On our second full day in Saigon, we took a tour that consisted of a few stops around the area. After about an hours drive on a comfortable bus through lush, green, rice paddy flatlands, the first was the Cao Dai Holy See at Tay Ninh. It is a grand Cathedral that borders on the absurd, but is still surprisingly pleasant and not too tacky, just tacky enough.
It’s wild colors, intricate details, and bizarre imagery makes you initially wonder where you are, but upon closer inspection, you see the Asian themes, such as lions and dragons, and remember you are in Vietnam.
The religion takes elements from many different ideologies and creates a unique visual and worship style not seen anywhere else on earth. There is more information found here on wikipedia.
One very quick and fascinating fact found on wikipedia about Cao Dia: One belief is that “there are 36 levels of heaven and 72 planets harboring intelligent life, with number one being the closest to heaven and 72 nearest to Hell. Earth is number 68. It is said that even the lowest citizen on planet 67 would not trade place with a king on 68 and so forth.”
As tourists we arrived just in time to view the daily noon service and although we appreciated the beauty of the tradition, it did feel a little to much like voyeurism. As the worshipers arrived we noticed how beautifully dressed in white they were compared to the bold colors of the temple, both inside and out.
Once inside, we were shocked by the beauty and bold colors on the floor, walls and ceiling. The spires, the paintings, the huge giant globe and every other piece of the building was stunning.
Once the service began, we were ushered upstairs, past the musicians, to a 3 ft. wide walkway that went all the way around the inside and had a bird’s eye view of the floor below. All of the tourists, (and there were many,) found a spot and watched the service.
The men enter from one door and the women from another and they sit segregated by sex and level achieved in the church. The elders wore bright robes of all different colors. It was an interesting service. The worshipers sat on separate tiers of the cathedral floor and there was lots of singing and music playing during the worship.
Cody and I watched for a few minutes and then quietly stepped out and let them finish, sans two people. Maybe it did not make much of a difference, but it made us feel better that we let them finish in peace.
All in all, it was beautiful and interesting. We did feel a little strange showing up with all of the other bus loads of people just in time for the noon service, but that is what happens when you sight up for a tour I guess. We are learning to go with the flow, but be as polite and thoughtful as possible while doing so. Especially in a foreign country.