My Son, near Hoi An, Vietnam
The My Son temples in Vietnam survived centuries of time, they survived territorial wars, and they survived years of neglect. What finally destroyed the grandest of them all was American bombs.
Thankfully not everything was lost.
What is My Son, Vietnam?
The My Son temple complex was built between the 4th century and the 14th century. It was the central worshipping centre for the Champa people who had five kingdoms in the surrounding areas.
The Champa had come from Java in Indonesia and brought with them their Hindu religion. My Son was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
The name ‘My Son’ means ‘beautiful mountain’ and it’s easy to see how it got its name. The complex is set in moist green jungle beneath a cluster of impressive peaks. The plants dominate everything – green shoots growing out of cracks of every original building.
Not that there would have been many cracks back when the temples were first built. The Champa people devised an ingenious construction method that is hard to replicate today.
They built the walls with soft bricks that had been baked at a low temperature. When they were placed on top of each other, they moulded together.
When the final shape was complete, the whole building was set on fire to harden the bricks and lock them into place. No need for mortar, yet no gaps.
The god Shiva was the bringer of the wishes of the Champa people and the thing they wished for most was fertility. The Champa wanted to grow their population because of the basic idea that there was strength in numbers.
Remember, these were people who were essentially immigrants with no historical connection to the land. If they were going to defend their kingdoms and also expand them, they needed the people to do that.
And protection was a real issue for the Champa. They faced threats from the Khmer Empire in Cambodia, other ethnic groups in Vietnam, and even from the Chinese.
In the end, though, it was the Viet people who gained control of this region in the 11th century and forced the Champa to move south, closer to Nha Trang, although their leaders managed to maintain the temple complex for a couple more centuries.
Rediscovering My Son, Vietnam
The temples were lost to the jungle eventually until they were rediscovered by the French in 1898. They embarked on a restoration project, realising the significance of the site, comparing it to places like Angkor in Cambodia, Borobudur in Indonesia and Ayutthaya in Thailand.
And this brings us to August 1969 when much of this restoration work was undone.
In just one week, American B52s carpet bombed the site during an intense period of fighting during the Vietnam War. The section of My Son with the largest temples – the most impressive and most holy – was turned into a pile of rubble.
Luckily for future tourists (like myself) and for the cultural legacy of mankind, some sections survived and can still be visited today.
Visiting My Son, Vietnam
Most people use the nearby city of Hoi An as the base for visiting the temple complex of My Son. It’s about an hour’s drive and local tour companies offer trips for as low as US$5, including transportation and a guide. The entrance ticket is not included and (after a rise in January 2016) is now 150,000 dong (US$7).
There are three basic areas to My Son that you can see. The first is a relatively complete temple complex with about a dozen buildings. These are formed different stages in the ceremonies to worship Shiva and are aligned with the movements of the sun.
Even today, they are impressive and you can still see the ornate carvings in the bricks of various Hindu gods and symbols.
The second area you can see is the site where the bombs destroyed a temple complex. This is not particularly spectacular because nothing has been done to terror the structures. Grass has grown over much of it and it’s hard to get a sense of what stood there for so many centuries.
The final area is made up of two adjacent places where restoration had either taken place or is still taking place. It’s clear to see the difference in the colour, the texture and the age of the bricks of these temples.
The shapes of the buildings have been honoured but the materials are obviously not authentic. Still, it’s being done with care and respect and the rebuilding of My Son should be applauded, in my opinion.
If you would like to arrange a tour to visit the My Son ruins, I would recommend one of the following:
As you can see, there’s a range of tours that will give you opportunities to do different things around Hoi An that include My Son.
Human history is full of great creation and great destruction. Sadly, they often go hand in hand.
My Son is a perfect example of both and, if you can put aside the disappointment at the latter, is an excellent testament to both. More so the former, though. Thankfully.
There isn't really any reliable public transport from Hoi An. The best thing to do is join one of the cheap tours that head out there - even if you don't want to stick with the guide the entire time.
You'll find most hotels in Hoi An will offer cheap tours and they are of varying quality. One thing you might consider is booking in advance through a trusted operator.
I would definitely recommend this small group tour to My Son.
If you would prefer to not be in a group then there's this good private tour.
And you can also do this great tour that leaves from Da Nang and combines My Son with Hoi An town.
There are a lot of cheap hostels in town but I recommend Tribee Cham for location and atmosphere.
There are also lots of budget hotels but one of the nicest is Hoi An Heritage Homestay.
For lovely relaxed villas, you should try Cozy Hoian Boutique Villas.
And if you are looking for the best in town, you need to check out Hotel Royal Hoi An MGallery.