In the second century, the Cham people founded the Champa Kingdom in central Vietnam. Today you can find remains of Cham temples in Vietnam, which give you a unique insight into this ancient culture.
Champa Kingdom history
The Cham lived in Cambodia and Vietnam and originated from Indian Hinduism. They were rice farmers, fishermen, and masters of temple building. Influenced by Hinduism, many temples were built to honor Hindu gods.
The kingdom of Champa originated in central Vietnam in the 2nd century. The kingdom lay between the Funan kingdom in the south (which later became the Khmer Kingdom) and the Dai Viet Quoc (Vietnam), which was mostly occupied by the Chinese. These two neighbors were stronger in terms of residents and military power and regularly had difficulties because of this.
In the 12th century, the Khmer empire invaded Champa and conquered the Mekong delta. But later the Champa and the Khmer Empire became allies in the battle against Vietnam, which was conquering the northern territories of the Cham kingdom. The joint force overcame the Vietnamese invading army. The Khmers temporarily gave the Mekong delta back to Champa. Ultimately, the Vietnamese armies succeeded in completely annexing the kingdom in 1822.
A large part of the Cham population flee to Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge actively tried to exterminate the Cham during the genocide from 1975 to 1979.
Cham culture in Vietnam today
Today, there are about 50 surviving Cham Tower scattered across Central Vietnam. Much of the Cham people are still living in this area, especially in Ninh Thuan province. In addition, another part of the Cham people in Cambodia live mainly around Tonle Sap Lake. Despite being almost completely extinct in the eighteenth century, about 200,000 cham people now live in Vietnam.
If you want to learn more about Cham culture, it is recommended to visit the Cham Museum in Da Nang. It is the largest Cham museum in existence, with many objects, artifacts and background stories about the former kingdom.
1. My Son (Hoi An)
The largest and most impressive Cham temples in Vietnam can be found 40 kilometers south of Hoi An: My Son. Despite the fact that this UNESCO World Heritage Site was first reclaimed by the jungle over the centuries and later badly damaged during the Vietnam War, this is still an incredible place to visit.
My Son Sanctuary dates back to the 4th to 13th centuries BC. The complex was built over ten centuries on slightly higher ground and surrounded by mountains that provide natural protection. In total, the Champa kingdom built at least 70 buildings here, sometimes even on top of the ruins of previous buildings. The temples and buildings are decorated with images of gods, sacred animals, priests and scenes of mythical battles. In addition to being a place of worship, kings and religious leaders were also buried here.
2. Nha Trang
The Po Nagar Cham Towers are one of the most famous of all the Cham temples in Vietnam, but this is partly because they are located in the popular resort of Nha Trang. The towers are built in honor of the goddess Po Nager, which literally means “The Mother of the Land”. It is a small complex with several towers, the highest tower of which is 25 meters high.
3. Quy Nhon
In the province of Binh Dinh, of which Quy Nhon is the capital, there are 14 Cham towers. They are easy to spot when driving through the area as they stand out prominently on a number of high hills in the landscape. It’s already impressive to see from a distance.
The Thap Doi Towers (Twin Towers) are located in the city, slightly outside the center. They are 20 and 18 meters high and are surrounded by palm trees. Steep stairs lead to the shrines inside, where the ceiling is visible and opens to heaven.
Thap Banh It is a group of four beautifully restored Cham towers atop a hill with great views over the surrounding countryside. They are about 15 kilometers from the city. With the largest tower that is almost 30 meters high, this place will leave a nice impression.
Canh Tien Tower is a lot further away, almost 30 kilometers from the city. For that reason, this tower is also much less visited and it is wonderfully quiet here. From a distance you can already see the tower when you are on your way to the airport.
4. Mui Ne
Near Phant Thiet you will find the Po Shanu Cham Towers, which consists of three different towers. They were built in honor of the Hindu god Shiva, Nandi and Agni. The largest tower for Shiva is 15 meters high and the other two are 12 meters high. From the hill you also have a beautiful view of the area. Every year the Cham people also hold a religious festival here.
5. Phan Rang
Six kilometers from the center of the city of Phan Rang on top of a hill you will find the Po Klong Garai, with three different towers. They are built in honor of the Ham king and are still in good condition. This cham tower in Vietnam is still regularly visited by the cham population as a place of pilgrimage.
The Po Ra Me Tower is located 20 kilometers outside the city, in a more remote location. Chances are you will be all alone when you visit this tower. It’s quite a climb up the hill to visit the tower, but the view makes it worth it.
6. Phu Yen
The most famous Cham temple in this province is the Nhan Tower, located not surprisingly on a hill next to a river. The 23 meter high tower was nearly destroyed but got restored in 1960.