Ceramic products, including several of the ubiquitous lingam and yoni in the foreground, made by Cham artisans on display
Ninh Thuan Province, situated 350km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City and 100km south of Nha Trang, is trying to promote tourism based on its unique Cham civilization that nowhere else in the country possesses.
Out of more than 100,000 Cham people living in Vietnam, half live in Ninh Thuan, 40,000 of them in the province's Ninh Phuoc District.
Ninh Thuan is on the coast and enjoys sunshine all year round, and so is also trying to exploit its beaches and sand dunes. However, it is the Cham culture that provides a strong attraction with its famous ceramic village of Bau Truc and floral cloth village of My Nghiep, both in Ninh Phuoc.
Bau Truc is famous for its unique way of making ceramic products. Its traditional items like pots and jars are seen less these days because a larger variety of products are being made to cater to the needs of tourists who are more interested in statuettes of the Po Klong Garai towers and the lingam and yoni, the symbols of Lord Shiva and his consort.
Many trading households also sell other items like animals, mascots, and small, decorative pots and vases.
Bau Truc is its traditional name while its formal name now is Phuoc Dan. Situated 10km south of Phan Rang Town, it can be reached by road.
A sign at the entrance tells visitors they are headed in the right direction, and the road leading to the ceramic village has been asphalted.
The ceramics used to be piled up haphazardly but no longer - now they are displayed properly so that customers can choose. The prices are fixed and tourists do not have to worry about being taken for a ride either. Both have helped and it is not unusual to see some tourists buy dozens of items.
Bau Truc ceramic items are made from clay collected from the Quao River. What is unique is that the Cham do not use a potter's wheel to throw their products unlike pottery makers almost everywhere else, preferring to shape them by hand.
A Cham woman in Bau Truc Village shows how to make a pottery product
Once they are made, the items are sprayed with colors before being baked by burning straw and firewood rather than heating in a kiln. Baking outside in the open air gives the items unusual shades.
Visitors to Bau Truc can watch the craftsmen make the products, take photos, and even learn themselves.
After visiting Bau Truc, tourists are usually invited to see another specialty of the Cham - the floral cloth making village of My Nghiep, which the Cham call Ca Klaing in their language. It is situated two kilometers away from Bau Truc.
Bau Truc came into existence in the 12th century, but the craft of making floral cloth in My Nghiep was not established until the 17th century.
In those days they grew cotton to use as the main raw material and used different plants to color the cloth for use mainly by themselves rather than for selling.
It did not develop as a business in until 1991 when tourism began to flourish in the area.
But what remains now is just the loom and the floral designs because in this day and age they no longer have to grow the cotton themselves, and can simply buy the threads and industrial colors in HCMC.
Tourists can see Cham girls making floral cloth on looms or can visit "showrooms" like the shop called Inrasara and buy bags, purses, jackets, and scarves.
Inrasara also displays other tools and devices that the Cham use in their daily life, a bookcase with books in the Cham language, and some musical instruments.
At the shop we met 30-year-old Dang Thi Den, who said she was a niece of Inrasara, 54, a famous poet and researcher of Cham culture. She learnt to make the floral cloth when she was young, and showed us how skilled she was on the loom.
The province has 420 households making the cloth, with each making 2,000-6,000 items a year. In My Nghiep Village alone, there are 20 outstanding artisans.
Floral cloth products from My Nghiep can be found in all major cities and are also sold at traditional trade festivals. That is one reason why more and more tourists come to Bau Truc and My Nghiep, fetching considerable revenues to the province's tourism sector.