Cautiously riding down the chaotic roads of Hoi An on a rented, slightly-scratched, automatic Honda scooter, we exit one UNESCO World Heritage Site and make our way towards another – My Son. Less than 50km from the picturesque port city is a collection of Champa ruins nestled amongst the mountains in a geological basin of the Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam. Compared to the iconic temples of Angkor, or the ancient city of Ayutthaya, My Son is not quite as extraordinary. Still, these monuments are dramatically unique, and as such are somewhere that should not be skipped from your Vietnam itinerary.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 due to its historical and culture significance, the Champa city of My Son was an important complex that was occupied from the 4th to the 13th centuries. The source of the sacred Thu Bon River lies right in the heart of the basin and flows out to the South China Sea, through the town of Hoi An. This made it a strategically defensible location and is the main reason why it became the dominant city for the Cham people. The Champa Kingdom was established in 192 AD, with an agricultural-based economy.
With its spiritual origins stemming from Indian Hinduism, statues and stelae of Vishnu, Shiva and and Krishna can be found throughout the complex. Influences of Buddhism can also be seen in some of the newer structures. Many people from the Cham culture eventually became Muslims and were pushed out of the region (there is a Muslim Cham population that can now be found in Cambodia).
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There are 8 groups of temples found throughout the complex, and 71 standing monuments. Unfortunately My Son was heavily bombed during the Vietnam / American War and received substantial damage after the Viet Cong moved in and used the complex as a military base. Since the temples were built of bricks with no mortar, reconstruction from the damages has been easily undertaken. Now the main groups are reminiscent of how they appeared centuries ago – if a little overgrown in places.
Visitors who make the hour-long journey from Hoi An, or the further trip from Da Nang, can thoroughly explore the groups of temples. At the entrance of the site is a decent museum, filled with artefacts, detailed information in Vietnamese and English, and old images of the temples before the war. The museum is definitely worth a visit.