Tag Archives: travelling

What is Cao Daism all about?

1 Dec

A few days ago I visited the quite incredible Cao Dai Great Temple which is situated a few hours drive away from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).  This incredible temple pays host each day to four separate prayer sessions attended by the Cao Daiists.  They wear white clothing and women enter via one door and men via another.

I’ve been keen to learn about this “new” religion which was founded in 1926 so have been reading up about it.

It’s a fusion of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, native Vietnamese spiritualism, Christianity and Islam.  It has perhaps 2 million followers worldwide. Here is what their website says:-

CaoDai is a universal faith with the principle that all religions have one same divine origin, which is God, or Allah, or the Tao, or the Nothingness, one same ethic based on LOVE and JUSTICE, and are just different manifestations of one same TRUTH.


Humans shall observe LOVE and JUSTICE in order to be unified with GOD.

During the Vietnam War they formed their own army and having refused to support the Viet Cong they had their land confiscated by the new communist government.  In 1985 their temples were returned to them.

To practise Cao Daism it’s necessary to:-

  • be dutiful in all dealings with others
  • practise good and avoid evil
  • kindness to all beings
  • no killing, stealing, adultery, drunkenness or bad words
  • to be vegetarian 10 days a month
  • to participate in the 4 daily prayer sessions.

The aim is to avoid reincarnation by following the principles set out above.

The temple itself is incredible.

“Like a gingerbread house” was how one of my friends described it. The followers, all dressed alike, mingle about outside greeting each other before the prayers begin.  The prayers sound very musical and are punctuated by the followers bowing to the floor.  Tourists mingle around but are not allowed into the praying area while prayers are taking place.

Part of the “voyager’s Prayer”-

“As I brave the thorns and brambles,
May I set out safe and return sane.

In all, the temple is a fascinating place to visit and observe the followers and see the devotion in their faces.

And as I drift to sleep in my hotel in Saigon I ponder the “Sleeper’s Prayer”
“All material desires consume me by day,
Leading my mind and my actions astray.
Holy One, I am prostrating here to pray
That your lovingness will cause my mind to stay
Focused and clear on Your Divinity,
Taking no actions toward infidelity.
During my sleep, when my soul is at rest,
Superior Spirits, please guide me to what is best.
Toward my home in your Sacred Nirvana I yearn
So teach me the lesson which I need to learn.”


And yes the people of Vietnam are nice!

1 Dec

Two more random acts of kindess…sharing durian with me in a restaurant and a man in a shop spending an hour taking me to the Post Office so I could post Christmas presents to my family in Scotland….would thís happen at home I ponder?

Holding my nose while signalling with my free hand I asked if the dead raccoon dog could possibly be put on the roof…

16 Nov

It was the first time I’d smelled a dead raccoon dog and it wasn’t good.  Putrid.

I’d got on the bus in Muang La, Northern Laos heading for Phongsali, more Northern Laos.  I climbed over piles of sacks filled with rice wondering to myself why it might not be possible to stack these after the folks get in rather than have women in beautiful silk sarong style skirts and mothers with tiny babies strapped to their backs, clambering over them.

But this was Laos.

The journey was 200 kilometres on a road not yet “Chinesed”, that is, smoothed and tarmacced by the teams of Chinese road builders( which I saw many times during my trip through Laos with their huge “Cat” diggers with Chinese characters on the side).

200 km turned into 10 hours of hurtling over rough dirt tracks, through little villages.

Not long after the trip began,we stopped for a pee, a common Laos bus experience involving everyone on the bus getting off and peeing at the side of the bus.

More than once I have watched, with envy, a grandmother hiking up her beautiful patterned silk skirt and peeing standing up, thinking to myself these locals know what they’re doing!

I didn’t need to get off but couldn’t miss the hilarity outside in front of the bus.

The driver and his assistant had caught some little furry animals.  They seemed to be really pleased.  I’m still not sure what these criters were but it seemed to be a rare find (someone mentioned that they might be called bamboo rats).

One contained, they caught another and in true Lao style strapped them both, still alive, to the undercarriage of the bus as we hurtled along.

After a stop for lunch, we got going again and soon reached the dead endangered wildlife shop.  There the guy sitting in front of me negotiated and bought the raccoon dog.

It had been a beautiful animal alive.  But it smelled terrible dead.  He hoisted it through the window checking whether its bowels were emptied, this was about a foot from my nose, then placed it at his feet. Meanwhile the criminal prosecutor sitting behind me had treated himself to some dead squirrels.

The raccoon dog was not smelling good at this point.

I held my nose and wrinkled up my face to indicate to its new owner the horror of the smell.  He smiled back and after another pit spot showed me how he now had it contained in a blue plastic bag which was dripping with blood. He looked very pleased with himself.

A few minutes later even the locals were wrinkling their faces and holding their noses. I held my nose again and pointed to the roof wondering if the raccoon dog could live there before being bbq’ed that evening.

The driver’s assistant quickly made his way through the bus, got the dog, opened the front door of the bus, climbed on the roof and put it up there, all while the bus was still moving.

A bit later two local hill tribes ladies came on selling silk worms contained inside bamboo branches.  The guy in front of me bought some, presumably to eat with the raccoon dog, and delighted in showing me them!

As I got off in Phongsali I thought to myself how boring the bus journeys are going to be back home…raccoon dog sandwich anyone?

“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future”

18 Jul

“I am a fortune teller” Em’s mum said.

“Really” I said.

“Yes really”.

I took a pause from drinking my Iranian style afternoon coffee enjoying the sugar lump melting on my tongue as the tea passed over it……

This sounded good.

My future on a plate or saucer…

No more uncertainty.

I could just chill and enjoy the present knowing precisely what my future would hold.

“Can we do it with the tea?” I asked excitedly.


“Why not?” I asked feeling a little dejected..was there some problem with my future?

“We need Turkish coffee to do it.”

“And do you have some?” I piped up trying to hide my enthusiasm.


Oh well that was that.  I’d just have to see what the future held day by day.

Or would I?

Surely in a city of 1.5 million people I could source some Turkish coffee. It couldn’t be that difficult after all here I am circumnavigating the globe…a little coffee finding mission “pif paf” easy easy.

And so early next morning I began my search.

I got my first lead from my hostel.

They suggested that I try the “Turkish Coffee and Istanbul Cafe” in the KLCC Pavilion.  Off I trotted to the futuristic, ultra modern shopping centre.

The Turkish Coffee and Istanbul Cafe wasn’t quite what I expected.  I was thinking medina style middle eastern cafe full of shisha pipes, low tables and people sinking into cushions.

I wasn’t imagining a super posh high quality middle eastern rug retailer complete with tablecloth restaurant.

Still not one to be deterred I entered.

“Do you sell coffee?”

“No we don’t”.

I explained my predicament to the nice salesman.  I needed to know what my future held I said.  He mulled it over, chatted to a colleague and produced a business card for the “Istanbul Bazaar”, Ampang Triangle, Selangor, which he assured me stocked Turkish coffee.

He said I could walk there and that it wasn’t far.  Of course, I’d learned never to trust any directions or indications of distance in Asia.  Especially since it didn’t even feature on my extended city centre map.  Not to worry I’d just ask someone if there was a bus or something…..a few hours later after a few enquiries at the bus station and the train station and of many local people, I arrived at Ampang Point, still seeking the “Triangle”.

The security guard inside the Ampang Point shopping centre assured me that I was near.

“Over there” he said pointing to the back exit of the shopping centre.

Of course, never trust directions.

It wasn’t just over there. It was well round the block and round again.

A helpful local called the number on the business card for me and eventually the owner met us outside the local branch of “Maybank” and took me round yet another corner to the “Istanbul Bazaar”.

I entered and there it was…”Kurukahveci, Mehmet Effendi” (Turkish Coffee).  I felt both exhausted and elated.

After all my small coffee mission had taken me around 4 hours to complete, had involved the help of no less than 12 local people, 2 local buses, 2 local trains, a lot of walking, a few shopping centres and a few cafes for fuel and rehydration purposes.

I placed my purchase, like treasure, in my rucksack and began the long trudge back to my hostel.

Tomorrow I’ll know my future.  And pif paf to those who think wearing perfume can alter something as important as that….

“What time is the first bus out of here?”

17 Jul Petronas tower models, Chinatown

I have this feeling each time that I arrive in a big city that I’m not going to like it….it’s usually because I’ve either come from a much smaller place or from the mountains or the sea and I suddenly feel a bit hemmed in by the big buildings, the traffic noise seems amplified (it’s not crickets and proboscis monkeys but car horns) and there are so many people….

It was not any different when I arrived in KL.  And to make things worse I came in at 3 am without having booked a hostel…a mate had drawn me a little map…you get to the big gate at chinatown, there is a McDonalds, you pass it and then there is 7 Eleven and the hostel is just down a little side street.

Sounded easy….

At 3am after a couple of buses and a flight though it all looks so different.

I couldn’t find the gate.  I did find a McDonalds and a 7 Eleven but not the right ones….there are too many of these things in KL.

I wandered around checking out hostels with my huge pack and with the sympathetic eyes of the hostel owners on me.  Many of the places were full. Arsenal were playing Malaysia and lots of folks had reserved rooms they said.

Eventually around 4am I settled on a place which offered me a private room for 38 ringit a night.  It was a good deal. In the heart of Chinatown. Own space. A fan. Electricity points that worked.  I was,of course, worrying about the expense. Until I did a reality check. This is 2011. I was in the huge city of KL. In the heart of the vibrant Chinatown with my own space for about 7 quid a night….

The next morning I awoke bleary eyed and did what I often do when I arrive in the city from the country. I went to reception and asked the time of the first bus out.  They said I could get a bus to Malacca at any point.  The receptionist kindly suggested that wouldn’t it be better to have a day or 2 to rest and see the city.

I pondered.

His colleague from the travel office arrived at this point and suggested that he show me a little of Chinatown and we grab some breakfast.

Off we went through the myraid of little streets, through stalls selling genuine copy “Gucci bags, watches” genuine copy “Nike trainers”. We passed stalls roasting chestnuts, were offered “cupping”, reflexology, massage…we eventually settled on a little restaurant decorated with cherry blossoms, had a delicious breakfast of rice porridge, pork and veggies, chatted to some guys who were over in KL for work and were envious of the time I had to see the city….

And guess what…..I started to like KL.  After all isn’t a city just a number of little “towns” joined up…isn’t there magic even in a place of 1.5 million people….and shouldn’t I just breathe and soak it up….I’ve now been here for about 5 days. Each day I think I should head on a bus out of here but then one of the other “little towns” sucks me in.   It’s a good lesson to myself to breathe, relax and not to take the first bus out…

The Great Ozzie Road Trip, Part 5, my first leech bite and a rainy sandy island

22 Apr

Direction South….destination Sydney….

After a few days chilling out and catching up on washing and stuff at Airlie Beach it was time to head South down the East Coast.

It was during this part of the journey that I experienced my first leech bite.

We had spent the day platypus spotting at Eungella National Park. Later when we stopped for gas I noticed that my trouser leg was covered in blood. Obviously I was a little alarmed so headed into the service station to see if I could use the toilet. After I’d cleared the blood away there was only a tiny hole which Elvi (having previously experienced leeches whilst trekking) assured me was just a leech bite. First leech bite…done…

Elvi and I then headed off to Fraser Island.  Wendy had already rented a 4 by 4 and travelled around Fraser Island so had a few days of alone time with the van.

The trip was a gift to Elvi for some work she had done for someone and she kindly took me with. Merci beaucoup mon cherie!  C’etait fantastique!

As we were out of the five star van gone was Elvi’s control over weather conditions.

It rained.

Cats and dingos.

From when we arrived to when we left.

Fraser Island is incredible. Like everything else in Oz it is huge. 120 km long. The whole island (complete with rainforest and huge dunes) sits atop meres and. Incredible!

We did a tour of the island in a 4 by 4 bus. This bus had to be seen to be believed. It felt like a rollercoaster rattling around the tiny sand tracks of the island.  We even travelled along the beach in it. Not being put off by the weather Elvi and I made the most of the freshwater rivers and Lake McKenzie where the sand was so soft we used it to clean jewellery.

Our guide regaled us…all day long…with tales of the island. She  told us about the Frasers (from whom the Island gets its name) who were shipwrecked here in 1836.  They ended up staying on the island with the aborigines and integrated into aboriginal life quite nicely until Mr Fraser went out hunting with the aborigines one day and was not seen again. Mrs Fraser stayed eventually being spotted by some other adventurers.  She went home to England and wrote about her adventures.  Our guide told us she then returned and married one of the locals.

Fraser Island is also home to the purest breed of dingos.  The aborigines used the dingos to help them with hunting.  Unfortunately we didn’t see any on our trip. No doubt they were inside given the inclement conditions!

After two nights it was back to land…out of the five star resort and back to the five star van..

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The Great Ozzie Road Trip – Part 1, Rules of the Road

19 Apr

The Great Ozzie Road trip had begun.

It was time to learn the rules of the road.

Rule 1 – accept that the distances are huge.  It might seem that Alice Springs is just next to Uluru and in Australia terms it is…after all it is only 445 km away or about 5 hours, drive at máximum Wicked van speed of 90 kmh.

Rule 2 – accept that you might not see a lot en route but what you do see will be different from anything you’ve ever experienced.  Australia is huge but a lot of it is vast, open, empty bush, the so-called outback.  It’s magical.  The sense of space is awesome. Being so far away from lights means that on a clear night the stars are wonderful. The contrast of the red dirt and the stark white of the “ghost” gums is amazing and every so often you see one of the iconic watermills.

Rule 3 – believe the words insribed inside your Wicked van “Where is the fuckin wildlife?”. You don’t see kangaroos, snakes, emus or even the over 1 million wild camels (now considered a pest)  at every turn in the road.  Animals don’t come out on demand. Kangaroos come out at dusk but more so in Winter for the heat of the tarmac, snakes don’t come out much at all and are usually scared off by noise and as for the emus and camels I’m still not sure where they were hiding.  And although it looks like there should be there are no giraffes here.

Rule 4 – get petrol at every opportunity. There can be hundreds of kilometres between gas stations.

Rule 5 – accept that driving until midnight can make sense when the heat inside the van is intolerable and the mosquitos buzzing around drive you crazy.

Rule 6 – accept that having the windows down and blaring out road trip songs is much, much better fun that having a cool, air conditioned “Jucy” van without the character, charm or rattling of the Wicked van.

Rule7 – accept that the Wicked van will not always be accepted into campsites. In Byron Bay two campsites wouldn’t accept Wicked vans because “sometimes they have slogans which can upset children”.  What? Surely children are far too busy reading from their i-pads or other electronic device to read the back of a campervan?

Rule 8 – accept that it’s cool to wave to other campers.  Yeah I too have spent a life in a car where I don’t wave to every car I pass just because it’s a car but this is Oz and taking into account Rules 1 and 3 above it might be a long time before you see another van or any other civilisation.

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