Though I have visited My Son sacred grounds many times, the centuries-old towers still hold an irresistible charm for me. Located in a valley in Quang Nam’s Duy Xuyen district, the grounds consist of over 70 architectural constructions built by the Champa people in the 7th century.
Solemn statues, mossy towers, and delicately curved dancing apsara all serve to take visitors back to the Ancient Champa Kingdom. I always come back to My Son because hidden within those towers are mysteries that remain unsolved, because I want to listen to stories about the prosperous religion of the Champa people, and because I enjoy becoming absorbed in the traditional Champa dance.
In former times, the ancient Champa dynasties performed their sacrificial rituals at My Son sacred grounds and the site was regarded as one of the religious centres of Hinduism in Southeast Asia. Centuries later, the sacred grounds still retain many curiosities for visitors to explore and learn about the ancient culture. Given its tremendous cultural and historical value, My Son sacred grounds are certified as a World Cultural Heritage.
From My Son, tourists can travel along Thu Bon river to visit another World Cultural Heritage-Hoi An Ancient town. Hoi An port was first established in the 16th century and quickly became one of the busiest ports under the Nguyen dynasty. At the height of its prosperity, merchants from Japan and China built houses in Hoi An; and merchants from European countries such as Spain, Portugal and France also visited regularly. These days, though Hoi An is no longer a commercial port it still draws millions of visitors annually from Asia and Europe.
While other ancient cities have been ravished by time, Hoi An is relatively well-preserved. It charms tourists with its ancient streets, pagodas, and boats that drift gently down the Hoai river. More importantly, Hoi An still maintains its traditional culture which is inherent in the street vendors selling che xi ma and to cao lau, and in the serene atmosphere.
Visitors to the central region should also take time to discover the past at Hue Ancient Capital. For 400 years (1558-1945), Hue was the capital of 22 generations of the Nguyen and Tay Son Dynasties. The ancient city still has within it many tangible and intangible cultural heritages which symbolise the spirit of Vietnam. For many centuries, the best of the country was gathered here to create a rich culture. To visit Hue is to marvel at citadels, golden palaces, divine temples, solemn mausoleums, and poetic natural landmarks. The entirety of the ancient capital in Hue has been ranked among humanity’s centuries-old wonders in UNESCO’s list of World Cultural Heritages.
After exploring these magnificent religious sites and ancient palaces, visitors can continue their journey through the central region to view the magnificent caves of Phong Nha. Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave system in Quang Binh province has recently earned global fame, having been certified by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage in 2003 and recognised as having the world’s largest cave, Son Doong cave. An expedition by Vietnamese explorers and members of the British Cave Research Association in 1990 brought the cave system to the attention of the public as one of the world’s most beautiful underwater caves.
With its ancient natural beauty and landmarks such as Phong Nha Cave, Tien Son Cave, Thien Duong Cave, Rao Phuong stream and En Cave, tourists have been arriving in droves to explore Quang Binh province. Among the caves to have been discovered, Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave is considered a masterpiece of nature, with dozens of cave domes reaching 50-60 metres in height and featuring colourful, interestingly shaped formations-a source of inspiration for Hollywood directors when filming Kong: Skull Island.
From Quang Binh, it’s possible to travel to Quang Tri and explore the Vinh Moc Tunnels. During the Vietnam War, the tunnels were built to withstand devastating destruction. The tunnel system has three levels, the first reaching 12 metres in depth and designed for living activities, the second reaching 15 metres, used for food and weapon storage, and the last reaching depths of 23 metres, used to shelter from bombs.
The tunnels were designed as a miniature village, measuring 1.7 kilometres in length and featuring intricate moats and living necessities such as a well, a guard station, a kitchen, bathroom and an infirmary. To witness the tunnels is to truly appreciate the strength of human perseverance from whence came such a feat of architecture.
A final destination worth visiting in the central region is Ngu Hanh Son, a place where five mountains-Earth, Fire, Wood, Water, and Metal-come together to create a renowned system of landmarks in the heart of Danang city. Visitors to the area can wander around historical temples, gaze out at the East Sea, and explore magnificent caves as Huyen Khong, Van Thong, Hoa Nghiem and An Phu. Ngu Hanh Son allows visitors to feel as though they are lost in the land of Buddha, in a world of serenity and peace.