VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

South Central Coast

Quang Ngai - Around Quang Ngai - Sa Huynh - Quy Nhon - Around Quy Nhon - Song Cau - Tuy Hoa - Beaches North Of Nha Trang - Nha Trang - Around Nha Trang - Phan Rang Thap Cham - Ninh Chu Beach - Ca Na - Vinh Hao - Mui Ne Beach - Phan Thiet - Ta Cu Mountain

PHAN RANG & THAP CHAM

IDD Code:(+84) 68
If you're travelling Vietnam from north to south you'll notice a big change in the vegetation as you approach the twin cities of Phan Rang and Thap Cham, joint capitals of Ninh Thuan province. The familiar lush green ricepaddies are replaced with sandy soil supporting only scrubby plants. Local flora includes poinciana trees and prickly-pear cacti with vicious thorns. Famous for its production of table grapes, many of the houses on the outskirts of town are decorated with vines on trellises. The area's best-known sight (and a corn mon stop on the Dalat-Nha Trang route) is the group of Cham towers known as Po Klong Garai, from which Thap Cham (Cham Tower) derives its name. There are other towers dotted about the countryside. This province is home to tens of thousands of Chain people, particularly in the vicinity of the twin cities. The Cham, like other ethnic minorities in Vietnam, suffer from discrimination and are usually poorer than their ethnic-Vietnamese neighbours. There are also several thousand Chinese in the area, many of whom come to worship at the 135-year oldl Quang Cong Pagoda (Đ Thong Nhat), a colourful Chinese temple in the town centre. With both Hwy 1A and Hwy 20 (heading to the central highlands) passing through the towns, this is a good pit stop for either a coastal trip or the journey to Dalat. Nearby Nmh Chu Beach is another, quieter alternative.
Orientation
Hwy 1A is Phan Rang's main commercial street, and becomes Đ Thong Nhat in town. The main part of town is bordered to the south by the Cai River. Thap Cham, 7km from Phan Rang, is strung out along Hwy 20, which heads northwest from Phan Rang towards Dalat.
Information
Agriculture Bank (Tell: 822 714; 540-544 Đ Thong Nhat; Mon-Fri) Exchanges currency.
Main post office (rs$ 824 943; 217A 0 Thong Nhat) AIso offers internet access.
Sights
PO KLONG GARAI CHAM TOWERS
The four brick towers of Po KIong Garai (Thap Cham; admission 5000d; 730am-6pm), were constructed at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century. Built as Hindu temples, they stand on a brick platform at the top of Cho'k Hala, a crumbly granite hill covered with some of the most ornery cacti this side of the Rio Grande. A large modern building in a vaguely Chair style sitting at the base of the hill is dedicatee to Cham culture, with separate galleries of photographs, paintings and traditional pot tery. It's a good reminder that while the Chan kingdom is long gone, the Cham people an alive and kicking. Over the entrance to the largest tower (the kalan, or sanctuary) is a beautiful carving of a dancing Shiva with six arms. Note the in scriptions in the ancient Cham language or the doorposts. These tell of past restoratoin efforts and offerings of sacrifices and staves If you want to look inside, you'll need to re move your shoes as this is still an active plao of worship. Inside the vestibule is a statue o the bull Nandin, symbol of the agricultural productivity of the countryside. To ensure i good crop, farmers would place an offering of fresh greens, herbs and areca nuts in front o Nandin's muzzle. Under the main tower is; mukha-linga, a carved phallus with a hurnan face painted on it, sitting under a wooden pyramid. Inside the smaller tower opposite the en trance to the sanctuary, you can get a good look at some of the Chain's sophisticate building technology; the wooden column that support the lightweight roof are visible. The structure attached to it was originally the main entrance to the complex. On the hill directly south of Cho'k Hala is concrete water tank built by the Americans i 1965. It is encircled by French pillboxes built during the Franco-Viet Minh War to protect the nearby rail yards. To the north of Cho' Hala, you can see the concrete revetments of Thanh Son Airbase. used since 1975 by the Vietnamese Air Force. Po Klong Garai is just north of Hwy 20, at a point 6km west of Phan Rang towards Dalat. The towers are on the opposite side of the tracks to Thap Cham train station. If you're travelling between Dalat and the coast, you will pass the site. Most of the open-tour buses running the route make a requisite pit stop here.
PO RO ME CHAM TOWER
Po Ro Me (Thap Po Ro Me; admission free) is one of the most atmospheric of Vietnam's Cham towers -partly due to its isolated setting on top of a craggy hill with sweeping views over the cactus-strewn landscape. The temple honours the last ruler of an independent Champa, King Po Ro Me (r 1629-51), who died as a prisoner of the Vietnamese. His image and those of his family are to be found on the external decorations. Note the flame motif repeated around the arches. The temple is still in active use, with ceremonies taking place twice a year. The rest of the time it's locked up. but the caretakers, who are based at the foot of the hill, will open the sanctuary for you. Consider leaving a small donation with them and don't forget to remove your shoes. The occupants of the temple aren't used to having their rest disturbed, and it can be a little creepy when the bats start chattering and swooping overhead in the confined dark space. Through the gloom you'll be able to make out a blood red and black centrepiece -a bas-relief representing the deified king in the form of Shiva. Behind the main deity and to the left is one of his queens, Thanh Chanh. Look out for the inscriptions on the doorposts and a stone statue of the bull Nandin. Cham temple architecture has changed con-siderably if the small concrete hut dated 1962 at the back of the lower is anything to go by. Inside is a statue of the king's first wife - a Muslim woman called Thanh Cat - with an inscription painted on her chest. A statue of the third wife has been removed to a museum, along with other relics from the site. A linga remains at the front right of the tower. The rubble at the front left is all that remains of a preparation room bombed during the war - revealing how close Po Ro Me came to destruction. The best way to reach the site is with your own motorbike or a xe om. The trip is worthwhile, as long as getting lost is a part of your agenda. Take Hwy 1 A south from Phan Rang for 9km. Turn right at the turn off to Ho Tan Giang, a narrow sealed road just after the petrol station, and continue for a further 6km. Turn left in the middle of a dusty village at a paddock which doubles as a football field and follow the road as it meander to the right until the tower comes into sight. A sign points the way cross-country for the last 500m. This may be negotiable on a motorbike, but it is deeply rutted, and studded with rocks and cacti. You might like to park and walk the remainder.
BAU TRUC VILLAGE
This Cham village is known for its pottery and you'll see several family shops in front of the mud and bamboo houses. On the way to Po Ro Me turn right off Hwy 1A near the war memorial, into the commune with the banner 'Lang Nghe Gom Bau True'. Inside the village take the first left for some of the better pottery stores.
TUAN TU HAMLET
While Cham history is predominately Hindu, significant parts of the remaining population are Islamic. There is a minaret-less mosque in the Chain hamlet of Tuan Tu (population 1000), This community is governed by elected religious leaders (Thay Mun), who can easily be identified by their traditional costume, which includes a white robe and an elaborate white turban with red tassels In keeping with Islamic precepts governing modesty, the women here often wear head coverings and long dresses. To get to Tuan Tu Hamlet, head south from Phan Rang along Hwy 1A. Go 250m south of the large bridge to a small bridge. Cross it and turn left (to the southeast) onto Đ Tran Nhat Duat. The road bends right at a Buddhist pagoda. Turn right at the T-junction after a school and follow the road through the village and over a bridge for about 2km until you reach the hamlet to the right of the road. The mosque is at the centre of the village near the large well. If you continue along the road for a further 2km you'll reach a beach with red sand dunes.
Sleeping
Viet Thang Hotel (Tell: 835 899; 430 ĐNgo Gia Tu; r 120,000-180,000; Looking a little like a Mondrian painting from the outside, this place will suit backpackers who don't mind the odd cigarette hole or stain on the sheets.
Ho Phong Hotel ( 363Đ Ngo GiaTu;r170,000-250,000d; This one's a cross between a castle and a Christmas tree, set behind a little park near the bridge at the bottom of town. It's new, clean and great value - with high ceilings, impressive showers in most rooms (glass walls and two shower heads) and toilets lined with gold trim.
Thong Nhat Hotel ( 343 Đ Thong Nhat; rUS$15-25; This place is starting to show its age, but it's kept clean and breakfast is included in the rates.
Eating
One of the local delicacies here is roasted or baked gecko (ky nhong), served with fresh green mango. If you prefer self-catering and have quick reflexes, most hotel rooms in Vietnam have a ready supply. More palatable to tourist tastes is another local speciality, com ga - chicken with rice. The local chickens seem to have more meat on them than Vietnam's usual spindly specimens, and people make a point of buying chickens (or at least stopping for a feed) as they pass through. There are a few com ga restaurants on Đ Tran Quang Dieu, the best of which is PhuocThanh (Tell: 824 712; 3 Đ Tran Quang Dieu; mains 20,000d). Phan Rang is the table grape capital of Viet-nam. Stalls in the market sell fresh grapes, grape juice and dried grapes (too juicy to be called raisins). Also worth sampling is the green dragon fruit (thanh long). Its mild, kiwifruit-like taste is especially refreshing when chilled. You'll find it in the market, or in grocery shops along D Thong Nhat.
Getting There & Away
BUS
Phan Rang bus station (Ben Xe Phan Rang; opposite 64 Đ Thong Nhat) is on the northern outskirts of town. Regular buses head north to Nha Trang (24,000d, 2l/2 hours), northwest to Dalat (40,000d, 4l/2 hours), and south to Ca Na (10,000d, one hour) and beyond.
CAR & MOTORBIKE
Phan Rang is 344km from HCMC, 147km from Phan Thiet, 32km from Ca Na. 104km from Nha Trang and 108km from Dalat.
TRAIN
The Thap Cham Train Station (Ga Thap Cham; Tell: 888 029; 7 Đ Phan Dinh Phung) is about 6km west of Hwy 1 A, within sight of Po Klong Garai Cham tow - crs. Destinations include Nha Trang (35,000d, 11/2 to 2I/2 hours, eight daily) and HCMC (120,000d, six to 10 hours, eight daily).

BIRD SPIT SOUP
The nests of the swiftlet (salangane) are used in bird's-nest soup as well as in traditional medicine, and are considered an aphrodisiac. It is said that the extraordinary virility of Emperor Minh Mang, who ruled Vietnam from 1820 to 1840, was derived from the consumption of swiftlet nests. The nests, which are built out of silk-like salivary secretions, are 5cm to 8cm in diameter. They are usually harvested twice a year. Red nests are the most highly prized. Annual production in Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen provinces is about 1000kg. At present, swiftlet spit fetches US$2000 per kilogram m the international marketplace.
GOODBYE SAILOR
Can Ranh Harbour has long been considered one of Asia's prime deep-water anchorages. The Russian fleet of Admiral Rodjestvenski used it in 1905 at the end of the Russo-Japanese War, as did the Japanese during WWII. At this time the surrounding area was still considered an excellent place for tiger hunting. In the mid-1960s the Americans constructed a vast base here, including an extensive port, ship-repair facilities and an airstrip. After reunification the Russians and their fleet came back. enjoying far better facilities than they had left seven decades before. For a while this became the largest Soviet naval installation outside the USSR. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War, economic problems forced the Russians to cut back vastly on their overseas military facilities. Although the initial contract on Cam Ranh Bay was due to expire in 2004. the Russians vacated their position by the end of 2002, the last hurrah for the Russian navy in Asia.
CHAMPY NEW YEAR
The Cham New Year (kate) is celebrated at Po Klong Garai in the seventh month of the Cham calendar (around October). The festival commemorates ancestors, Cham national heroes and deities such as the farmers' goddess Po Ino Nagar. On the eve of the festival, a procession guarded by the mountain people of Tay Nguyen car ries King Po Klong Garai's clothing, to the accompaniment of traditional music. The procession lasts until midnight. The following morning the garments are carried to the tower, once again accompanied by music, along with banners, Hags, singing and dancing. Notables, dignitaries and village elders follow behind. This colourful ceremony continues into the afternoon. The celebrations then carry on for the rest of the month, as the Cham attend parties and visit friends and relatives. They also use this time to pray for good fortune.