Vietnam: Beautiful Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh

We had never heard of Cao Dai Temple until we bought our tour tickets to Cu Chi Tunnels. So we goggle searched it right away and when we looked at the pictures we became curious and decided to visit the place. Personally, this is one of the reasons why I love traveling – I get to discover cultures and customs that are so different from what I accustomed to.

Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple

Cao Daiism is a relatively recent religion that is unique to Vietnam as it is a new fusion religion combining other religious groups including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. It focuses on moral and ethical practices such as prayer, nonviolence, honoring of forefathers, etc. I have also learned that  Victor Hugo (a French writer), Confucius, Joan of Arc, and Sun Yat-Sen (the Chinese republican hero from 20th century) are among their revered saints.

Inside Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple

This Cao Dai Temple is located 90 km away from Ho Chi Minh City (about 2 hours by bus from the city centre), in a typical Vietnamese provincial city, Tay Ninh. Cao Daiism was founded in 1926 in Vietnam and has about 6 million followers.

Beautiful garden.

One of the statues in the garden.

We arrived in the place just in time to witness and enjoy the main service at midday. The temple is amazing. We stood on the balcony on the 2nd floor and looked at the service from above since only priests and pilgrims (majority were elderly people) were allowed in the service area. I noticed that Cao Dai priests wore a robe in three principal colors of Cao Dai: Red for Christianity, Blue for Taoism and Yellow for Buddhism while the pilgrims wore white. Indeed, the ceremony was nice to see.

Cao Dai service at midday

Furthermore, I loved the bright lively colors of the Temple’s exterior and especially the extravagantly decorated interior. I like the symbols, images of saints and abstract designs. The floor tiles have busy patterns and the high ceiling is painted sky-blue. I have learned that their most important symbol is the Divine Eye, which represents that God witnesses everything everywhere.

Divine Eye, the most important symbol of Cao Daiism.

Divine Eye, the most important symbol of Cao Daiism.

Divine Eye, the most important symbol of Cao Daiism.

This lavish and spectacular temple of Cao Dai Religion attracts thousands of pilgrims, believers, and tourists who come to experience this wonderful service and interiors. Certainly, it was an awesome visit and well worth the journey.

Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • The visitors are asked to come modestly dressed.

Have you been to Cao Dai Temple? What did you like best there?

Vietnam: 6 Reasons to Visit the Old Quarter in Hanoi

The Old Quarter area is the oldest area in Hanoi. It the city’s economic center and main tourist destination. It is in the heart of everything – history, architecture, old buildings, tourist attractions, shopping malls, sightseeing venues, hotels, restaurants, markets (night market and regular market), parks, and many more. Without the Old Quarter area, Hanoi wouldn’t be the same.

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Interesting place with lots to look at and eat

Here are 6 reasons on why experiencing and exploring the historical Old Quarter area in Hanoi is a must-do and truly well worth it:

1.Many major attractionsMost of the major attractions in Hanoi are located within or nearby the Old Quarter area. This includes the elaborate French colonial buildings, beautiful architecture like overhanging bay windows and a high sloping roof,  Hoan Kiem Lake, St Joseph’s Cathedral, National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ba Dinh Square, the one Pillar Pagoda, Buddhist and Daoist Temples (e.g. Bach Ma Temple), shopping malls, markets, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, and many more.

The Opera House in Hanoi

While strolling around the quarter, we found interesting classic Old Quarter Tube Houses. It’s called a tube house because it’s a house that looks like a long narrow tube of space divided into many sections. I have learned that up until today, many Vietnamese prefer to build a tube house so they would pay less taxes. There also several communal houses that have been existing for hundreds of years. These were established to serve as places for the community and help plan the socio-economic development and other activities of the communities. I noticed that the more time we spent in the Old Hanoi, the more adept we got at discovering the old buildings among the new ones.

Tube houses

2.ActivitiesWhile exploring the city, I realized that there are two must-do activities at the Old Quarter. First, wander around the place. We spent most of our time walking around and we felt a unique vibe and energy there that dates back to the 13th century.Second, try their local tea or coffee while sitting right on the sidewalk. I found it to be the best place to observe how the world go by in the quarter. Moreover, there are many culinary classes in the area: if you love cooking and Vietnamese food, this is an ideal place where to learn.

Tea time 🙂

3.ShoppingUndeniably, the Old Quarter is a shopper’s delight. There are so many different shops around the area – high-end shops, boutiques, Dong Son (the largest market in the city), night market, etc. The shops offer lovely artistic products from around the country, designed by many top craftsmen and artists. There, you can easily find many popular souvenir items such as silk products, embroidered fabrics and bags, conical hats, lacquer ware, coffee beans, paintings and many more. When shopping, don’t forget to wear your smile while bargaining. One thing I have learned about shopping there is that one shouldn’t be shy while negotiating the price because the sellers expect their customers to do so.

I love their lacquer ware and embroidered quilts. Brought some of those products home.

Streets of shopping

4.FoodI love Vietnamese cuisine! My favorite ones are pho rice noodles and cha ca. I also like banh goi. It’s luscious! In addition to their great food, you can find French baguettes and coffee everywhere – locals love it and I love it too! 🙂 I also love their super delicious street food without getting sick. Furthermore, I have also noticed that when dusk comes, lots of people sit on the incredibly tiny chairs on the sidewalks while eating, enjoying themselves and socializing with others. I love this great idea! Since we tried both their high-end restaurants and streets stalls, I would say that the food choices in the Old Quarter is good and the dishes come at cheap to affordable prices no matter where you prefer to dine.

Enjoying my meal

5.NightlifeThe Old Quarter area is a very lively place, 24/7. Live music, discos, clubs, bars, and decent karaoke – name it you can find it all there.  It seems like it is where the night owls head to as it keeps people from all walks of life happy.

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Charming chaos

6.Life on the streetsThe life on the street and the Zen of negotiating the traffic is the heart of the Old Quarter. Jillion of scooters, bicycles and cars fill the streets of the quarter and flock around the pedestrian crossings. The motorists honk all the time making it quite tricky and scary to cross the streets. However, I found it fascinating to watch Vietnamese people slipping through the traffic smoothly and calmly – wait for the right moment, no brusque/rough action, keep moving. In spite of the so busy place, a walk through the quarter gave us a good flavor of Hanoi which has a distinct French feel with an Asian touch. In fact to me, getting lost on its streets that look like a maze of chaotic branches was fun and one of the biggest delight we enjoyed in the city.

A place full of life

Overall, it was such a pleasure to be in a place with old buildings with much French influence that has real appeal. It is indeed a fascinating place for all kinds of travelers even with or without a family.

What did you like best about the Old Quarter? 

Vietnam: National Museum of Vietnamese History in Hanoi

I enjoy visiting museums. Artifacts in a museum bring a tangible, interactive and exciting history into my life.

Good starting point to be familiar with the Vietnam history.

Sometimes, when we visit a museum, we take a guided tour or audio guides, but when we visited the National Museum of Vietnamese History in Hanoi, we decided to just wander around at our own pace. This modern museum houses the finest collection of artifacts from the country’s ancient and more recent history. I saw different costumes and other pieces from Vietnam’s royal dynasties and the most far-reaching one is from the Nguyen Dynasty (last royal dynasty) which ended in 1945.

interesting exhibition

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Good amount of historical relics were displayed in the museum.

Another highlight in this museum is the collection of Dong Son drums that come from central Vietnam’s Cham Kingdom. I have learned that the Bronze Age Dong Son civilization developed in a province not far from Hanoi called Thanh Hoa from around 1200BC for 1000 years. These stunning drums are frequently used as a contemporary symbol of Vietnamese culture and civilization as they portray Vietnamese life.

Dong Son drums

Moreover, this museum contains a lot of information about the different ethnic groups in Vietnam. It also has information regarding the evolution of the country’s history from Neanderthals through the different dynasties.

beautiful antiques

I enjoyed staring at each display 🙂

We spent about an hour wandering inside the museum. What I have seen was far more than I expected. The museum itself is in a fabulous French colonial building which is in itself a beauty to see. The ceramics, the iron works, the bronzes, etc all added up to an unexpected visual experiences. Undeniably, I was amazed by the museum’s impressive collection of historical relics and refreshingly modernized presentation.

wonderful French colonial building

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • Take a good guide if you wish to visit the Vietnam National Museum of History since some exhibits lack detailed information in English.

 

 

 

Vietnam: The Charming One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi

I like the City of Hanoi. There are many interesting places to see within the city and if you stay for only a few days, it’s quite tricky to decide which place to visit.

Besides the pagoda.

One of the places we visited in Hanoi was the One Pillar Pagoda. This Buddhist temple is also known as Chua Mot Cot, which means long lasting happiness and good luck. It was built in 1049, standing on its one pillar until 1954 when the French blew it up in anger because they were being thrown out of Vietnam as colonial masters. Since then, they have rebuilt it and locals and tourists alike can visit it again.

The One Pillar Pagoda

According to the legend, there was an ageing Emperor named Ly Thai Long, who ruled Vietnam from 1028 to 1054. He used to go to the pagoda to pray to Buddha for a son. One night, he dreamt that Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who was standing on a great lotus flower, gave him a baby boy. Later, his wife gave birth to a male child. In gratitude for this, the Emperor ordered the construction of a pagoda which is only supported by only one pillar to resemble the lotus seat of his dream.

People are queuing to go up the pagoda.

While visiting the place, I have learned that many young Vietnamese couples who wanted to have children go there and visit the goddess with the hundred arms inside the temple as it’s believed that she can help young couples to have a child.

Inside the pagoda.

The One Pillar Pagoda is just small, but it has a unique design. It’s cute and it looks good on photo. There’s also a nice park around where you can relax for a while and hide from the sun. Even though it was just a quick tour, overrun by hordes of tourists, I think it’s worth seeing. Certainly, we enjoyed our visit there.

It was a nice relaxing tour.

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • If you wish to visit the One Pillar Pagoda, combine it with the other attractions nearby such as Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Presidential Palace, etc. since all of which are just around the corner.

What can you say about the One Pillar Pagoda?  

 

 

 

Vietnam: Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

One of the places I like in Hanoi is the charming Hoan Kiem Lake, which is also known as the Lake of the Returned Sword or Lake of the Restored Sword. It’s one of the landmark in the Old Quarter area, one of the main picturesque and breathtaking spots in the city, and it serves as a central point for the area’s public life.

Turtle Tower in the center of the lake

Turtle Tower

The lake is not only special in its history but also in its features. I have learned that the water color of Hoan Kiem Lake is greenish with dark or light shade depending on the reflection of the sky and it’s full of tortoise, which makes it different from the other lakes elsewhere in the Vietnam.

popular breezy spot

Turtle Tower at night

We stayed 5 days in Hanoi, and 3 out of 5 days we went to the lake. We went there during the day, early in the morning and then again at night when it’s all lit up. As we walked by, we witnessed the pace of life in this peculiar city, we saw people jogging, reading, enjoying time with family, children and dogs running around, and hug and kiss events…lol. After strolling around the city at daytime, we had a pleasant break sitting near the lake and had some ice cream. At nighttime, we sat on one of the benches there, enjoyed the scenic views while having some beer. It’s quite tranquil.

lovely place surrounded by the beautiful lake

very nice view; good backdrop for selfies and groufies,

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

I like Hoan Kiem Lake because the place is relaxing and it offers gentle breeze even on the hottest day. It’s a lovely scenery during by day and by night, situated in a lively area in Hanoi.  The more we spent time in the lake, the more special it became. Indeed, it’s well worth a visit!

perfect place for evening stroll and people watching

What did you like about Hoan Kiem Lake?

 

 

 

 

Vietnam: Hang Sung Sot Cave in Ha Long Bay

One of the activities I enjoy doing is caving. So, I was enthusiastic when I learned that exploring several caves in Ha Long Bay was included in our cruise itinerary.

Beautiful Sung Sot Cave.

Strange color mix.

Hang Sung Sot Cave is situated at the centre of Ha Long Bay which is one of the World 7 Wonders of Nature and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the most beautiful and largest caves in Ha Long Bay, covering an area of about 10,000 square meters at an altitude of about 30 meters.

Caves of surprises.

View from the cave.

Hang Sung Sot Cave is also known as the Surprising Cave. It is the most famous cave to visit in Ha Long Bay and it is dubbed as an “opera house” because of the beauty of its thousands of stalactites and stalagmites. I have learned that it has been voted as one of the 10 most beautiful caves in the world by the Association of Tourism Offices and Brokers of the Czech Republic.

Natural wonder!

On the way up.

As soon as we arrived at the base of the cave, we slowly ascended about 150 steep stone steps to reach the entrance of the cave. It was so crowded! When we went in, it looked small but as we moved in, we didn’t feel so crowded anymore as it was huge, well lit and paved.

Limestone cave at Ha Long Bay.

This naturally carved cave is enormous! In fact, I was pretty impressed at the size. I have visited caves in the Philippines and a few other countries, but nothing compares to the sheer size of this one. We were told by our guide that hundreds of troops use to seek refuge in them during the war.

Some rock formations.

The ceiling.

This colossal cave has two chambers. It looks like a theater hall as it features different unusual rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites. While we were walking, our guide told us stories about the cave and he also pointed to certain shapes in the cave and how it resembled certain animal, human parts, etc. The coloured lights that they played in it helped us give to get a sense of depth that white light only wouldn’t, plus it gave us good moment to capture good pictures on our camera.

It’s gigantic!

Another stunning view from the cave.

Besides amazing size and marvelous rock formations, the view from the cave is fabulous, overlooking Ha Long Bay and the boats.

Gaping at the natural wonders.

I certainly enjoyed the trek inside the cave. I enjoyed the magnificent views and the various rock formations of stalagmites and stalactites.

Little Lilly travel tip:

  • The climb is quite steep and can be precarious for the older people especially if they are not steady or have difficulty walking.
  • Wear good walking shoes.
  • Move at your own pace and don’t rush to keep up with the others.

Vietnam: The Presidential Palace Complex in Hanoi

While in Hanoi City, we checked out the Presidential Palace. To me, it is a great place to visit and to learn more about Ho Chi Minh and his life stories.

The Presidential Palace

The Presidential Palace

Ho Chi Minh was a simple man and by choice had a limited amount of possession. He was a Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader who became the prime minister from 1945 to 1955 and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 to 1969. He was also known as a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 in the People’s Army of Vietnam and in the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

These were the things we saw inside Presidential Palace complex:

1. A bright yellow building that is known as the Presidential Palace, originally the French Indochina Governor-General’s Palace, which we were not allowed to enter, but we could take pictures from the outside. It was built by the French in the early 1900s as the residence of the Governor of French Indochina and to serve as a reminder to the Vietnamese that the French were their rulers. When the French were beaten at Dien Bien Phu, the palace was given to Ho Chi Minh to live in but Ho Chi Minh refused to stay there and opted for a much a simpler house on the palace grounds. The palace looked very grand from the outside and it is surrounded by a very well-manicured garden and landscape. Until now, it continues to be used for official state functions.

2. The beautiful path lined with mango orchards where President Ho Chi Minh used to walk and do morning exercises.

3. The garage that held three cars. I learned that these automobiles: a 1954 Russian Zis, a 1955 Russian Pobeda, and a 1964 Peugeot 404, were gifts from the Americans and Russians and were used by President Ho Chi Minh.

The garage.

The garage.

4. The house of 54 where President Ho Chi Minh moved in in 1954; however he only stayed there for 4 years until his stilt house was built.

The house of 54

The house of 54

5. The stilt house. This humble home was made of wood and was built by Ho Chi Minh in 1958. He lived in there as soon as it was finished, until he died in 1968, it was a symbol of his solidarity with the Vietnamese people. The house consists of a bedroom, a meeting room, a dining room, a reading room with a writing table and many books, and underneath the house was a sort of an open-air conference room. I also noticed some few interesting artifacts such as an iron helmet and telephones used during wartime. It is quite big and nice, but I did not notice any bathroom on the stilt house. I observed the strong influence of both Lenin and Marx in almost all the rooms.

Inside the stilt house.

Inside the stilt house.

6. The Uncle Ho’s Fishpond. I heard that Ho Chi Minh used to meditate around the lake and feed the fishes. I saw some Cypress tree’s roots along this charming pond. It really was quite beautiful and offered a magnificent respite away from the noise in the city.

The Buddha or Cypress tree's roots along the pond.

The Buddha or Cypress tree’s roots along the pond.

I would say that we had a wonderful and pleasant visit to the Presidential Palace complex. It was very interesting to see the humble homes where Ho Chi Minh lived. Most importantly, we had great insights about the history of that time and about the life lead by Ho Chi Minh.

Little Lilly Travel Tip:

  • Make sure you wear decent clothes like a pair of trousers and a top with sleeves otherwise the security won’t let you in.
  • The visit takes about an hour or two.