POWER, both Imperial and mercantile, lay in central Vietnam for over 500 years, until history collided here in the 20th century.
Vietnamese rulers built temples and palaces in Hue, while traders from around the world built fortunes in Hoi An. It took the marriage of a princess to unleash these forces from the Cham rulers who had held sway for centuries prior. Central Vietnam is arguably the cultural heartland of the country, with the ruins and relics of these eras scattered throughout. It also marked the most northerly point of my Vietnam travels.
Central Vietnam contains probably the best cultural and historical sites south of Hanoi.
From the ancient imperial city of Hue.....
....the remains of the ancient My Son civilisation....
....120km to the old trading city of Hoi An.
Champa was the kingdom(s) of the seafaring Cham people who inhabited central and southern Vietnam, inland to Laos, from the 3rd century.
Largely Hindu and Indianised, the Cham's built brick temples and forts which remain today in places like My Son.
Scholars debate whether the Cham came from, or spread to southerly parts of south east Asia. Their power peaked with Arab and other maritime trade 1,000 years ago.
A marriage arrangement in 1306 between the Cham king saw the areas where Hue and Hoi An now sit ceded to the Vietnamese.
These photos are from 1993, a time when Hoi An was still sleepy, run down in a charming way.
The early morning trade by the port was as busy as the day got.
Ancient machinery span cotton in ancient buildings in the pretty streets.
Families engaged in traditional cottage industries could be seen, and were happy to be seen, around town.
Hoi An, I believe, has been tarted up immensely.
Pictures I have seen show the remarkable improvement in the condition of many historic buildings, dating from the 18 and 19th centuries.
The once quiet streets apparently again throng with merchants, this time selling tourist tat.
The famous "Japanese Bridge", unique for its housing a Buddhist temple, is one of the town's oldest structures.
Phuc Kien Assembly Hall is one of over 20 historical buildings, ranging from family houses to temples to tombs.
Hoi An is truly deserving of its UNESCO status, and the preservation of fragile buildings was essential. But has it made it a better place?
Further north, the Imperial city of Hue has historical simalarities to Hoi An.
It was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945.
The UNESCO-listed tombs, temples and palaces from that and earlier eras attracted 4 million tourists to Hue in 2019.
The French invaders recognised Hue's importance and established the second high school in the country here in 1896.
Quốc Học – Huế High School was to train future leaders for French administrators. It's list of alumni is ironic then: Hồ Chí Minh,
Ngô Đình Diệm, Trần Phú, and
Võ Nguyên Giáp to name a few.
Cham cities were established on the Perfume River from the 4th century.
The rise of "Hue" as a Vietnamese power began in 1306, when Vietnamese King Tran Anh Tong accepted two provinces from Champa King Che Man in exchange for marriage with Vietnamese princess Huyen Tran.
Lords, kings and princes duked it out for a few hundred years, until 1802. Nguyen Phuc Anh established his control over the whole of Vietnam.
Nguyen Phuc Anh became Emperor Gia Long, and established the imperial city, centred on the Thai Hoa Palace.
Most of the city gates, walls and other monuments date from this time onwards.
Iconic Thien Mu Pagoda dates from 1844, but has a history over 400 years old. A 2000kg bell was cast in 1710.
A score of historical buildings are spread out over the city, and cycling around for a few days makes for great exploring.
Tu Duc Tomb is one of the most outstanding sites, completed in 1867, 16 years before that Emperor's death.
Xung Khiem Pavilion is one of several pavilions on the lake where Tu Duc would relax.
While the victorious communists initially viewed Hue and its imperial past as a relic of the feudal regimes, tourist money has brought a predictable change of heart.
The restoration of these cultural relics has begun, and the city's fortunes are rising. Being larger and more spread out than Hoi An, Hue is unlikely to feel like a tourist zoo.
Lang Co is avery popular half way stop between Hue and Hoi An, on the coast.
The town sits on a beautiful stretch of beach.
Back in the 90s, it was quite a backwater, llittle in the way of modern tourist expectations.
Days at Lang Co were spent watching the waves and watching the way of local life.
If all the temples, tombs and history has got too much, unwind with a glass of snake wine!