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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