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.
The temples that were built here from as early as the 4th century by the Champa culture, dedicated to Indian Hindu gods like Shiva, are still in good condition (or, at least, have been restored to that state). Visiting My Son, surrounded by lush scenery, makes for an excellent day trip from Hoi An.
The name ‘My Son’ means ‘beautiful mountain’ and it’s easy to see how it got its name, with the complex set in moist green jungle beneath a cluster of impressive peaks.
But it’s the temples, full of history, carved with the faces of its creators, that are the highlights.
What is the My Son Sanctuary?
The My Son Sanctuary, also just called My Son, is a collection of Hindu temples near Hoi An in Vietnam. They were built by the Champa people between the 4th and 14th centuries.
Why is My Son a World Heritage Site?
My Son has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is the best remaining monuments from the Champa people. This unique culture brought Indian religious values and worshipped Krishna, Vishnu, and particularly Shiva.
Is it worth visiting My Son?
Visiting My Son is an excellent way to explore the fascinating culture that developed in this part of Vietnam until the 14th century. The temples are in good condition and it’s a site that you won’t find anywhere else in the country.
The plants dominate everything these days. Not just with the views of the surrounding landscapes, but even with the green shoots growing out of cracks of every original
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.
Learning more about this, and about the people who lived here, is one of the reasons a tour to My Son is so fascinating.
A brief history of My Son
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.
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.
After that, though, the temples were lost. My Son was overtaken by the jungle, and the natural world swallowed the remains of the culture that had thrived for almost a millennium.
How My Son was rediscovered
After being lost, My Son was finally 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.
It’s tragic – but war is tragic, isn’t it?
And, luckily for future tourists (like myself) and for the cultural legacy of mankind, some sections survived and can still be visited today.
Tips for visiting My Son
Most people use the nearby city of Hoi An as the base for visiting the temple complex of My Son, and it’s just about an hour’s drive away. It’s also possible to go to My Son from Da Nang as a day trip.
In Hoi An, you will find that a lot of the hotels will offer My Son tours – with the budget ones as low as $10 per person.
However, the entrance ticket is not included and is currently 150,000 dong (US$6.40). Plus, the cheaper the tour, the larger the group will be. If you really want to learn about the site, you’re better going for a smaller group tour.
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.
Tours to My Son
Public transport for any independent travel to My Son is a bit tricky, with the exception of this daily shuttle bus designed for tourists.
But unless you have your own car or motorbike, I think the easiest and most affordable way to see My Son is with one of the tours that local operators will offer.
You will probably find your hotel will have options once you arrive, but you may like to guarantee a spot in advance, and know what kind of company you’re going with.
So, if you would like to arrange a tour to visit the My Son ruins from Hoi An, I would recommend one of the following:
To help plan your visit to My Son, I’ve got a bit more information that may be useful.
If you have your own bike or car, you may find that it’s better to go that way. Although a guide will still give you a much richer understanding of the heritage of My Son.
Where is My Son?
The My Son Sanctuary is about 50 kilometres inland from Hoi An.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to My Son?
If you want to head to My Son independently, the easiest option is to rent a motorbike for the day.
Unfortunately there isn’t really any reliable public transport from Hoi An or Da Nang, which is why taking one of the tours is often the best option.
There is, however, this shuttle bus once a day that will take you there (and back) from Hoi An or Da Nang without having to do the guided tour.
When is My Son open?
My Son is open every day from 0600 – 1700.
It’s always much busier with tours in the morning so you might want to consider going in the afternoon if you’re travelling independently.
How much does it cost to visit My Son?
The entrance fee for My Son is 150,000 VND (US$6.40) for foreigners.
For Vietnamese, it costs 100,000 VND ($4.30).
Are there tours to My Son?
Yes, there are tours to My Son, and I would recommend taking one of them. Not only does it make the travel logistics much easier, but you’ll get a lot more information about what you’re seeing from a local guide.
If you’re heading from Hoi An to My Son, then this is one of the best small-group tours. If you’re coming from Da Nang, you might like to consider this tour that also includes Hoi An.
It is really sad to see the damage that has been done to this ancient site by modern warfare – but, I guess, it all tells the tale of history in its own way.
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.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION NEAR MY SON
Hoi An is the best place to base yourself to visit the temple complex of My Son, which is easy to do as a half-day tour.
There are lots of cheap hostels in town but The Destination Hostel has great 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 for the best in town, you need to check out Hotel Royal Hoi An MGallery.