About two hours from the fast-paced, traffic-packed, death-defying streets of Ho Chi Minh City is one of the largest Cao Dai temples in Vietnam. The vividly decorated place of worship, often called Cao Dai Temple, Great Temple or Holy See, is generally visited by tourists as part of a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. In fact, I stopped at the temple as part of a Cu Chi tunnels tour. And, visiting Cao Dai Temple happened to be the highlight of the day!
Upon arriving at the complex, we drove through vibrantly painted gates and passed by a large outdoor shrine. My eyes were drawn to the bright colours and the impressive details, all of which were outshone by the Cao Dai Temple’s exterior.
I’d been to many religious monuments before visiting Cao Dai Temple, and I can say that I’ve never felt such joy by simply looking at a temple’s exterior appearance. Superficial, I know. But the temple really does extend a colourful and joyous welcome.
Every structural element was crafted and decorated with such precision that examining the architecture and interior design was an experience in itself. The exterior is decorated busily with bright hues, intricate carvings and religious symbols and murals.
The exterior was matched by the inside, with its interior walls and columns adorned with vibrantly painted carvings, symbols and complex patterns. The ceiling was designed to look like the blue sky outside (with a few extra heavenly, white clouds added by the artists).
Another experience, that we arrived just in time to see, was a prayer ceremony. At Cao Dai Temple, there are four daily ceremonies, which take place every six hours beginning at 5.30am. All visitors are welcome to watch the ceremonies from a balcony that overlooks the prayer and rituals taking place below.
The temple comes alive as worshippers gather for each ceremony. Dressed in all white flowing robes, worshippers enter the temple in an orderly precession before they kneel in organised rows. There were others were dressed in coloured robes and distinctive hats to identify them as religious leaders of the temple.
As the ceremony precedes, instrumental melodies, prayers and song fill the temple’s vibrant interior, while loud gongs ring out in echoes.
The Cao Dai Temple is a place of worship for those who follow Caodaism. Founded in Vietnam, the religion is a modern movement that was officially established in the 1920’s. From what I understand, Caodaism is a blend of traditional religious or spiritual beliefs, values and teachings founded in Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, among others.
One of the most prominent symbols of the Cao Dai religion is the Divine Eye. You will see this symbol, an eye in a triangle, painted many times on the interior and exterior walls at Cao Dai Temple.
Important information about Cao Dai Temple:
Cao Dai Temple is approximately 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh City. Many people visit the temple as part of a day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
During the ceremony, no person is allowed to walk in front of the temple. Cars should not drive through the gates directly in front of the temple’s entrance.
Times to experience the prayer ceremony are 5:30, 11:30, 17:30 and 23:30.
How to dress
Visitors are expected to dress respectfully when visiting the temple and should wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees (both pants and skirts are acceptable). Visitors should remove their footwear before entering the temple, and shoes are to be left outside.
Visitors are welcome to take photos of the temple and the ceremony proceedings as long as it is done discreetly and respectfully.