The UNESCO World Heritage Site of My Son, in Vietnam, is often skipped. However, it is a worthwhile place to visit as a side trip from Hoi An or Danang. This site once had over 70 structures of the ancient Champa civilization, mostly dedicated to the deities of Shiva, Krishna, and Vishnu had most of the temples destroyed by the Vietnam War bombing.
My Son - Hindu Sanctuary is a great opportunity for a day trip from Hoi An or Danang
During your visit to Vietnam, if you have more time in Hoi An or Danang, you have plenty of options for day trips such as the ancient Hindu Sanctuary of My Son. Actually My Song can be explored in as short as half-day only!
My Son Hindu Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is a great example of the ancient Champa civilization, with temples dated over 1,000 years in the middle of the jungle. Their skillful use of red bricks and sandstone with their intricate carved-brick decorations are remarkable.
My Son was an independent state from around the 2nd to the 17th century, at which time it was occupied by Vietnam. The impressive Hindu-themed ruins feature many beautiful stone sculptures, temples, and towers in tropical jungle surroundings. My Son was also a political center and royal burial ground and the complex consists of more than 70 structures devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses and the most noticeable one, Shiva, was considered the protector of the Champa’s kings.
Where is My Son and how can you get there
My Son is located 40 km from Hoi An and it takes about 1.5 hours by car. Located within the village of Duy Phu the complex stretches out two kilometers within a valley and is surrounded by mountain ranges. You can get to My Son by a personal driver, an organized tour from Hoi An or Danang or by motorbike.
The roads are okay to drive, but I opted for a local drive because driving on the road in Vietnam can be challenging - specially on a rainy day. Hiring a personal driver was very very affordable - US$15 for 2 people. I booked a local driver through my Airbnb host and the driver took me there, waited the time I needed for the tour, and drove me back.
It is very interesting to see the change on the scenery, since My Son is surrounded by mountains and you will notice the misty forest making it even look mystical.
Best way to explore My Son
Entry Fee: Once there, you pay for your entry fee of 150 000 VND - $6 USD
Tour Time: The whole tour can take around 1-3 hours, since it’s not very large and it doesn’t take too long to explore the whole site.
Best Time to visit: The site is open from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Early in the morning is the best time to visit. Specially during the summer time, it can get very hot and humid, so if you want to avoid the heat. As you can see on my pictures, I visited My Song on a rainy day and it was also during winter time (Dec.), which made the temperature drop even more, and I am glad I had a rainy jacket with me.
What to wear: I wore dry fit clothes and carried a rainy jacket, and had dry fit hiking boots, as I knew it would rain. But besides being a religious sanctuary, and we all know better that we should cover our shoulders and knees, I saw people wearing dresses, short shorts, tank tops...What about looking cute for that Instagram picture, right?
What to expect: Unfortunately the temples in My Son are not so well preserved, and if you just walk around observing the buildings may be a little frustrating. I see a lot of people commenting that "it is not worth it to visit", "it is boring", " The temples in Angor-Wat are much better" - My Son is was bombed during the Vietnam War, go figure! My Son is still a World Cultural Heritage.
Visit the Museum: A small outdoor museum houses some carvings of Hindu gods and displays two U.S. missile casings, the first found on the premises in 1988 and the second in 2007. Make sure to enter the museum after you pass through the ticket office. You’ll find many wall posters explaining the history of My Son, which will help you especially if you plan to explore the site without a professional guide. (There are no English boards around the temples.)
You must learn the history: The key is to understand the history behind and when you gain important information about relevant attributes, you certainly gain a wider understanding and a greater appreciation for the Mi Song complex. In my case, I bought a book prior to my trip to understand the history behind it and to gain knowledge about the reaming of the buildings, therefore I could just explore on my pace and take as many pictures as I wanted.
Hire a Guide: One guided tour around My Son will cost you about 100,000 VND ($4.40 USD). Take a reputable tour as the guide who has a lot of knowledge - but keep in mind that depending on the size of the group, you will need to rush through sites.
Better do Clockwise direction: I started my tour in a clockwise direction and found it to a better option. Most people will start counter-clockwise. By going the opposite direction I was not following any large groups around and the complex seemed to reveal itself to me gradually rather than seeing the largest temples first.
Walk on the marked path: Walk only through the marked paths and don’t detour into the lush forest by yourself, since there is still a de-mining process going on in the area of My Son.
The history of My Son
My Son is the main surviving architectural complex of the Champa dynasty its oldest structures are believed to date back to the 4th century and the site was used until the 15th century.
The origins of their spiritualism were India-based, and the Champas built My Son in honor of the Hindu god, Shiva, crafting each tower of sandstone bricks and a mixture of sand and water. Once a tower was completed, the Champas burned it to harden the sand and water mortar into stone.
The vast territory covered by temple ruins reflects the glory of the Champa Kingdom, which ruled the Central and Southern parts of Vietnam, from the 3rd century until 1832. After the Vietnamese defeated the kingdom, the temples were abandoned among the lush nature of Hon Quap (Cat’s Tooth Mountain) and the Thu Bon River.
The explorer Camille Paris, rediscovered the My Son complex during his cartography expedition in Vietnam in 1889. Later on, in 1903, Henri Parmentier, a French archeologist and his team began an excavation of the site that lasted eleven months. They documented the site of 71 rediscovered structures within two kilometers.
They also managed to restore some of them, but unfortunately, the holy place full of secrets was bombarded during the Vietnam War in 1969 when American forces attacked Viet Cong that had made a base in the ancient ruins.
The Vietnam War and My Son Sanctuary
Parts of the temple complex were destroyed during the Vietnam War when the Viet Cong used the area as a base and American forces bombed it.
It is heart breaking to see that the temples are not well preserved, and many are covered by vegetation. During the Vietnam War, US military command believed that the site housed a North Vietnamese base and very nearly bombed it to oblivion.
During the tour you can notice marks from US bombs on the temples, and also large craters in the ground measuring about 8 meters across and 4 deep. I was told that the during the US Vietnam War, the Viet Cong were believed to have used this complex as repository of military supplies.
Only 17 structures out of 71 survived the bombing, although Vietnamese and international teams have been doing conservation work on the site since 1975. Sadly, the floods from the nearby river and climate conditions such as high humidity jeopardize the ability to preserve the site.
But My Son survived, and despite its dismal condition, it is worth the hour’s drive to see it.