West of Thap Cham train station, in the northwest corner of the city, Po Klong Garai is a collection of 13th and 14th century Cham towers perched on Trau Hill.
Thap Cham means “Cham tower”, the historic site is obviously the town’s namesake and one of the main reasons travellers stop in this city.
The towers were constructed by King Jaya Simhavarman III to honour the legendary King Poklongarai (1151-1205), known as a protector and for his good deeds in developing agriculture and constructing irrigation systems. There are three brick towers: the gate tower, fire tower and the most impressive, the main tower. Over 20 metres high, the kalan or sanctuary features an exquisite relief of Shiva and carvings in the Cham language. At the vestibule you will also see the statue of a bull (Nandin) that is fed offerings by farmers to ask for a good harvest.
Considering the ravages of time and development, the towers themselves are impressively sturdy and delicately ornamented. The Cham people still use the towers as a pilgrimage spot. The most significant time is the Kate Festival in October, when the temple is alive with ceremonies, offerings and traditional dance. Phan Rang Thap Cham was the last capital of the Cham kingdom before it was conquered by the ethnic Vietnamese, so the spot holds significance for the ethnic Cham who still chaff a bit under the rule of the majority people.
To reach Po Klong Garai Cham Tower, head out of Phan Rang south on Thong Nhat Street, bearing left onto Tran Phu Street. At the big roundabout with Highway 1A, circle round but keep straight and continue northwest on Hai Muoi Mot Thang Tam for five kilometres. You'll pass through the town of Thap Cham (and understand why we didn't bother to cover it). After the railroad tracks, turn right onto small Bac Ai Street – there’s a sign pointing to the towers,150 metres down the road.
The sight takes an hour, at most. It is definitely worth a look if you are staying in Phan Rang or Ninh Chu. Because it is easy walking distance from the train station, you could organise your journey so you get off, see it and take the next train. It’s a long way to go as just as a day trip from Nha Trang or Mui Ne, but it is possible by car or train.
By Cindy Fan
Last updated on 29th April, 2016.