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Da Nang – From ravaged war zones to bustling tourist hubs

Da Nang and its vicinity today show little scars from the devastation of the war

The Da Nang Bridge - BENEDICT LOPEZ

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Vietnam was under French rule for six decades from the 1880s.

In 1946, the French-Indochina war broke out and continued for eight years, ending with the defeat of the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954.

The war ended officially after negotiators from both sides attended a conference in Geneva and signed the Geneva Accords in July 1954.

In July 1954, the Geneva Agreements demarcated a divide at the 17th parallel in the Vietnamese Demilitarised Zone. The country was split into North and South Vietnam, pending elections within two years to choose a president and reunite the country.

But North Vietnam was dissatisfied as it wanted to unite the entire country under a single communist regime, replicating the Soviet Union and China’s models.

The US, however, was against this policy and this signalled the beginning of the Vietnam War, which began in 1954 and ended only in 1975, after the defeat of the Americans, following which the country was finally united.

Central Vietnam, including Da Nang and its outskirts, was severely ravaged during the 21-year-long war. The Vietnamese endured immense misery, suffering heavy casualties, and the country was impoverished. But their indomitable spirit to liberate their country never wavered.

Fast forward 44 years later, Central Vietnam, including Da Nang and its vicinity, today shows little scars from the devastation of the war. In fact, the pace of Da Nang’s development has been phenomenal: it was bustling during our visit there a few months before the onset of the pandemic.

Tourists discovered the city’s allures such as its street markets, bridges and pristine beaches. A night cruise on the river captivates visitors, who feast on the resplendent views of the city and sumptuous Vietnamese food cuisine.

Da Nang is noted for the Museum of Cham Sculptures, located near the Han River. A popular tourist attraction, this museum houses the world’s largest collection of Cham sculptures.

Champa Museum, Da Nang – BENEDICT LOPEZ

The museum contains about 300 stone and terracotta sculptural works completed between the Seventh and 15th Centuries, and these extraordinary works reveal the characteristics of Cham culture.

The museum was known as the “garden of sculptures”. and many Cham sculptures that had been collected in Da Nang, Quang Nam and elsewhere are placed in this museum.

Since its opening in 1916, the museum was refurbished twice, with the first expansion in the mid-1930s. The 1,000 sq metres of floor space was designed for the collections from neighbouring provinces like My Son.

In 2002, the museum was again renovated with the two-story building providing an additional 1,000 sq metres. The new building provides not only space for display and storage but also a library, a restoration workshop and offices for the staff.

Prior to 2007, the museum was managed by Da Nang Museums, an administrative section in charge of the city’s museums and heritage. In the following year, it merged with the city’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Commonly known by its colour, the Pink Church, the Da Nang Cathedral is another landmark in the city.

The pink church in Da Nang – BENEDICT LOPEZ

Built in 1923 to serve French Catholics who resided in Da Nang, this Gothic-style pink church in the heart of the city has a weathercock-topped steeple. Today, this cathedral still functions as a house of worship for local Catholics.

Next on our itinerary was My Son, situated nearly 70km southwest of Da Nang.

World heritage site: The My Son sanctuary – BENEDICT LOPEZ

My Son contains both abandoned and partly destroyed Hindu temples. Constructed by Champa kings between the Fourth and the 14th centuries, this was an Indianised kingdom of the Cham people. Temples here are devoted to the adoration of the god Shiva, known by different local names, but the most important is Bhadreshvara.

The My Son temple complex structure is regarded as one of the most important heritage sites in Vietnam. It is frequently compared with Borobudur, Yogyakarta, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Bagan in Myanmar and Ayutthaya in Thailand. In 1999, My Son was recognised as a Unesco world heritage site.

After My Son, we visited Hoi An. Teeming with tourists from all corners of the globe, Hoi An’s attractions include its traditional architecture, textiles and ceramics. Many bars, hotels and resorts grace this little town, which overlooks the port, where boats are berthed for both fishing and tourism.

Boats berthed in Hoi An – BENEDICT LOPEZ

One can marvel at the aesthetic beauty by strolling around Hoi An – still unblemished by modernity and steeped in history, where traditions are sustained.

Tourists strolling in Hoi An – BENEDICT LOPEZ

Hoi An exemplifies a melting-pot of history with its quaint architecture encompassing a blend of wooden Chinese shophouses and shrines, multi-coloured French colonial buildings, decorative Vietnamese houses and the imposing Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda.

Our next visit was to the Imperial City of Hue, located around 100km from Da Nang.

The Imperial City in Hue – BENEDICT LOPEZ

Depending on the mode of transport, it takes between two and three hours. Built in 1362, Hue was recognised as a Unesco world heritage site in 1993.

Hue was Vietnam’s capital from 1802 to 1945 during the Nguyen dynasty. The drive from Da Nang to Hue is scenic, with lush greenery and meandering, tranquil rivers – an environmentalist’s delight that is in harmony with nature.

The focal point in Hue is the Citadel, adjacent to the Huong River, popularly known as the Perfume River.

I have visited Vietnam five times and enjoyed every single visit. Like all other cities in Vietnam which I have toured, people in Da Nang and its fringes display diligence and entrepreneurial skills in their business activities. They seemed determined to progress in life despite having to eke out a living.

Never mind the communication barrier: people are generous with their smiles. Paradoxically, such obstacles make visits to these places even more interesting, as using sign language when trying to converse can sometimes break out in hilarity.  

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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