Under an omi­nous sky and set­ting sun, I pull off the high­way. Just a few hun­dred feet away three tow­ers come into view. Old and over­grown, grass and bush­es sprout from the cracks between the ter­ra­cot­ta bricks. It feels like an ancient for­got­ten city, in fact, it is. Once part of the great Cham­pa, a region ruled by the Cham eth­nic group through­out what is now Cen­tral and South­ern Viet­nam. These are the Chien Dan Cham Tem­ples near the town of Tam Ky.

 

Chien Dan Cham Towers, near Tam Ky

Chien Dan Cham Tem­ples, near Tam Ky

The arche­ol­o­gist inside me ignites my imag­i­na­tion as I wan­der through the grass in front of the tem­ples. Crum­bling bricks and stone pedestals hint at a grand entrance to this trin­i­ty. I won­der what it might have been like 900 years ago when the Cham peo­ple flour­ished in this region.

I soon dis­cov­er that I’m alone here. As the last light fades on a cloudy after­noon I walk through the grass and into the tem­ples. A few ancient carv­ings adorn the base; much of the remain­ing stat­ues have been moved into a sim­ple muse­um near­by.

 

The tow­ers on the North and South sides have lost their roofs over the last 900 years of expo­sure to the ele­ments. Although if you keep in mind that the Cham peo­ple used no mor­tar in their struc­tures, you real­ize how much of a feat of engi­neer­ing this was. Instead, they used a kind of inter­lock­ing dove­tail method for the ter­ra­cot­ta bricks. And now, almost 1,000 years lat­er I can mar­vel at these ancient struc­tures and still see the beau­ti­ful details.

Cham Tower Carving Statue Champa

Detail statutes still adorn the base

 

Cham Towers Tam Ky Vietnam

Cham Tow­ers near Tam Ky, Viet­nam

 

Champa — The Region

The region con­trolled by the Cham peo­ple for over 1,500 years is called “Cham­pa”. It encom­pass­es most of Cen­tral and South­ern Viet­nam. Estab­lished in the Sec­ond cen­tu­ry AD it last­ed for over 1,500 years and was even­tu­al­ly absorbed into Viet­nam in 1832 by the Nguyen Emper­or Minh Mang, though it was in decline since the 10th Cen­tu­ry.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there aren’t any Cham left in this region; after many con­flicts over the years, they were forced to move fur­ther South around what is now Nha Trang.

Religion of the Cham People

When these tem­ples were built around the height of Cham­pa, the Cham peo­ple prac­ticed Brah­man­ism, an ear­ly form of Hin­duism. Evi­dence of this can be seen in their stone carv­ings that can be found around the base of the tem­ples as well as in the muse­um near­by.

Cham Carving bas relief

Cham Carv­ing bas-relief

Over the years the reli­gion has changed and a lot of Cham peo­ple have adopt­ed Islam in a kind of mix of reli­gions that is com­mon in Asia. It has ele­ments of Islam as well as their tra­di­tion­al Cham cul­ture. These are the Bani Cham. There are how­ev­er Cham peo­ple who still prac­tice Brah­man­ism with a mix of local tra­di­tions, these are the Bal­a­m­on Cham.

Fur­ther, some of the ancient Cham tem­ples (like that in the Mar­ble Moun­tains of Da Nang) are used as Bud­dhist shrines of wor­ship, with the Lin­ga (rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Cre­ator God Shi­va in Hin­duism) still ven­er­at­ed by mul­ti­ple faiths.

 

Tam Ky Cham Towers Chien Dan

Tam Ky Cham Tow­ers Chien Dan

 

Now as dark­ness sets over the three tow­ers I get back on my motor­cy­cle, leav­ing this ancient Cham city behind me, pulling back onto the high­way I’m back in the hus­tle and bus­tle of the dai­ly life of the Viet­namese peo­ple.

Cham Towers near Tam Ky

Cham Tow­ers near Tam Ky

Logistics

Loca­tion: 8 km North of Tam Ky, Quang Nam Province, Viet­nam

Entrance Fee: None

Muse­um: Small muse­um on-site

Get There: The three tow­ers are just off of high­way QL1A (on the West side) about 8km North of Tam Ky. Marked on Google Maps as “Chien Dan Cham tow­ers”.

Chien Dan Cham Towers Quang Nam Province

Chien Dan Cham Tow­ers, Quang Nam Province

 

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