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Phan Rang & Thap Cham

PHAN RANG – THAP CHAM

Tel: 068 + Pop 143,700

The twin cities of Phan Rang and Thap Cham, which are famous for their production of table graps, are in a semi-arid region the sandy soil supports scrubby vegetation; local flora includes poinciana trees and prickly-pear cacti with vicious thorns. Many of the houses on the outskirts of town are decorated with Greek-style grape trelleses.

The area’s best known sight (and a common stop on the Dalat – Nha Trang route) is the group of Cham Towers known as PoKlong Garai, from which Thap Cham (Cham Tower) derives its name (see the boxed text ‘Po Klong Garai Cham Towers’). You can see Cham Towers dotted about the countryside 20km north of Phan Rang.

Ninh Thuan Province is home to tens of thousands of descendants of the Cham people, many of whom live in and around Phan Rang and Thap Cham. There are also three or four thousand Chiese descendants in the area, many of whom come tho worship at the 135- year old Chua Quang Cong, a colourful Chinese temple in the town centre.

Orientation

National Hwy 1 is Phan Rang’s main commercial street (Called Thong Nhat str,). Thap Cham, about 7km from Phan Rang, is strung out along National hwy 20, which heads west from Phan Rang towards Ninh Son and Dalat.

Information

The main post office is in the north of town. Internet access is available for 500d per minute from 7am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Po Ro Me Cham Tower

Po Ro Me Cham Tower (Thap Po Ro Me), among the newest of Vietnam’s Cham towers, is about 15km south of Phan Rang on a rocky hill 5km west of National Hwy 1. The ruins are very interesting, but are also very difficult to rach, the ‘road” is dirt track that can only be negotiated by motorbike or on feet. As one reader advised:

The road to take is between km 1566 and km 1567 from national Hwy 1. We did cross amall Cham hamlets, which were nice to go through. Following the image of a small distant tower, we took a road that became a path, and then less than that. Even the motorbike almost did not make it. and after about 2km of the hill, that was it-not even atiny path to follow. Our poor old bike could not survive the rocks and cactus and died (again!). We finally walked up the hill) great snakes!). That was magic. The feeling of being completely aline on that small hill. with only the distant sound of bells around a vow’s neck and nobody around for many kilometres (amaxing after weeks in Saigon), was indescribable. At the bottom of the tower are long stairs. The single tower was closed, but still worth the hill climb to get there, It is decorate with beautiful stone statues and there are two Nandin statues, just before the entrance. Thanks you for at least mentioning its existence, even if we were probably the only foreigners to reach it this year.

The kalan, which is decorated with numerous paintings, has two inscribed doorporsts, two stone statues of the bull Nandin, a basrelief representing a deified king in the form of shiva and two statues of wueens, one of whom has an inscription on her chest. The towers are named after the last ruler of an independent Champa, King Po Ro Me (R.1629 -51), who died as a prisoner of the Vietnamese.

Po Klong Garai Cham Towers

Phan Rang and Thap Cham’s most famous landmark is Po Klong Garai (admission 5000d), also known as Po Klong Giarai – girai means dragon. The four brick towers constructed at the end of the 13th century, during the reign of the Cham monarch jaya Simhavaman III. The towers were built as Hindu temples and 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 Grand.

Over the entrance to the largest tower ( the kalan, or sanctuary) is a carving of a dancing Shiva with six arms, This bas-ralif is known locally as Po Klaun Tri – The Guardian of the Temple tower – and is famous for its beauty. Note the inscriptions in the ancient Cham language on the doorposts. these tell of past restoration efforts and offerings of sacrifices and slaves made to the temple towers.

Inside the vestibule is a statue of the bull Nandin (also known as the Kapil Ox), sysbol of the agrecultural productivity of the countryside. To ensure a good crop, farmers would place an offering of fresh greens, herbs and areca nuts in fron of Nandin’s muzzle.

Under the main tower is a mukha – linga, a linga with a human face painted on it. A wooden pyramid has been constructed above the mukha –linga.

Indide the tower, opposite the entrance to the kalan, you can get a good look at some of the Cham’s sophisticated bilding technology; the wooden columns that support the lightweight roof are visible. The structure attached to it was originally the main entrance to the complex .

On a nearby hill is a rock of Cho’k Hala is a concrete water tank built by the Americans in 1965. It is encircled by french pillboxes, built during the Franco – Vietminh 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.

The Cham New Year (kate) is celebrate at the Towers in the seventh month of the Cham calendar (around October in the Gregorian calendar). The fesetival commemoriates ancestors,Cham national heroes and deities such as the goddess Po lno Nagar, who assisted the Chams with their farming.

On the eve of the festival, a procession guarded by the mountain people of Tay Nguyen Carries King Po Kloong Garai’s clothing to the accompaniment of traditional music. The procession lasts until midnight. The following morning the garments are carried to the tower, one again accompanied by music along with banners, flags, signing and dancing. Notables, dignitaries and village elders follow behind. This coulourful ceremony continues into the afternoon.

The celebrations then carry on for the rest of the monthm as the Cham atten parties and visit friends and relatives. They also use this time to pray for good fortune.

Po Klong Garai is located several hundred metres north of National Hwy 20, at a point 6km from Phan Rang towards Dalat. The towers are on the opposite side of the tracks to Thap Cham train station. Keep in mind that if you’re travelling between Dalat and Nha Trang or Mui Ne, you will pass the site en route, which is a logical time to visit. Most of the open tour buses shuttling people between Dalat and the coast make a requidite pit stop here.

Tuan Tu Hamlet

There is a minaretless Cham mosque, closed to visitors, inthe Cham hamlet of Tuan Tu (Population 1000). This Muslim community is governed by elected religious leaders (Thay Mun), who can easily be includes by their traditional costume, which incldues a white robe and an elaborate white turban whith red tassels. In keeping with Islamic precepts governing modesty, Cham women often wear head coverings and skirts. The Cham, like the other ethnic minorities in Vietnam, Suffer from discrimination and are even poorer than their ethnic-Vietnamese neighbours.

To get to Tuan Tu Hamlet, head south from Phan Ran along National Hwy1. Go 150m south of the large bridge to a small bridge. Cross it and turn left (to the south east) onto a dirt track. at the market (just oast the Buddhist pagoda on the right), Turn right and follow the road, part of which lined with cacti, for about 2km, crossing twi white concrete footbridges. Ask villagers for directions along the way. Tuan Tu is 3km from National Hwy1.

Place to Stay

Huu Nghi Hotel (Tel 822605, 354 Thong Nhat, rooms US$ 15-20) is certainly the cheapest and dumpiest hotel in Phan Rang it’s in the centre of town and there fore noisy, but at least the bus station is within walking distance. There is air-con available but no hot water. A sign in the lobby reads: Not to carry weapons, explosives, toxic drugs, inflammables, radioactive substances and animals in the Hotel.

Ninh Thuan Hotel (tel 827100, fax 822142, Le Hong Phong str, Rooms US$ 25-35) is a pleasant place that boasts air-con and satellite TV. The hotel is on the north side of town opposite a small park.

Thong Nhan Hotel (827201, fax 827343, 99 Thong Nhat str, double US$ 22-32) four storey building with two stars. All rooms have air-con, bathtubs, satelite TV and minibars.

Place to Eat.

One of the local delicacy here is roasted or baked gecko (Ky nhong) served with fresh green mango. If you prefer self-catering and have fast reflexes, you could consider catching your own gecko from the ceiling in your hotel room!

Some good, certrally located places to eat Vietnamese dished include Hai Nam and Nam Thanh.

Phan Rang is the grape capital of Vietnam. Stalls alongside National Hwy 1 on the south side of town sell fresh grapes, grape juice and dried frapes (too juicy to be called raisins.

Getting there & away

Bus: Buses from HCMC to Phan Rang and Thap Cham depart from Mien Dong bus station

Phan Rang intercity bus station: (Ben xe Phan Rang, opposite 64 Thong Nhat str) is on the Northen outskirts of town.

The Local bus station (Opposite – 426 Thong Nhat str) is located at the southern end of the Town.

Train: The Thap Cham train station is about 6km west of National Hwy1, with in sight of Po Klong Garai Cham Towers.

Car & MotorbikePhan Rang is a bout 344km from HCMC, 145 km from Phan Thiet, 105km from Nha Trang, and 110km from Dalat.

Ninh Chu Beach

Tel: 068

If you have your own wheels, you can get away from the traffic around National Hwy1 at Ninh Chu Beach (Bai Tam Ninh Chu), 7km south of Phan Rang, The beach here is Ok, but the sand is a dark yellow and the water lacks the beautiful turquoise hues of Nha Trang

Ninh Chu Hotel: (tel: 873900, rooms US$ 15-20) is situated near the beach.

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