VIETNAM: CAODAISM, A MOSAIC OF RELIGIONS
Plurality is the word to define the spiritual and religious way of life in Vietnam. Baroque sects, protestant and catholic churches co-exist easily with Mahayana Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism, as well as with the omnipresent Ancestors Worship. As a perfect example of this plurality, Caodaism is a very lively mix, amazing for its beliefs, a colorful spiritual experience to live all over the country.
The Caodaist faithful believes in Buddhist reincarnation. They practice Taoist spiritualism and divination, but also borrow some values and rules from Confucianism and Catholicism! They worship various pantheons: Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Moses, Victor Hugo, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Churchill… Very interested by this mysterious syncretism, Graham Greene mentioned these words: "Christ and Buddha looking down from the roof of the Cathedral on a Walt Disney fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in Technicolor".
This religion, before considered as a sect, gathers nowadays 2 million followers. It emerged in the early 20th century with the approval of the French colonial government, thanks to one of its Vietnamese civil servant. Its symbol, a big eye, refers to Buddhism, Freemasonry, and Hinduism. Its structure and Hierarchy were borrowed from Catholicism: Holy See, Pope, bishops, priests and masses.
Caodaism is above all a festival of colors, representing each of the spiritualities: the yellow tunic for the Buddhism, the blue one for the Taoism, the red one for the Confucianism, and a range of nuances which symbolize its hierarchy.
Tây Ninh, the sanctuary of this faith, is a must to visit during a trip in the South of Vietnam. Located at less than 100 km from Ho Chi Minh City, the Caodaist cathedral is a masterpiece of a distinctive colonial architecture, where you can discover a trail of believers, colorful and unique, unlikely in the Occident.
To most of the travelers looking for a sense of spirituality and calmness, South-East Asia is an incomparable destination. Religions are many and co-exist in harmony. They strongly influence their populations' way of daily life, and offer a huge quantity of splendid and impressive monuments and events, full of colors and ardor, from the big cities to the more isolated countryside. From Vietnam to Laos, from Cambodia to Myanmar, the main religious tendencies and the minor beliefs create a great fascination among Western visitors, while playing an important part within the society. Far away from some conservative beliefs and unusual to modern reality, religions are simply lively. With the countless relics of the previous civilizations which offered so much wonders to the divine glory, this is a perfect place to satisfy one's thirst for culture and spirituality.
Please let us know of your specific requirements. With our deep knowledge of those countries, we are capable to make your trip a remarkable and rich experience.
Edouard George, President of Phoenix Voyages
SPECIAL SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGIONS
MOUNT POPA: DWELLING-PLACE OF THE NATS, THE TUTELARY SPIRITS IN MYANMAR
Everywhere in Myanmar the inhabitants worship the “nats”, spirits of “those who experienced an unfair death”. With a strict number of 36, plus their king, originated from Hinduism, Indra, these spirits are independent but interrelate with Buddhism. Burmese people receive their messages thanks to mediums; all of them specialized in one “nat” in particular. Thus, every family and home has its own protective “nat”, cared in a sanctuary, where it is honored by their offerings. This cult, perpetuated for almost 2 thousand years, reaches its highest point during the month of April at the festival in Mount Popa, the greatest pilgrimage site for being the dwelling place of the Burmese spirits. This excursion starting in Bagan, which is very successful throughout the year, is a must to understand the whole complexity of Burmese spirituality.
IMMIGRATION DECLARATION ABOLISHED AT THE AIRPORT GATES
The Government has agreed to simplify the immigration declaration process for all passengers when they enter and exit at Vietnam's international airports since September 15, 2010. These new conditions are available only at border gates which have been equipped with reading-passport machines and networked computers. At the other gates, a new immigration declaration form has been released, while guidelines have been issued to urgently equip all gates with new modern devices.
1,000TH ANNIVERSARY OF THANG LONG-HANOI: DIFFICULTIES
Tourists in Hanoi will meet some difficulties in attending the festival's programs and city's attractions. The police have decided to ban all cars to enter the inner city from October 1 to 10. Tourists will have to use public vehicle, and they can follow the festival via 20 LED screens set-up at parks and public places.
BUDDHISM CENTRE OPENS IN BAGAN
A new attraction for visitors who are in spiritual quest, the Bagan Theravada Research Centre has just opened late August. Local and foreign visitors will have opportunities to learn, not only about Bagan's ancient culture and heritage, but its importance in relation to genuine Theravada Buddhism. This magical site is well known for its ancient heritage and architecture but its main theme is Theravada Buddhism.
This fact is now highlighted, and the centre will be very useful for those who wish to learn the essence of Theravada Buddhism while visiting Bagan. The centre will hold English-speaking lectures aimed at international visitors as well as workshops and seminars. Religious meetings, research, meditation courses and international Buddhist summits might also be held there.
PAKOU, THE CAVE OF THE 4000 BUDDHAS
The Lao Buddha is different from Siamese, Khmer and Burmese Buddha. He has curly hair tied up in a bun. He looks down and his ears are very long. He has long arms and same-sized fingers. He is always sitting down. In the heart of a natural place, Lao Buddha expends all his magic. Inside the Pak Ou caves, more than 4000 statuettes of Buddha have been displayed over the years. This place, that pilgrims and tourists use to reach by the river from Luang Prabang, is spectacular: a karstic cliff at the confluence of the Mekong and the Ou River.
VIENTIANE'S 450TH BIRTHDAY
The celebration of Lao capital city's 450th anniversary will be held from 15 to 21 November 2010, concurrently with the annual That Luang religious festival, the country's most important national holiday.
MUSLIMS IN THE KHMER KINGDOM
Hardly 3% of the populations of Cambodia are Muslims who are scattered at the eastern part of the country, along the Vietnamese border. They come from the Sunni branch of Islam and are the descendants of Cham people. Separated from their siblings in the Center of Vietnam, they practice a mix between Islam and Hinduism, pray only once a week, and generally believe in the traditional sorcery.
From Kampong Cham to Northern Ratanakiri, their villages show wonderful traditional mosques on stilts, made of wood, with some magnificent roof structures looking like pagodas. If there were only about twenty of these pagodas in the late 80s, there are nowadays about 300, to discover in an excursion from Phnom Penh, or on the way to Laos.
POHYON TEMPLE: SANCTUARY OF THE KOREAN BUDDHIST HOLY BOOK
In The heart of Mounts Myohyang, lies the Pohyon temple, which is part of the national treasures listed by the government, and one of the most significant temples for the Korean Buddhists. Built in the 11th century, it had before up to 360 edifices, among which a lot were destroyed over the wars. Nowadays only 24 pavilions and pagodas remain, made of wooden structures richly decorated.
This is also the place where you can discover the only print of the original Korean Buddhist bible, the "Tripitaka koreana". Among the 3 historical copies, one disappeared and the other was destroyed during the Japanese invasion. This masterpiece was printed at the end of the 15th century, with 81258 wooden printing shelves, kept in the temple of Haeinsa, and one of the most renowned temples in South Korea.
HOTEL OF THE MONTH
PHAN THIET'S PRINCESS D'ANNAM: FOR A LEGENDARY STAY BY THE SEA IN VIETNAM
Princess d'Annam was given in marriage in exchange of a piece of the Vietnamese kingdom. Centuries later, she lives on in memories and legends, as well as the charm of her fascinating land. A realm where to enter a world of its own, where all wishes can be fulfilled: you are her guest now. A 150-km drive from Ho Chi Minh City, set on the pristine Ke Ga Bay, facing a century-old French light house, the Princess d'Annam Resort & Spa is the first all-villa luxury boutique resort in Vietnam.
Its style mixes modern sensibility and post colonial ambience. With its 57 exclusive villas, four swimming pools, two restaurants, and a magnificent 1,800–square-meter spa complex, it is a haven of calm and luxury. The province around is replete with natural beauty: the South China Sea where fishermen still row baskets over teeming waters, stunning mountains, red canyons and sand dunes. Princess d'Annam has it all to offer: a unique place and time of privilege.
Check for more on: www.princessannam.com
ACTIVITY OF THE MONTH
LAOS: THE BACI CEREMONY TO CALL BACK THE WANDERING SPIRITS
From Luang Prabang, for half a day, take the time to attend a Baci, a moving ritual ceremony, so lively in Laos, as intimate as collective, which leaves its mark on every important event of life: wedding, birth, house building, travelling. The spirits are called to gather and create happiness, luck and prosperity.
The concept of this ceremony, conducted by an old wise man, is to call back the souls of the body. They believe that everyone has one soul in each of the 32 parts of the body, which tend to spread. If one of them goes away or is caught by a wicked spirit, this person, even the vegetables, things or animals, and above all the elephant, will get sick. The wise man calls them back and ties white cotton threads on the wrists to retain them. It is a tradition that every guest keeps the threads during three nights, after that they will be taken out and kept in a safe place, so the wise man´s wishes will go with the guest throughout his life.
The Baci takes place around an altar of flowers, food, candles and incense, the Phakouan, on which are tied the cotton threads, as the links with the spiritual world. During the procession in Buddhist New-Year for instance, those threads are tied on people's wrists and on the elephant's ears. And all along the year, they will guarantee the tourist a symbolic and unique experience with those so hospitable Lao people.
Victoria Hotels, Vietnam and Cambodia
Victoria hotels have changed its owner, the holding company of Electricity and Water of Madagascar has sold them to a Vietnamese travel agency, Thien Minh Travel. No operational change has been announced for the five hotels of the group in Vietnam, nor in the only hotel in Cambodia.
Evason Ana Mandara & Six Senses Spa, Nha Trang, Vietnam
Is entrant as the worlds' big ones: ranked as number 49 in the world's Top 100 of the magazine "Hôtels de Rêve", it is the 12th best spa in the world, and the second in terms of quality of service. Nominated in 3 categories of the World Travel Awards 2010, and other rewards still to come?
La Villa Battambang, Cambodia
A 6-storey building is now under construction next door. As a result, there are a lot of noise and discomforts. La Villa's management recommends to all its guests to temporarily book their stay at the recently open Bambu Hotel, 16 bedrooms around a swimming pool, or at the 6-bungalows Cabaret Vert Hotel.
Satri House, Luang Prabang, Laos
After total renovation was completed last summer, Satri House Boutique Hotel, one of the most exquisite places in this ancient city classified as a World Heritage by Unesco, has been recently appointed member by the prestigious Relais & Châteaux international association.
PICTURE OF THE MONTH
South-East Asia is the home of varied religions and faithful believers. Seen here is a venerable Caodaist nun who proudly posed for Patrick de Wilde, a French photographer who went for a photo shoot to Tây Ninh Province, a sanctuary of this faith in the South of Vietnam. Her white tunic is a symbol of her sacred obedience and her wimple bears a Buddhist lotus flower, completed in its center by the eye symbol of this amazingly syncretic religion.
© Picture Patrick de Wilde
CAMBODIA AND LAOS: NEW COUNTRY MANAGERS
Phoenix Voyages has recently appointed two new Country Managers. In Cambodia, Adriano Dennhardt takes up the management of the Siem Reap office; a French national, with years of experience in a Brazilian DMC company, Adriano will strengthen our position and develop new products.
In Laos, Marc Ruffet will be in charge of our office in Luang Prabang; from Switzerland, Marc has long years of experience in Asia and in projects development for green tourism.
VIETNAM: THE ANCESTORS WORSHIP FERMENT OF THE SOCIETY
The Ancestors worship is the ferment of the Vietnamese society. Everywhere in the country the cult of the ancestors, a ritual expression of piety, is followed as a religion. It is based on the belief that dead people's souls survive after death and protect their descendants. In all the houses, from towns to countryside, families set up a solemn altar to show their gratitude to their ancestors and strengthen the link between generations. In occasions such as, Têt, weddings or dead people's anniversary, those ceremonies, regulated by the lunar calendar, create occasions to offer food and presents made of paper representing the material world of the family. They are burnt, together with incense, supposed to drive ghosts and wicked spirits away. This is ritual everywhere that all travelers may appreciate on their way!
NEWS FROM THE SKY
Turkish Airlines is set to operate flights between Ho Chi Minh City and Istanbul as from December 2010. It will operate four flights a week via Bangkok using Airbus 340-300 aircraft.
Vietnam Airlines officially launched web check-in services on its website since August 16, 2010. However, the service does not extend to travelers with special services requests.
100% Vietnamese carrier Air Mekong will launch its operations on October 10, 2010. Its fleet of Bombardier CRJ900 jets will operate more than 30 daily domestic flights from HCMC and Hanoi to Danang, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, and Dalat as well as from HCMC to Con Dao, Buon Ma Thuot, Haiphong and Vinh.
Yangon will be internationally linked as from early November, 2010, with Chang Mai, 3 direct flights a week operated by Air Bagan; and with Ho Chi Minh City, 4 direct flights operated by Vietnam Airlines.
"Very good welcome and interesting cultural exchanges. Your guides gave us the chance to know the organization of Vietnam and the Vietnamese mentality.",
"Country of multiple faces, all of them different, that the perfect organization of the tour made posible for us to discover. The choice in the guide is the most important, and in the North as well as in the South, your guides improved our trip thanks to their comments, their professionalism and their culture."