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Vietnam 2008 -- Tay Ninh Cao Dai

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All of the hotels catering to tourists in Vietnam are wired in with the various tour companies, so it's easy to book a day trip or longer from your hotel. One of the places I wanted to see while we were in Saigon was the Cao Dai temple -- the "Holy See" of the completely-made-up in 1926 Cao Dai religion -- in Tay Ninh, not only because I enjoy seeing the HQs of religious cults, but also because I'd ridden convoys from Long Binh to Tay Ninh back in 1968 and I wanted to see the changes.

The road between Saigon and Tay Ninh was, of course, unrecognizable after 40 years. We ran convoys over that road back in the day, and back then it was a nothing but a lot of open space with rice paddies and rubber trees on either side of the road, the vastness broken only by an occasional small village. Now it is like every other major road in the Saigon area, almost solidly packed on both sides by small businesses, repair shops, etc.

I also wanted to see the site of the 25 August 1968 ambush on our 48th Trans Group convoy that left a number of our drivers dead, including truck driver and posthumous Medal of Honor winner William Seay At one time I knew the exact location of that ambush, having been over that road myself both before and after Aug 25, but the whole countryside was literally unrecognizable. I think I got it within a half a mile or so, but there's no way to pin it down without doing a lot of ground-pounding triangulation, and even then there's no guarantee that you could find it.

Black Virgin Mountain -- Nui Ba Den in Vietnamese -- is still there, standing watch over the town -- now city -- of Tay Ninh, but that was pretty much all that I saw that was familiar.

Back in 1968 we were vaguely aware that there was some kind of religiously-significant establishment in Tay Ninh, but nobody knew -- or cared -- what it was. It was off the beaten path as far as truck convoys were concerned. I think I had heard the phrase Cao Dai, but it hadn't meant anything to me.

Now the whole place is a huge tourist destination. And they do put on a pretty good show. We witnessed one of their multiple daily "prayer" sessions, and it was pretty elaborate. Plus the colorful displays in the architecture, the varied colors in the robes of the initiates and the sweep and majesty of it was all engaging. It was kind of a cross between the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and an indoor Christmas parade…

I kind of wondered why the adherents of this cult would want a bunch of foreigners stomping around their holy site (we did have to take our shoes off, but still...) and disrupting their prayer services, until it dawned on me -- in a duh! moment -- that they are making big bucks off the tourists, not only with the price of admission but also, as pretty much anywhere else in the world, the souvenir sales.

But as I say, it was interesting and entertaining, and pretty much worth the price of admission, even if we did have to remove our shoes.

After the morning spent at Tay Ninh, we retraced our journey halfway back to Saigon and "Cong World" -- aka the Tunnels of Cu Chi.