Covering much of the ancient Kingdom of Champa, South Central Vietnam possesses a densely populated coast scattered with fishing towns and quiet beaches, as well as a substantial hinterland inhabited by indigenous minorities. The resort towns of Nha Trang and Phan Thiet and the honeymoon hill station of Dalat are firmly on the tourist itinerary, but much of this region is relatively unexplored.
Under the steady influence of seaborne trade, Champa emerged during the 4th century AD as a powerful kingdom. At its peak, Champa extended from the Ngang Pass in the north to present-day Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong River Delta in the south. From AD 1000, its power dwindled and one principality after another was annexed by the Vietnam ese. By the late 18th cen tury, only tiny Panduranga, extending from Phan Rang to Phan Thiet, held out, but it too fell in 1832. Today, Champa’s remains, in the form of towers and temple complexes, cluster in the hills of the South Central region. People of the Cham minority still live in the old region of Panduranga, where the Kate Festival is celebrated with great ceremony in early fall.
The beaches of lower South Central Vietnam are some of the finest in the country. At Phan Thiet, an 11-mile (18-km) white-sand beach extends to the small fishing village of Mui Ne, Vietnam’s fastest- growing resort. Up the coast, the sea side city of Nha Trang is justly celebrated for its seafood and its archipelago of offshore is lands, which offer all manner of water- sports. More beaches are a day-trip away and for those heading unhurriedly up the coast, tiny fishing towns and lovely, often deserted, stretches of sand beckon.
Inland, the main resort town is Dalat, a French-built hill station and a cool delight to visit. Deeper into the highlands, the towns of Buon Ma Thuot and Kontum are surrounded by villages populated by the Bahnar, Ede, and Jarai minorities. Some of these hamlets still feature traditional architecture, such as the extraordinary longhouses of the Bahnar, nha rong.
The region was badly scarred by the Vietnam War, and at Son My a moving memorial stands in remembrance of one of the worst atrocities of the time, the My Lai Massacre