My SonVietnam’s most elaborate archaeological site, the UNESCO World Heritage site MY SON, is well worth spending part of a day to see, even if it’s a drop in the bucket compared with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. Despite much bomb damage during the American War (when Viet Cong troops used the site as a base; some 70 monuments were destroyed), it remains Vietnam’s biggest, and the setting – cradled by green verdant hills and cut across by a clear stream – is a pleasant place to walk around while looking at Vishnu statues and stepping into overgrown sandstone temples.

My Son site (open 6.30am-5pm daily; admission US$3.75) is about 50km southwest of Hoi An. The turn off – toward Tra Kieu town and My Son – is at Duy Xuyen town, south of a long bridge on Hwy 1.

Some History
The Indian-influenced My Son was established as a religious center in the 4th century by Cham rulers at Simhapura (presently Tra Kieu – 30km east; you’ll pass it en route from Hoi An). It was under continual development until the 13th century – more architectural years than any other Southeast Asia site, supposedly. Much of what you’ll see dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries.

Group Tours
Nearly all visitors come on group tours. The bulk go on a day trip that comes by van (a 50-minute ride), and returns to Hoi An part of the way by boat, stopping at crafts villages. Such tours cost about US$5 from Sinh Café (not including the 60,000D, US$3.75 admission). The catch is that everyone shows up at the same time, roughly 9.30am, when it starts to get hot.

A good group-tour alternative is the so-called ‘sunrise tour’ (about US$4), which gets you to the ruins as they open (actually 30 minutes before they open at 6.30am, and well after ‘sunrise’ actually), when everything’s nearly empty and cool. You’re back in Hoi An in time for a late breakfast by 9am or so.

My Son bombSeeing the Site
If you’re on a tour, your guide will point you around. The roughly 1.5km circuit – taken semi leisurely in about 75 minutes – follows a counter-clockwise loop that visits sandstone ruins grouped by letters. From the ticket stand, you drive 3km to the site entrance (or, if you’ve arrived by motorbike, they’ll offer jeep transport; no motorbikes are allowed into the site).

Here the trail leads towards straight ahead to a couple cafes near the cluster of GROUPS B, C & D – the most-preserved area by far, so devote a little more time here. To the left and right are groups C and B, respectively. To the left as you approach is group C, where you can see the central kalan (a sanctuary) surrounded by a few overgrown sandstone buildings lined with carvings of Vishnu. Just to the right is a bomb-flattened, overgrown base of group B’s kalan, which is actually the oldest temple of My Son (dating from the 4th century). Group B’s surrounding temples still stand though.

Just behind are two long buildings – D1 and D2 – which were originally meditation/assembly centers and are now restored as galleries of My Son pieces not transferred to the Cham museum in Danang. Between the two buildings is a teensy lawn, the Stelae Court, with some sculptures still remaining.

Back to the left, a bridge crosses a stream, then the path forks. Take it up to the right to the destroyed GROUP A, where you’ll see a pile of smashed pieces from the former kalan, once My Son’s biggest site.

Head back towards the bridge and follow the trail – you’ll pass GROUP G (to the right; closed for restoration when I visited in July 2007). Farther ahead is the last principal site to see GROUPS E & F, dating from the 12th and 7th centuries respectively. Much is being rebuilt by a joint Italian-Vietnamese project, and a few buildings are standing. Follow the trail behind the heap of rubble to see a giant bomb crater.

Back on the path, follow the shaded stone steps back to the parking area.

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