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My Son was built by the Champa kingdom which ruled south and central Vietnam from C200AD to C1700AD. Influenced by Hinduism, they built temple complexes up and down the area to honor their gods and to bury their kings. My Son, developed between the 4th century and the 13th century, is one of the better-preserved of these sites. Bricks were used to build the temples without the aid of mortar and sculptures of gods, priests, animals, and scenes of battle and devotion adorned the walls.
After the fall of the Champa, jungle began to reclaim the site. The temples had already fallen into disrepair by the 1960's, when the Viet Cong used My Son as a base. Unfortunately, that attracted American bombing, which destroyed or damaged many of the surviving temples. Evidence of the conflict can still be seen around the site. The area has, however, been cleared of leftover explosives. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
There are travel guides that compare My Son with Angkor Wat, Bagan and Borobudur. Historically, they have a point: in their time, these complexes were leading spiritual centers, and they have all fallen into a state of atmospheric ruin. However, the ruins at My Son are not as impressive as either of the aforementioned sites, for various reasons: the smaller scale of the original site, for example, the comparatively poor upkeep, and severe damage to the buildings from time and war. As such, they're not likely to wow anyone who's been to Angkor recently, but even so, the gorgeous jungle scenery may be worth the trip, and anyone who has an interest in Vietnamese history that doesn't involve America or France will be fascinated.
The energy of the Champa Kingdom lives in the feelings felt when visiting My Son. The layout of the Champa Kingdom with the temples (My Son), political capital (Tra Kieu) and commercial centre (Hoi An) and the offshore Cham Islands is based on the principles of feng shui.
The easiest way to visit My Son is to join an organized tour from Hoi An, which is about one hour away. Any hotel or travel agent will be chomping at the bit to set you up with one. The cost can be absurdly low — US$10 will get you there and back on a bus, or you can do the trip in a bus and a boat, with lunch and an extra stop or two, for US$20. Neither includes the cost of admission to My Son, though, which is 65,000 dong. For a sunrise tour, expect to leave Hoi An around 5:00 AM. Most other tours leave around 8:00 AM.
Given the relatively small scale of the ruins — and how easily they're overwhelmed by crowds — you're much better off doing the trip on your own. A round-trip on a motorbike from the center of Hoi An should cost about US$30. The rural scenery on the way to My Son is among the most beautiful in the country, and most tour groups will have left My Son by 2:00 PM.
If you'd like to drive yourself, that's not a bad idea; you'll see more foreigners on motorbikes here than anywhere else in Vietnam. The route is relatively straightforward, and some of it can be covered on a smooth, brand-new stretch of highway. The country roads aren't bad either, although they do kick up a lot of dust near My Son, and there are a few sharp curves near Hoi An. Traffic is fairly relaxed by Vietnamese standards. Motorbike hire should cost about US$5, which gets you the bike and about enough gas to reach the nearest filling station.
For real adventure try a jetski tour from Hoi An 40 km each way to the closest riverbank to My Son. Most tours sold as "My Son boat tour" actually go no further than about 10 km North of Hoi An.
Bridge after the ticket office, My Son Drivers will leave you near the ticket office, which is a few kilometers away from the ruins. After crossing a bridge and walking through some gorgeous scenery for a few minutes, you'll arrive at a small depot, where jeeps and vans wait to shuttle visitors the rest of the way. The path is clearly marked, there's no mistaking it. When you're done touring the ruins, jeeps or vans will be waiting in the same place to take you back the other way.
You can explore the ruins by foot, with nothing more challenging than a slight hill to cover. Maps of the area tend to give the impression that the site is larger than it actually is. There are plenty of comfortable, rustic-looking benches along the way. ittle known is the lake at the bottom of My Son for quiet kayaking.
See & Do
Impression of the ruins of My Son temple complex Near the ticket office there is a Champa museum, describing many of the artifacts and the history of the site. The curators have made the odd (and maddening) decision to remove virtually all of the better-preserved sculptures from the ruins and display them here or at the small museum in Group A instead of in context with the temples where they belonged. Accordingly, try to visit the museum briefly before visiting the temples themselves - it closes a half-hour before everything else, so you might not be able to catch it on the way out.
The temples are in varying states of (dis)repair, with restoration still underway on some. They are situated in nine "groups", labeled A-G. Effectively, there are three major sites: A, B-C-D, and E-F. The G, H and L ruins are separate and a little trickier to find. If you can't find them, don't spend all day trying; they're much smaller than the rest. All of the sites are connected by reasonably well-labeled walking tracks.
There are traditional dancing displays at various times throughout the day, mostly in the morning for the benefit of the tour groups. The stage is right before you reach the first group of ruins, across from the souvenir shop.
The streams running through My Son end up in a still lake about 3km long which is ideal for kayaking. Hardly anyone knows about or uses this lake. It is considered to be a holy lake and swimming is not recommended.