The weathered but beguiling towers that punctuate the scenery upcountry from Phan Thiet to Da Nang are the only remaining legacy of Champa, an Indianized kingdom that ruled parts of central and southern Vietnam for over fourteen centuries. From murky beginnings in the late second century, Champa rose to unify an elongated strip from Phan Thiet to Dong Hoi, and by the end of the fourth century Champa comprised four provinces: Amaravati, around Hué and Da Nang; Vijaya, centred around Quy Nhon; Kauthara, in the Nha Trang region; and Panduranga, which corresponds to present-day Phan Thiet and up to Phan Rang. The unified kingdom’s first capital, established in the fourth century in Amaravati, was Simhapura (“Lion City”); nearby, just outside present-day Hoi An, My Son, Champa’s holiest site and spiritual heartland, was established.

To honour their gods, Cham kings sponsored the construction of the religious edifices that still stand today; the red-brick ruins of their towers and temples can be seen all along the coast of south-central Vietnam. While they never attained the magnificence of Angkor, their greatest legacy was a striking architectural style characterized by a wealth of exuberant sculpture. The typical Cham temple complex is centred around the kalan, or sanctuary, normally pyramidal inside, and containing a lingam, or phallic representation of Shiva, set on a dais that was grooved to channel off water used in purification rituals. Having first cleansed themselves and prayed in the mandapa, or meditation hall, worshippers would then have proceeded under a gate tower and below the kalan’s (normally) east-facing vestibule into the sanctuary. Any ritual objects pertaining to worship were kept in a nearby repository room, which normally sported a boat-shaped roof.

Cham towers crop up at regular intervals all the way up the coast from Phan Thiet to Da Nang, and many of them have been restored in recent years. A handful of sites representing the highlights of what remains of Champa civilization would include: Po Klong Garai towers; Thap Doi towers; Po Re Me Tower; My Son; Po Nagar towers.

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