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Exploring Cham culture at Po Klong Garai Tower

Po Klong Garai Tower near the city of Phan Rang-Thap Cham in Ninh Thuan Province is an attractive destination for visitors who want to learn about the culture of Cham ethnic people.

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Po Klong Garai Tower in Ninh Thuan Province

Recognized as a relic of architecture, art and sculpture by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 1979, Po Klong Garai Tower has three structures of different sizes — Chinh (main tower), Cong (gate tower) and Hoa (fire tower).The tower was built in the late 13th and early 14th centuries in honor of King Po Klong Garai (1151-1205). During his reign, the king focused on agricultural development. The two projects he built are Nha Trinh Dam and Cham canal, which are still in existence.

Measuring over 20 meters in height, the main tower is where people wordship King Po Klong Garai. The gate tower is more than eight meters high while the fire tower is around 9 meters high.

The surfaces of the towers are engraved with humans, dragons, leaves and sacred cows in stones and ceramics.

According to Cham people’s belief, the fire tower is the place for resting in peace and keeping the items used during ancient rituals while the gate tower is where people can take a rest to find peace before entering the main tower.

The unique part of Po Klong Garai tower lies in the clay bricks used for building it and the glue used to stick those bricks together. The glue is believed to have been made from an extract from a plant species called Dipterocarpus alatus, a tropical forest tree common in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. How the Dipterocarpus alatus extract was mixed with other materials to make the glue remains a mystery.

On December 30, Cham people still keep their tradition of gathering at the tower on the first day of the seventh lunar month for a ceremony to honor King Po Klong Garai and in October to celebrate Kate festival, during which they pray for pumper crops and prosperity.

It is easy for tourists to get to Po Klong Garai Tower on Trau Hill on Bac Ai Street, around 9 kilometers from Phan Rang-Thap Cham City.

On the way to Phan Rang-Thap Cham, tourists should drop by a local restaurant to eat banh xeo (rice pancake). The flavor of Phan Rang pancakes is slightly different from those made in the southern region. Rice flour is poured onto ceramic molds, instead of being fried. On the pancake are seafood like shrimp or squid, bean sprouts and green onions. The cake is served with fish sauce mixed with ground peanuts.

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