New Cham ruin in Bin Thuan Province

Adam Bray, a travel writer based in Vietnam, shares with us the ruins of a Cham brick structure that he stumbled upon.

New Discovery of Ancient Cham Tower by Resident Guidebook Writer
Mui Ne Beach.net, 29 September 2009

Yesterday amidst the wind and rain of the typhoon currently pounding the Vietnam coast, resident travel writer Adam Bray (myself) and his friend, N. T. Tron, made an amazing discovery in central Vietnam’s Binh Thuan Province. On the way home from a long trip through the countryside, they stopped in a remote forested area for a break, and stumbled upon an unusual mound, camouflaged by trees and vines. Noticing a few old red bricks scattered on the ground, they climbed to the top of the mound for a better look. Wading through tall shrubs and thorny vines, they discovered a series of four shafts, 15 to 20 feet deep, lined with brick walls, descending into the ground.

The ancient red-brick walls of the buried towers were tell-tale signs that the two had discovered a previously unknown temple complex, attributed to the ancient Champa Empire. The Cham once dominated most of south and central Vietnam, and were contemporary adversaries of the Kingdom of Angkor in Cambodia. Today the Cham now heavily populate Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan Provinces of south-central Vietnam, with a thriving matriarchal, Hindu-descended culture. They are known for their beautiful hand-woven textiles, pottery made on a stationary wheel (the craftswomen circles the table, walking backwards as they work) , the white robes, turban and red tassels worn by Cham men, and bizarre burial rituals that include exhuming a corpse on the anniversary of death.

The location and arrangement of the temples is highly unusual. Rather than being located on a hilltop facing the sea or a river, the towers are buried underground, in a remote area that is currently difficult to access. The towers are also packed tightly together, and may even form a single structure with multiple chambers. It’s not possible yet to know precisely how old the towers are. However, if comparing the other temples here in Binh Thuan Province, including those found at Phu Hai (8th Century), Lien Huong (8th-9th Century) and the newly discovered temple at Thuan Hoa (9th Century), an age of 1100-1300 years is plausible. To unlock the temples secrets, and discern which god-king or goddess they were built to worship, the temples will need to be fully excavated and researched. For now, we’ve decided to nickname them “Thap Po A’dam-Hung.”

Adam Bray first arrived in Vietnam in 2003 and bases himself in Phan Thiet, Vietnam. He is fluent in Vietnamese and speaks basic Cham. He is also one of only a small group of foreigners who can read Cham script, based on ancient Sanskrit. Adam has contributed to more than 15 guidebooks to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, for publishers including DK Eyewitness, Insight Guides, Thomas Cook, ThingsAsian, Berlitz and Time Out. Read more about his adventures in Southeast Asia at www.fisheggtree.com or life in Mui Ne-Phan Thiet at www.muinebeach.net.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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