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My Lai statue

My Lai/Son My Site

One of the most grisly moments in the American war makes for a sobering, out-of-the-ordinary day trip out of Hoi An. On March 16, 1968, US soldiers troops killed either 504 villagers (or 347 – the number’s debated) in a systematic, planned attack of an alleged VC stronghold of MY LAI (now called Son My), about 110km south of Hoi An. Vietnam’s not always known for a delicate touch on its war memorials, but this one is a stand-out.

No organized group tours from Hoi An regularly go south here, but most travel agents can arrange a tour by private car (about US$45) or motorcycle taxi. It can also be done – with some effort – by public bus (see Transport, below).

My Lai/Son My site(open 8am-5pm daily; admission US$0.65)

→ If you’re traveling with kids, note that the site museum displays many graphic photos of massacre victims.

Some History
Less than two months after the Tet Offensive in January 1968 sent shock waves through the US military, the frustrated ‘Charlie Company’ of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade – who had only been in Vietnam four months – followed orders to this hamlet, where VC troops were supposedly based. A young officer, Lt William Calley led the ‘search and destroy’ attack, which fell into mayhem quickly – with soldiers shooting children, women and the elderly; raping teenage girls; and carving the initials of the ‘Charlie Company’ into some bodies.

Not all participated, however. One US soldier, Herbert Carter, supposedly shot himself to stay out of the conflict; helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr evacuated a dozen villagers.

Initially the attack was claimed a ‘military victory,’ until photos by Ronald Haeberle and reports from soldiers leaked out. By November 1969 – 18 months later – it became an outrage (spurring on the growing peace movement). It eventually led to the conviction for premeditated murder of Lt Calley, who served four years in prison. President Nixon pardoned Capt Ernest Medina, believed to have ordered the attack.

Seeing the Site
There are three key parts to the site. Straight ahead, as you walk in, is the museum, behind is a memorial statue – with a woman defiantly clenching her fist, and to the left is the site of much of the old village.

My Lai pathsThe paths around the village site are thoughtfully laid in dirt-brown cement, with GI-boot and barefoot footprints madly imprinted illustrates the chaos of the morning. Plaques mark the foundations of the homes, and the number of killed at the site. It’s fascinating to walk around, and see farmers outside the fence peacefully farming in the rice fields, just as many locals may have done on that fateful day.

Do not skip the museum, which chronologically retells the event through photographs. A marble list names of 504 victims, identified by age (many many are under five years old). It’s capped with North Vietnam’s reactions during the war – ‘the atrocious crime can’t be forgiven,’ and calls to ‘punish the thug’ - plenty of photographs of victims and survivors.

There’s a short book available in English.

My Khe Beach

Three kilometers farther east from the site, the lovely, though slightly littered, My Khe Beach could grow into something bigger some day, but as of yet, it’s still dominated by fishers and simple beach-side seafood restaurants that caters to locals on weekends. It’s hard to think of relaxation after My Lai, but it’s a good spot to sit and refect over a lunch.

Quang Ngai

The area’s beautiful, but the mid-sized town Quang Ngai isn’t. It does have its cult fans – mostly ex-pats – who rally over the countryside drives nearby and the ‘authentic’ experience they have in this friendly town.

It’s a possible stop-off between Hoi An and Nha Trang, with ATMs and several budget hotels, including KIM THANH HOTEL (tel 055-823-471; 19 Hung Vung St; rooms US$5/8-10 with fan/AC). This one is in the guidebooks, but worth considering as the manager Mr Dung speaks some English and can rent you a motorbike for US$5 per day.


The My Lai site is reached from Quang Ngai, 100km south of Hoi An via Hwy 1. Travel agencies in Hoi An can arrange a motorbike driver to visit here for US$15 or US$20.

Going On Your Own
No public buses go from Hoi An to Quang Ngai – but it’s not hard to catch one on nearby at Vinh Dien, 9km west of Hoi An on Hwy 1 (a US$1.50-2 motorbike taxi ride).

Here frequent buses of various shapes and speeds head south – all going through Quang Ngai. Be choosey. The nice ‘newish’ pink one I hopped on took over three hours to get to Quang Ngai, with frequent stops and backtracks to pick up big bags of rice; the white minibus marked ‘Ban Me Thuot-Danang’ I took for my return trip, only took 70 minutes! Both charged 50,000D (about US$3.15) one way.

Hwy 1 no longer cuts through Quang Ngai, but takes a branch a kilometer east of the main road Quang Trung St. Motorcycle taxi guys wait there. It’s about a 1.5km walk east to the center intersection at Hung Vuong and Quang Trung Sts.

If you’re making a daytrip here, you can rent a motorbike at Kim Thanh Hotel (US$5 per day, passport required), but it’s just as easy going with a motorbike taxi. It’s US$3 or US$3.50 to get a ride to Son My/My Lai and My Khe beach. You’ll need three hours, unless you’re planning to swim a while.

To reach Son My/My Lai from Quang Ngai, take Quang Trung St north across the bridge, then follow the first right (there’s a sign) east. Otherwise you can take the bridge north of town on Hwy 1, then take the first unsigned road east. Son My/My Lai is 12km east. The beach is another 3km.