Cao Dai Temple, also known as Holy See, is the center of Cao Dai faith, an indigenous Vietnamese religion that incorporates the teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism as well as some elements of Christianity and Islam.
The Great Temple was built between 1933- 1955 in Tay Ninh province about 90 kilometers northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. Caodaiists believe that all religions are the same in principle and they credit God as the religion’s founder.
A visit to Cao Dai temple is one of the popular tours on offer in Ho Chi Minh. The promise of witnessing a religious ceremony of an intriguing religion unique to Vietnam was enough to pique my curiosity and so I added it to my half-day tour to Cu Chi Tunnel.
With the amount of time and effort it takes to get there, it’s not surprising why many visitors find it not worth the long drive.
- It’s hard to reach by public transport.
- It’s more than two-hour drive from the city.
- There’s nothing much to do beyond taking pictures and walking around.
- It’s not worth a special trip unless combined with a visit to Cu Chi Tunnel, which is somewhat along the way.
On the good side, if you have enough time on your hands and dig temples with interesting history, a visit to Cao Dai Temple will not disappoint you.
- It is the original home of Cao Dai religion.
- It is the biggest and the brightest in the country.
- Visitors are allowed to witness and document the ceremony.
- You might have seen hundreds of Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples but this would probably be your first Cao Dai Temple.
- Where else in the world can you find devotees venerating saints and Gods from different religions as well as western icons like Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare and Joan of Arc.
The structure of the Cao Dai Temple is a reflection of its ideology. It is part a pagoda, a cathedral and a mosque rolled into one unique temple. Its brightly painted façade in hues of splashy pink and baby blues reminds me of a theme park castle rather than a place of worship. It was a bit gaudy for a temple but I find it quite interesting.
It’s also hard to miss its pastel blue ceiling painted with fluffy white clouds and the grandiose columns encrusted with writhing dragons that run the length of the cathedral. If not for the sea of devotees and statues inside, it wouldn’t seem out of place as a themed hall in a Macau casino.
The priests are easily identified by their white pointy hats decorated with the holy eye and are dressed in either red, blue or yellow flowing robes.
Cao Dai priests waiting for the mass to start
At the start of the ceremony, men and women worshippers are separated from each other. Men enter at the right side of the doorway and females at the left.
The three principal colors of Cao Dai are yellow (for Buddhism), blue (for Taoism), and red (for Christianity). They are reflected in the worshippers’ robes and the temple itself.
The balcony on the 2nd floor runs the entire length of the temple and offers the best vantage point to view the service.
Sea of worshippers in flowing robes beautifully arranged in symmetrical rows.
The choir, gongs, and string instruments accompany the solemn chants of the devotees.
Overall, I was quite satisfied with my visit to Cao Dai Temple. It was unlike other temples I have seen in South East Asia and it was enlightening to get acquainted with a religion I never knew existed before this trip.
The main draw of Cao Dai temple is the ceremony itself. Make sure to catch one of the four ceremonies during your visit. It is the “thing to do” if you have come all the way to Tay Ninh.
Getting to Cao Dai Temple
The easiest and most popular way to visit the Cao Dai Temple is on an organised tour from Ho Chi Minh city. The bus ride takes about two hours. I organised all my tours with Sinh Cafe during my visit to Ho Chi Minh.