VIETNAM – Must do day trip: Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai Temple from Ho Chi Min City

Ho Chi Min City is a great city to stay several days but a day trip to the Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels is a must do too. The Cao Dai religion was new to me as I didn’t know about it prior to my two weeks road trip in Vietnam. I don’t want to say I know everything, but it was weird for me not knowing about Caodaism. It once again shows that travelling is a great way to learn about other cultures. The Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Min City are a place of heavy battles during the Vietnam Wars. Being there really gave me a good understanding of how severe these battles were. I recommend hiring a car with drive to efficiently take you around. Make sure to visit the Cao Dai Temple in the morning to join a ceremony at 12:00! Both the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels left a great impression in my mind. Enjoy reliving these memories with me!

What is Cao Dai religion

Cao Dai or Caodaism is a monotheistic religion just recently established in 1926 in Tay Ninh in Southern Vietnam. The Holy See / Cao Dai Temple is located in Tay Ninh and easily reached from Ho Chi Min City on a day trip. Cao Dai claims to be the third alliance between God and mankind. The first alliance being led by Moses and the second by Jesus Christ. The three main saints in Caodaism are Sun Yat Sen, Victor Hugo, and Nguyen Binh Khiem who’s mission is to guide humanity into the third alliance.

Cao Dai is the father of the universe and followers believe he has appeared various times guiding mankind. Caodaists however believe that he never appeared for all of mankind but only for specific groups and due to corruptness of both the messenger and common men it never worked out well. Cao Dai combines parts of various major religions including Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism into the last and final revelation. Other important figures include Muhammed, Moses, Lenin and even Shakespeare. The hierarchy is divided into four spirits: angels, saints, immortals and buddhas which each are divided into heavenly, human, and earthy. This gives a twelve-fold hierarchy.

Are you still with me? In short: Cai Dai sort of combines all religions into one. Its main symbol is the divine eye of which The One is a huge globe in front of the Cai Dai Temple. Now let’s have a look at the Cao Dai Temple and witness a ceremony.

 

The Cao Dai Temple

Ceremonies take place at the Cao Dai Temple at midnight, 6AM, midday and again at 6PM. It’s recommend arriving around 10AM to explore the Cao Dai Temple first and witness the ceremony at midday. It’s the biggest ceremony. Make sure to take of your shoes when entering the Cao Dai Temple and do not enter the central area. Visitors are only allowed to walk along the outer walls. The interior is decorated with lots of bright colors, sculptures, and divine eye’s. In the front is The One, the eye that sees all. Make your way up to the balcony in the back at about 11:30AM before all the busloads of tourist arrive. You’ll get the best view of the ceremony.

Witnessing a ceremony at the Cao Dai Temple is very interesting with music played, prayers said, and blessings made. You’ll see priests in yellow (Buddhism), blue (Taoism) and red (Confucianism) while the followers are all dressed in white. Some followers have a strange figure on top of their head which means they have recently lost a relative. Death plays an important role in Caodaism. The ceremony lasts about an hour and I do suggest watching it to the end and not like the tour groups leave in the middle. You’ll have enough time left to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels in the afternoon.

 

Cu Chi Tunnels day trip

The Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Min City are a large network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong used the tunnels for hiding, base of operations, supply chains and living quarters. This way they could resist the American forces as they didn’t know about this kind of warfare techniques. Life was very difficult in the tunnels as food was scarce, there were lots of (venomous) insects living underground and it was completely dark. Many Viet Cong soldiers were continuously ill with malaria and parasitic problems. It was a heavy price the Viet Cong paid by living underground to survive.

The Viet Cong frustrated the American forces by hiding in the tunnels. Therefore the Americans decided to carpet bomb the region and remove all the lush green rainforest. This exposed the tunnels and many collapsed. This took place close to the end of the war after which the North Vietnamese Viet Cong withdraw in the early 70’s. In 1975 South Vietnam was defeated and the war ended.

Today the tunnels are a tourist attraction. The lush green jungle is back so by visiting you’ll get a good understanding how it once was. There are manholes where you can go inside (see my daughter above), replica soldier traps are on display and parts of the tunnels are open to crawl through. There is a small exposition showcasing the tunnels, replica camps and several war relics are on display throughout the complex.

 

It was pouring rain when I visited so I walked through the area quite quick. If you want you can shoot M16, M60 or AK47 rifles at the shooting range. Due to the rain and mud I didn’t spend that much time at Cu Chi tunnels and decided to return to my hotel in Ho Chi Min City early.

I highly recommend visiting the Cu Chi tunnels and the Cao Dai temple if you’re in Ho Chi Min City. It’s a day trip that you shouldn’t skip. I personally learned a lot about Caodaism and I now understand better how the life in the tunnels was during the Vietnam War. A day trip from Ho Chi Min City that I will not quickly forget.

After a muddy visit to the Cu Chi tunnels I was happy to be back at my hotel for a spa treatment. I can recommend staying at Le Meridien Saigon or Hotel des Arts Saigon. Have a look at my other Ho Chi Min City stories including a food tour on a motorbike. The two weeks Vietnam itinerary is a must read if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam. If you want to fly cheap business class to South East Asia and visit the pyramids in Egypt then check out my tips to fly cheap in business class.

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Did you visit Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Cu Chi tunnels & Cao Dai Temple

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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