by Jim Goodman
|Tháp Bà, Cái River, Nha Trang
On a small hill beside the river here stands Tháp Bà, an ancient Chăm temple that testifies to Nha Trang’s ancient glory, long before any Vietnamese had ever heard of it, as a small but independent Chăm kingdom called Kauthara. The city’s contemporary name, Nha Trang, is a corruption of Ya Trang, River of Reeds in the Chăm language, their own name for what is now called the Cai River.
|Po Nagar Temple
|stone carving of Shakti, Po Nagar Temple
|columns at the entrance to the temple compound
|Chăm dancers at Thạp Bà
|the Cái River at Nha Trang
Pô Rômê ruled for 24 years, a time of rising prosperity until, perhaps inevitably, he was drawn into the burgeoning conflict between the Chăm and Vietnamese in Phủ Yên. Violence broke out along the border in 1651. Pô Rômê got caught in one of the skirmishes and was mortally wounded. His half-brother took the throne and launched an invasion that forced Vietnamese defenders to retreat all the way to Bình Định. The Nguyễn Lord Nguyễn Phúc Tần dispatched 3000 troops under a Chăm general that retook Phủ Yên, then seized Nha Trang, captured the Chăm king and forced him to cede Kauthara and all territory down to the Phan Rang River. Kauthara’s Chăm population all fled; the Hindus for further south, the Muslims west to southwest Vietnam, Cambodia and Siam. Nha Trang port ceased to exist, the hinterland was deserted and the erstwhile kingdom now had a greater population of tigers and other wild animals than it did of people.
|Khánh Hòa landscape, west of Nha Trang
Diên Khánh would have its moment in history in the late 18th century when it became the focus of campaigns in the 1790s by Nguyễn Ánh, the surviving member of the Nguyễn royal family, against the Tây Sơn Dynasty that had overthrown them. In 1794 Nguyễn Ánh felt strong enough to make Diên Khánh a permanent base and so ordered a citadel built there. One of his French advisors, Olivier de Puymanul, a fortifications specialist, oversaw the construction, the four main gates of which are still in place. He stayed there through the expected, but unsuccessful Tây Sơn siege and two years later led Nguyễn forces in the capture of Nha Trang port.
|citadel gate at Diên Khánh
In 1924 the French combined villages and recognized Nha Trang as a minor town, upgrading it to a full town in 1937 and the de facto provincial capital. Local residents around this time built the Long Sơn Pagoda on a hill in the western suburbs that today is one of the landmarks of the city. The huge white Buddha at the summit, however, was only added in 1963, the year South Vietnam’s President Diêm was killed, as a protest against the Diêm regime’s anti-Buddhist policies. Carvings of Buddhist monks and nuns who killed themselves in protest at this time surround the base of the sculpture.
|Chùa Long Sơn
|embroidery work at XQ village
|Nha Trang beach
Mornings and afternoons the crowds on the beach are almost entirely Westerners, particularly Russians, who first became familiar with Nha Trang when the Russians had a naval base at nearby Cam Ranh Bay 1979-2002. Russian tourism really took off here in the last decade, with regular direct flights from Moscow. After Vietnamese, Russian is the second most commonly heard language in Nha Trang. Bilingual signs in Vietnamese and Russian proliferate the downtown area.
Vietnamese begin coming out to the beach only from late afternoon, when temperatures are cooler. So do the roving vendors, selling drinks, fruits, snacks, lobsters, scallops, oysters and other shellfish, raw or cooked. Bars on the beach begin preparing for Happy Hour and restaurants start assembling the ingredients of the special dishes they will offer for dinner, knowing that every visitor caps a day at the beach with a sample of Nha Trang seafood.
|buying lobsters on the beach
|Tháp Trầm Hương (Agarwood Tower)
|Pn Nagar/Thiên Y A Na
Nha Trang is one of the sites on my cultural/historical tours of Vietnam.
For more information, go to jttp://deltatoursvietnam.com