History hangs heavily over the central Vietnam region, and the Vietnamese are only one element of the successive stories that have unfolded here. This region was the heartland of the ancient kingdom of Champa, and the Chams left their mark in the shape of the many towers dotting the landscape, the most renowned of which are at My Son.
The French would come to dominate Vietnam, but not before the balance of power shifted decisively to central Vietnam under the last royal dynasty, the Nguyens, who ruled from 1802 to 1945. Successive emperors established a lavish imperial court at Hué, which became the centre of political intrigue, intellectual excellence and spiritual guidance in Vietnam. The French broke the will of later emperors and the balance of power shifted back to Hanoi by the time of independence.
History was not to ignore this once-proud region, but this time it was a tale of tragedy. As Vietnam found itself engulfed in the American War, the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting. The North Vietnamese sought to infiltrate the south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, while American forces and their South Vietnamese allies tried their best to disrupt supplies. Thousands of lives were lost in bloody battles for strategic hills and valleys, and names like Khe Sanh and Hamburger Hill were forever etched into the consciousness of the West.