About Central Vietnam

The Champa Kingdom was Central Vietnam and originally stretched from Hue to south of Nha Trang


Hoi An Ancient Town. (Photo courtesy of Gary Theobald).

Discover the lost ancient Champa Kingdom

The ancient Champa Kingdom in Central Vietnam has disappeared - so what happened to the Hindu Champas? what can we learn from the Champas?  

From 7th - 10th Century the Champas controlled the strategic Spice Trade - other countries who controlled the Spice Trade over the centuries included the Chinese, Dutch & Portugese.  Today there are as few as 70,000 ethnic Champas living in Vietnam - most are in ethnic villages around Nha Trang or in the Mekong (some are in Cambodia, Laos & Thailand).

Our journey of discovery is on the sea, rivers and lands of the ancient Champas in Central Vietnam !  We can follow the Thu Bon & Vu Gia rivers up river to destinations such as Hoi An (port & commercial capital), Tra Kieu (political capital), My Son (temples), Thanh My, Nong Son and further !  We can follow these rivers as they flow into the ocean towards Cu Lao Cham (Cham Islands). 

Champa Kingdom (Tra Kieu Kingdom)

The ancient history of Quang Nam Province and most of Central Vietnam is the history of the Lin Yi and Champa peoples - it is these ancient people who energized this area and gave the feelings which for centuries has attracted traders & travelers.  This is the Indian part of the makeup of "Indo-China".

UNESCO World Heritage Hoi An Ancient Town is the only surviving Vietnamese port which remains intact as it was more than 200 years ago.  Hoi An history goes back more than 2,000 years.  Today Hoi An is Vietnam's most popular foreign tourist destination.

UNESCO World Heritage My Son Sanctuary today is the most important surviving Champa ruins in Vietnam.  The Champa's were Hindus during the period of My Son's use as a temple site 92 A.D. until 1,400 A.D.  My Son is about 40 km by road from Hoi An.  My Son is a tranquil place of healing and high energy - a place of feelings which attracts many people - My Son does not feel like modern Vietnam or anywhere else in Vietnam!  Most tourists visiting Hoi An also visit My Son.    

Earliest evidence points to Lin Yi origins from Borneo and the Iron Age at Sa Huynh around 200 B.C.

From 192 A.D. until 1,400 A.D. this region was the commercial (Hoi An), political (Tra Kieu) and spiritual (My Son) heartland of the Champa Kingdom which stretched from Danang down to Nha Trang (Kauthara) and later to Phan Rang (Panduranga).  Through wars finally the last of the Champa settlements was annexed by the Vietnamese in 1832 - many Champas having fled to Cambodia and other countries within the region.

The Champa people are ethnically the same Malay-Polynesian people as the Khmers of Angkor Wat, Cambodia - with dark skin, wiry hair and sunken eyes their physical appearance is very different from the Vietnamese. 

Hemp was grown & clothed the Champa people (hemp was the product that powered the "industrial revolution" in 18th century England).  Today some small Champa communities around Nha Trang still grow hemp.

The Thu Bon and Vu Gia rivers, some of the most important rivers in Vietnam, start in Laos and feed into Hoi An and Danang.  These rivers for thousands of years have been the commercial and cultural heritage of the area providing trading links between the highlands, lowlands and import/ export with other countries.  (Sadly today hydro electric dams are being built up river which could destroy Hoi An's eco-system and with it the tourism industry so critical to Central Vietnam!).

The Champas were great seafarers (and pirates) who owned ships and traded extensively with China, India, Java and other countries.  Their ships had similar lines to vessels still being used today including Karma Water's traditional sailing ghe nang "Makara"

The earliest traders to Hoi An were most likely from Borneo, Java & Indian.  Later by 7th Century Arabs and Parsees (non-Muslim Persians), followed by the Chinese, Japanese, and by the 16th Century the Europeans including Dutch, Portuguese and British.

Trade with China was along the second "Silk Road" - the important sea route of "Nanhai Trade".  Nanhai (also called Panyu) was the Chinese port of Canton (today called "Guangzhou") in the Pearl River Delta.  Hanoi was another major port on this route.

The Champas during 7th to 10th Century controlled the strategic “Spice Trade” between Indonesia, Pursian Gulf states, India and China.  Later the Chinese and then the Portugese controlled this strategic trade route.

The Hai Van Pass (just North of Danang) acts as a natural barrier with two different weather systems North and South of this Pass.  Primarily Chinese influence came by land North of the Pass and to the South by sea from India and Muslim Arabs.

By the 4th Century Buddhism & Hinduism had both entered Vietnam through Hoi An from trade with India.  By the 10th Century some Champa people had moved from Hindu towards Islam - and today some Champa descendents in Melaka and Cambodia are Muslims.  Today a few Champa villages remain near Nha Trang.

During the 16th to 19th centuries Hoi An was a major international trading port comparable to Macau and Melaka. Increasingly Hoi An Bay became silted and shallow from sands carried downstream by rivers and about 150 years ago a new port was established 30km north in Danang. 

Today Hoi An is now too shallow to be a sea port averaging only 0.9 metres depth at the inlet!  Hoi An remains an important working river port for the surrounding communities.

Hoi An maintains a unique blend of ancient and modern Vietnam - with increased numbers of tourists it is quickly getting over crowded with tailor shops & restaurants!  In comparison the tranquility of My Son remains as it should be in a sanctuary!

UNESCO Bangkok in 2008 published a revealing Hoi An IMPACT report stating that since 1999 the impact tourism has had on Hoi An culture & heritage is unacceptable! yet they have given no recommendations or otherwise attempted to make real corrections on site management, and Hoi An People's Committee remains largely managing as it did prior to 1999.  Because of high value of real estate the local community in Hoi An Ancient Town have sold their homes and these have become restaurants, tailor shops, etc. and most of the cuture & heritage has now gone, resulting in Hoi An being a low value cultural destination.   http://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/581/  

Cu Lao Cham (Cham Islands)

Cu Lao Cham  (Cham Islands) is the name given to the seven islands 9 nautical miles off the river -sea inlet due 4 kms East of Hoi An.  These islands were sacred to the Champa people. 

Humans have lived on these islands for more than 3,000 years. Early Chinese charts from 700 A.D. show that these islands with excellent anchorage, shelter and fresh water were visited regularly during sea voyages. 

The largest island is Hon Lao with two fishing villages - the largest village is Bai Lang and the smaller and rarely visited is Bai Huong.  Our Cham Island Day Tour and Cham Islands Homestay is in Bai Huong.

There is an excellent anchorage off Bai Lang village (in the Lee of the NE Monsoon winds) on Hon Lao with fresh water supply on the South of the bay - it was fresh water that attracted ancient seafarers to Cham Islands (and they probably built a temple on this site).

Ocean going sailing junks from China & Japan (for only a few years) on a broad reach on NE monsoon winds in Autumn & Winter anchored off Cham Islands and smaller vessels would then transport goods & people ashore to Hoi An.  Merchants stayed for up to 6 months ashore before prevaling winds moved towards the South and would drive these vessels northwards again on a broad reach.   

Today the Hoi An river inlet to the sea has a average depth of only 0.9 metres - making sea passage through the swell to Cham Islands almost impossible during the annual northeast monsoon season September - December.

A number of tourist projects are supposed to be built along the leeward shoreline facing Hoi An - the other side of the island is too wind blown during the monsoon season for anyone but the military and birde nest business to survive!  So far (except for an unknown Vietnamese Military resort) no resorts have been unable to build.

The Danish Government through it's DANIDA programs has generously donated funds and expertise to create Vietnam's second marine park on Cham Islands.  Snorkelling and diving are popular June - August.

In 2011 New Zealand Government NZAID funded a grant for Tara Co. Ltd. for pro-poverty reduction for Responsible Tourism for Bai Huong, Cu Lao Cham.  Tara partnered with Netherlands Development Agency SNV and Quang Nam Province Marine Protection Agency Cu Lao Cham. 

Chinese Immigration to Vietnam

Hoa refers to a minority in Vietnam consisting of persons considered to be ethnic Chinese (Han Chinese).

Hoi An is the first China Town and settlement of many Chinese who later relocated in the Mekong or Saigon. 

The Chinese began to migrate into Vietnam from the 3rd century B.C.  In the last 2000 years several waves of Chinese people, including soldiers, officers, civilians, Merchants and others have come to settle in Vietnam.  Many of them married Vietnamese and their children became Vietnamese. 

In the 17th century, after the collapse of the Ming Dynasty, Chinese loyal to the Ming Emperor fled to Southeast Asia including Vietnam.  Historically the incoming Chinese Dynasty killed everyone loyal to the old Dynasty and destroyed all knowledge and books.  

In 1671 General Mac Cuu, who was Ming Loyalist, and his soldiers landed in Kham (now Ha Tien), which was under the control of the Khmer Kingdom.  Mac Cuu turned Kham into a wealthy regional trading center and expanded his control of the surrounding area. Later he turned himself into becoming a subject of the Nguyen Lords. 

In 1679 General Duong Ngan Dich who controlled Long Mon City in Guangxi province, China, and his Vice-General Huynh Tan (Hoang Tien) as well as General Tran Thuong Xuyen and his Vice-General Tran Binh An who controlled 3 Chinese cities of Cao, Loi and Liem in Guangdong Province fought against the Ching Dynasty to restore the Ming.  After being defeated by Ching Armies the two Generals and their soldiers fled to the Southern (An Nam) by boat.

At this time Vietnam was divided into two parts of North & South - the Trinh Emperor controlled the North and the Nguyen Emperor controlled the South.  The Chinese Generals asked the Trinh Emperor for help - however he denied them their request. 

The Generals and their troops continued further South and surrendered to Nguyen Emperor Phuc Tan in Hoi An and became his subjects. Nguyen Emperor Phuc Tan asked the Generals to go further towards the South. General Duong Ngan Dich and Vice-General Huynh Tan ( Hoang Tien) explored the empty lands following the Mekong river to camp in Dinh Tuong (My Tho, Tien Giang province). General Tran Thuong Xuyen entered Can Gio following the Dong Nai river to camp in the Cu Lao Pho (Bien Hoa), and Dong Pho (Gia Dinh, Saigon) to setup trade and farming businesses. 

The Hoa community was known as the “Minh Huong” (Vietnamese Ming Community).  The word "Huong" first used the word means "incense" when combined with Ming means Ming’s Incense ( ).  In 1827, the Emperor Minh Mang of Vietnam changed the Huong into Huong , it means “Incense”  was changed into "village" to avoid colliding with the Ching Dynasty, therefore, it can be understood as "the village of Ming "Minh Huong" () and also means "Glory Village." 

In 1698, in the region of Phien Tran - Ben Nghe - Saigon formed in Gia Thanh, there became the centre of  Minh Huong, the Cho Lon. 

Although the Nguyen Dynasty profited from the Chinese settlers in Vietnam the Emperor never felt secure about their loyalty.  At the time of the worst relations between the two sides 10,000 Ming Huong in Cu Lao Pho (Bien Hoa today) were massacred by the Tay Son in the 18th century.  During other times the Minh Huong (Hoa or Chinese ) enjoyed their freedom and prosperity, however the Chinese community in Vietnam has always been discriminated against by the Vietnamese.

By the 19th century the French welcomed the Chinese to settle in Saigon, Cholon.  During this period the Chinese immigrated to Vietnam through French recruitment for labour working in plantations.

In 1949, some Chinese (Hoa) fled to Vietnam after the KMT lost to CCP in mainland China.


Hue originally rose to prominence as the Capital of the Nguyen Lords, a feudal dynasty which dominated much of southern Vietnam from the 17th to the 19th century. In 1775 when Trinh Sam captured Hue, it was known as Phu Xuan. In 1802, Nguyen Phuc Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) succeeded in establishing his control over the whole of Vietnam, thereby making Hue the national capital.

Hue was the national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated and a communist government was established in Hanoi in the north.  While Bao Dai was briefly proclaimed "Head of State" with the help of the returning French colonialists in 1949 (although not with recognition from the Communists and the full acceptance of the Vietnamese people), his new capital was Saigon.

In the Vietnam War Hue's central position placed it very near the border between North and South Vietnam; however, the city was located in South Vietnam. In the Tet Offensive of 1968, during the Battle of Hue, the city suffered considerable damage not only to its physical features, but its reputation as well, most of it from American firepower and bombings on the historical buildings as well as the massacre at Hue committed by the communist forces.

After the war many of the historic features of Hue were neglected because they were seen by the victorious regime and some other Vietnamese as "relics from the feudal regime".  The Vietnamese Communist Party doctrine officially described the Nguyen Dynasty as "feudal" and "reactionary."  There has since been a change of policy, however, and many historical areas of the city are currently being restored.