Saigon and its environs.

Step into the post office at Ho Chi Minh city ("Buu Dien") and you will see that Vietnam is a huge place. Well, it says so on the map.

Nearer to town though, there were a couple of things we wanted to see... First up was a trip to Tay Ninh province, which meant going back a bit of the way we came from and a bit more up north. We'd be going to the town of, well, Tay Ning, to the Cao Dai Holy See.

Around this time, another Holy See on the other side of the world was buzzing with excitement. Pope Benedict XVI had just been elected, and I was informed thanks to our well-informed guide who happened to be a Catholic. He also happened to be a veteran of the South Vietnamese Army and spoke good English, and you could tell why the Americans wanted him as an interpreter.

Cao Daism, well, is supposed to be a monotheistic religion which worships the eye, like the one behind the US 1 dollar bill. And all the major religious figured in the world today form various tiers of God's messengers, for example, Buddha and Jesus were in one era, Prophet Muhammad in the next and so on. The guy who created the religion, the first pope of Cao Dai, happened to be someone who was really well versed in languages and read extensively across religious and philosophical influences. They built a tomb for him, but it's empty because the body happens to be somewhere else.

These influences show in the architecture of the temples, part mosque-like with its patterns... yet with a Christian-like altar, incense... and the works. Its devotees tend to be of a slightly older age group, where, as our guide said, they have rather more time for contemplation and preparation for what lies ahead... and hey... if you're facing a hard time choosing, why not Cao Daism?

The rituals were rather noisy, and not really contemplative... and plenty of chanting. But I really like their temple wardens, who were really mild-mannered, friendly, and polite, even when telling hordes of tourists who didn't really listen to them which way to go and not to go across the parade square.

I like the painting they have of a certain Vietnamese poet, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat Sen scribing "Dieu et Humanite, Amour et Justice" "God and Man, Love and Justice"... it's like... man they worship everyone.

After lunch, we made the trip down to Cu Chi... where the famed tunnel complexes were. On the way, our guide made clear many of the intricacies of the conflict, explaining the differences between the South Vietnamese Army, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Vietnam and the Vietcong. He told us many lies were told to Vietnamese on both sides, that they were fighting for freedom, and that many in the Vietcong simply thought they were fighting for a free and unified Vietnam, not a communist one. He told us how he hoped Vietnam, with peace now, will learn how to prosper... and told of his experiences in jungle re-education camps with hard labour... really did put things in perspective... and he exhorted us, the young people, to love peace and make a new world... you know, inspiring stuff. his 15 minutes of fame.

The tunnels in Cu Chi have really small entrances...well the real ones anyway... the rest of them are quite huge and I could wander through them pretty easily. There's a huge assortment of spikes and booby traps (nasty) and displays of how hardworking peasants would reclaim scrap metal from dud American bombs.

Something particularly interesting was the introductory video... which tiraded against the "American imperialism" and "brave female peasants taking up arms" and how the "poor innocent villagers were victims of policies made 4000 miles away in Washington D.C", all said in a very earnest, Vietnamese accented English voice with little or no sense of irony. Really interesting.

I've always been really influenced by "Apocalypse Now" when it comes to the Vietnam war... ... Americans dropping bombs on villages to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries"... soldiers treating the war as a joke and all... hmm, sad.

We returned to Saigon in the evening, and with the sun-setting, and quickly approaching our hotel, he pointed out his old French missionary school which gave him a Western education... the view of which was blocked by construction on the new Saigon Commercial Centre, which, as seems to be the case in many developing cities, seems to be delayed forever. It complicates things when you're in a Communist country and so much red tape exists and they can even take the land back any time they want to. Oh well.

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