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My Son Sanctuary is a centuries old Hindu temple complex located an hour drive from Hoi An. It’s a must see in Vietnam and makes a great day trip from Hoi An. My family and I went there with a private car and guide hired through Hoi An Express so that we would get the most out of our time and at the same time learn about the history of My Son Sanctuary. Let me show you around the ruins of My Son Sanctuary and tell you more about the Champa Kingdom. I’m sure after reading you will want to visit too.
Getting to My Son Sanctuary
My Son Sanctuary is an hour drive from Hoi An in central Vietnam. Make sure to arrive at 10AM or earlier to avoid the crowds. As I wrote above I hired a private car to get there and a guide who could explain more about the history and show the place in an efficient way. The entrance fee is just 150.000 Dong which is, compared to other similar places in other countries like the Borobudur in Indonesia, not high. There is a museum directly after the entrance which explains the history of My Son Sanctuary but I suggest to first explore the site itself before the crowds arrive.
It’s a short walk to the shuttle bus which will take you in a few minutes to the paths leading through lush jungle to the temples. Make sure to buy some water at the entrance as there is nothing available while exploring the temples. The infrastructure is very good and I recommend walking counter-clockwise. Tour groups go through the site in less than two hours but as I went on a private trip I had much more time to see everything and make (I hope good) photographs.
VIETNAM – Must see things in two weeks; a sample Vietnam itinerary
The Champa Kingdom
The five Champa Kingdoms were formed by Cham people arriving to Central Vietnam from Java in the early centuries AD. They were influenced by Hinduism from India and brought the Hindu religion with them. The My Son Sanctuary was built by the Champa during the 4th – 7th century as the central place of worshipping the Hindu god Shiva. With time the Champa started to struggle to maintain their kingdoms. Continued threat from the Khmer Empire (Angkor Wat) and the Chinese in the north made the empire move south.
My Son Sanctuary kept being the central religious site of the Champa until the 14th century even after the Vietnamese conquered most of the territories. It was however until the early 19th century that the final parts of the kingdom were annexed by the Vietnamese. This marked the end of a once mighty empire of which My Son Sanctuary was the most important religious site. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must see on a day trip from Hoi An.
My Son Sanctuary
Ever wondered why the temples at the My Son Sanctuary have, or had, so smooth surfaces? That’s because of the way the temples were built. The Champa people used bricks which were not yet fully baked to build the structures and then set the whole thing on fire hardening it as one huge piece. Clever isn’t it? At the My Son Sanctuary you will first enter a complex of temples (if you walk counter-clockwise) which are the best ones preserved. Various buildings in this group of temples have beautiful carved statues on their walls as you can see in the following photo. Most statues however are moved to museums to conserve them better. In my opinion it would be no problem to add some replicas to the site to give a better understanding how the site would have looked liked.
My Son Sanctuary got forgotten after the fall of the Champa Kingdoms and overgrown by jungle vegetation. It was at the end of the 19th century that the French rediscovered the complex which was built in a valley surrounded by mountains. They realized that it was an important place comparable with Angkor Wat, Sukhothai and Bagan. The French at that time put a lot of effort in the reconstruction of the temple complex. These reconstructions were however destroyed by the B52 bombings of the Americans in 1969. In a week time all that was conserved got destroyed by these bombings. Most of the complex got destroyed except the part you have seen first. The remainder of the complex is not much more as piles of stones and grass growing over it.
VIETNAM – Must see things in two weeks; a sample Vietnam itinerary
At the My Son Sanctuary you can see several different kinds of buildings. These include the sanctuaries, hallways, towers and gateways and separate buildings for cooking. Construction took place during several centuries so architecture changed over time. If you look good you can see different styles between the various groups of buildings. Another thing you will notice if you look close are the bullet holes and bomb craters the Americans left behind.
Local performances at My Son Sanctuary
It depends on the season and time you visit but there are several dance and music performances daily. They show local costumes and songs with traditional instrumental accompaniment. These performances take place at the main information building or at one of the temple groups. Make sure to inform when you arrive at what time they take place. It’s interesting to see.
You will probably spend most time at the first group as it’s best conserved; don’t forget to look into the two buildings which have a small museum inside. Make sure you see each group so that you also understand what the B52 bombings did. They really crumbled most of the temples into a pile of stones. You will see also several lingas which were used to worship the Hinduist God Shiva. In the last group there are two temples covered by modern roofs to protect them from deteriorating more. One of them is reconstructed but you can clearly see the dark old stones and the new smooth stones. It gives a good understand on how a complete temple looked like.
I had a great time exploring My Son Sanctuary as it truly is a unique site. The jungle around it is also very good preserved and contains even more ruins of the complex but are not accessible. With the temples as the main attraction it’s also a good place to see the jungle that once covered all of Vietnam.
If you are planning a visit to Hoi An I highly recommend to make a day trip to My Son Sanctuary. For practical information please have a look at the Quang Nam Tourism site and for transport and guides I highly recommend Hoi An Express. I stayed for three nights at the Palm Garden Hoi An Beach Resort & SPA which is such a nice place. Hoi An is worth a day tour too and make sure to do a food tour in Hoi An too. I continued my journey to other places in Central Vietnam which stories I will share with you another time.
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Did you visit the My Son Sanctuary too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!
Gallery My Son Sanctuary
Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.