars and killings in the name of each of the gods only make us forget the original message that any religion tries to transmit and that makes man focus on material objects and money.

The precepts of caodaism

Caodaism shares many aspects of Hinduism and Confucianism and considers man as a part of nature itself, neither more nor less important. In addition, Cao Dai also advocates several mandates focused on respect and understanding, among which the following stand out:

  • Respect for family, country, living beings and nature
  • Fight against evil and actively practice good
  • Educate children in respect and tolerance towards other people and towards nature
  • Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t be an adulterer and don’t sin by word
  • Eat vegetarian food 10 days a month as a sign of respect for animals and as a ritual of spiritual purification

Moreover, for the Caudaists to turn us into dust after death is but one more step in life and God’s way (whatever it may be) of integrating us once again into nature and the world, forming part of it forever.

Prayers in Caodaism

Prayers within this religion are practiced 4 times a day from 6 a.m. to 12 noon. As in many religions, it can be practiced at home or in the temple.

Visit to the Cao Dai (or Caodaist) temple of Tay Ninh

cao dai exterior

One of the most remarkable Cao Dai temples in Vietnam is found in the small town of Tay Ninh. Its importance lies in the fact that Tay Ninh is considered the “Holy See” of Caodaism and is therefore the neuralgic and vital centre of this doctrine. Inaugurated in 1955, the building is an architectural mix of Asian and European , which brings together construction styles typical of both Christianity (the presence of an altar) and Hinduism and Asian culture (animals typical of Asia, dragons …). Nature is an inherent part of decoration , through the stars on the ceiling, the globe that decorates the end of the room and the flowers at the foot of the columns and doors.

cao dai interior

12.00 p.m. Prayers

misa cao dai

Of all the tourists who come to Tay Ninh the vast majority of them (as proposed in this tour) arrive from Ho Chi Minh. The journey from the city is about two hours and therefore the 12.00 noon mass is the one that receives the most visitors . To access the temple we must take off our shoes and although photos can be taken of the building and the masses, it is strictly forbidden to speak during the ceremony. This lasts about 45 minutes and once finished we will move directly to Chu Chi, because in the area of Tay Ninh there is no interesting tourist attraction.

Cu Chi Tunnels


From Tay Ninh we can reach the Cu Chi tunnels in about an hour. This is one of the most interesting visits in Vietnam and the presence of tourists is always relevant. Built from 1945 during the French invasion of the country, the Cu Chi tunnel network was actively expanded by Vietnamese socialists during the second half of the Vietnam War. In that first French phase the tunnels travelled 48 kilometres which were extended to more than 250 kilometres in 1968 after the tunnels became the base of operations of the Vietcong..

Keys in the Vietnam War

tunnel cu chi

This network of tunnels was used for combat, as communication routes, protection of soldiers, storage of weapons and ammunition and as a hospital for guerrillas. The Cu Chi tunnel network was instrumental in the Viet Cong’s resistance to the coalition between US and South Vietnamese troops, which eventually forced the withdrawal of the former from the territory. The network of Cu Chi tunnels allowed the Vietcong to carry out a military and psychological war of attrition that consisted of quick and constant attacks and withdrawals. The US army, little experienced in fighting in the jungle and in confronting guerrillas who continuously ambushed them by surprise, was limited during much of the war but with special violence at the end of it, to the indiscriminate use of heavy artillery, chemical weapons and large-scale bombardments in cities and jungle areas where the presence of socialist guerrillas had been detected. Films such as The Metallic Jacket or Apocalypse Now describe very well the type of war waged.

Operation Tet: the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War

Cu Chi tunnels were key to the planning and launch of the so-called Operation Tet, coinciding with the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year on 30 January 1968. Before the Operation Tet the coalition supported by the USA had been recovering territory and the American intelligence services foresaw an easy and quick victory. For that reason, the surprise launch of Operation Tet, where the Vietcong captured more than 30 of the 52 provincial capitals and almost managed to enter the same U.S. embassy made it clear to the U.S. army that actually all the military effort and casualties so far had been in vain if the Vietcong could counterattack from any direction and almost anywhere in Vietnam. Although the tactical and military victory of Operation Tet was for the US and South Vietnam, due to the massive and large-scale use of tanks, helicopters, heavy artillery and the mobilization of a large number of infantry soldiers, the great media impact that the operation caused at an international level and especially among the US population (the US lost more than 14,000 men) meant the loss of the conflict by the collision between the US and South Vietnam due to media, political and propaganda pressures.  Operation Tet forced the U.S. to abandon the war in the media , which led South Vietnam to remain alone and finally lose the war in 1975 with the fall of Saigón.

Interactive visit to Cu Chi tunnels

weapons tunnels cu chi

The living conditions in the Cu Chi tunnels were very harsh: 100% of the soldiers had malaria and a high percentage of intestinal parasites and other diseases. Although the American soldiers knew of the existence of the tunnels, they never entered or explored them for fear of landslides, ignorance of their condition and scope, and fear of ambushes. When an entrance was discovered, they limited themselves to throwing a hand bomb inside it or tearing it down. The Cu Chi tunnels have been completely restored and adapted (extended even in height) for the comfortable visit of tourists. At the end of the visit you will be able to shoot with models of real rifles and machine guns used during the War.