Last Updated on September 25, 2023
My Son Sanctuary and Holy Land in Central Vietnam, not far from Da Nang and Hoi An, is a must-see if you are interested in architecture and ancient civilization. It’s an easy day trip from Hoi An, you can either book a tour or rent a bike and go by yourself.
Mỹ Sơn was considered a holy land by the Cham civilization and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a magical place where time seems to have stopped, with orange-brick edifices surrounded by green fields.
Most of it has been destroyed during the war with the Americans, but some ruins remain. A couple of buildings are still in good shape, the carvings are really well-preserved, and some of the sculptures are quite impressive. It’s a good opportunity to learn more about Hinduism rituals and the history of the Champa kingdom and its people.
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The Cham Kingdom
The Champa kingdom was located in south and central Vietnam and lasted from the 2nd century to the 15th century until the Viet conquered it in 1471. The Cham were traders, fishermen, and farmers. The art and way of life were strongly influenced by Indian culture. A system of casts was implemented and the king, though to be a reincarnation of Shiva, was all-powerful.
Some of the Cham converted to Islam during the 17th century, making it one of the only Muslim ethnic group in Vietnam (most of them remained Hindu).
Since the dissolution of the Kingdom 500 years ago, they had been persecuted and forced to give up their customs. In Cambodia, they have been targeted by the Khmers Rouges during the purge, and in Vietnam, they have been pressured into the assimilation of Vietnamese culture.
Things are better today, the Cham are now mostly located in Phan Thiet and in Phan Rang, some also are found in Cambodia. Overall, they preserved a strong cultural identity through holidays and rituals. They still live in traditional bamboo houses, usually in very basic conditions. The caste system is still implemented, and they have a strong sense of one’s duty and place within their society. They still mostly live from farming, education is highly prized though.
Traditional music and dances are also an essential part of community life. In My Son, you may have the opportunity to watch a traditional dance show (every day at 9:30 am, 10:30 am, and 2:30 pm).
History of My Son Sanctuary and Holy Land
Build in the 4th century by the Cham Emperor Bhadravarman in Central Vietnam, My Son Sanctuary (pronounced me son) used to be a holy land surrounded by jungle and sacred mountains. The first My Son temple was made of wood, as all the Cham building at the time. It got destroyed by fire two centuries later and was replaced by a red-brick temple. After this, each king would restore and add temples during their reign to commemorate victories or conquest, making it grow along the centuries. It also served as a burial place for several kings.
This holy land quickly became a religious and political center of influence over the whole kingdom, until it became the capital of the Champa Kingdom. Chose for its strategical and protected position, it’s one of the principal remains of the Cham civilization, and the inscriptions found there helped get a better understanding of Champa history.
Most of the My Son temples were dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, who is believed to have founded the Champa kingdom. As the Cham became Buddhist during the 9th century, Buddhist influence is noticeable over some of the carvings and sculptures. The 10th century shows a regain of Hinduism faith and marks an intensive expansion period for My Son.
Unfortunately, wars with the neighboring countries in the 11th century destroyed a good part of the site. It was restored to some extent, some temples were added, and rich presents were offered by the kings. No information is available after the 13th century, no documentation regarding offerings or construction work was found.
My Son Ruins – Archaeological Site
Rediscovered and restored in the 19th century, the My Son ruins had been divided into 8 groups scattered along the way.
Because My Son Sanctuary has been build through 9 centuries, different types of architecture are noticeable as the evolution of Cham art evolved over the years. All the buildings are made of red brick, typical of the Cham construction style, and Indian influence is present.
Each group had a main temple and was surrounded by smaller structures. Each temple had a different purpose and was dedicated to a different god. The main door of the main temples faces East (towards the gods), next to it is often a room dedicated to welcome the pilgrims, receive their offering, and perform the ritual dances.
The carvings represent mostly animals, plants, and magical beings. Each has a signification for the Hindus, for example, elephants are a symbol of longevity and the lotus flower of beauty, prosperity, and fertility. The carvings in Hindu and Buddhist temples also usually tend to depict a traditional story.
The sculptures represent gods and spirits/supernatural beings. Some of the tools used for the ceremonies are being kept around the site or inside some of the temples.
Even if most of it is in ruin, you will still get a good sense of what it looked like at its peak. Restauration work is still going on.
How to get to My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam
There is no public bus to the site. The closest bus stop is CH Phan Kim, about 9 km away from the entrance. From there you can get a minivan to the park for about 150,000VND (divided between the passengers). Make sure to get the driver’s cellphone number so he can come pick you up when you’re done.
You can easily rent a motorbike for the day and drive to Mỹ Sơn from Hoi An or Da Nang. The road is pretty nice, with many paddy fields and mountains in the background.
You can also hire a driver for the day or take a cab, from Hoi An it’s a pretty affordable option if you don’t want to drive yourself and prefer avoiding group tours.
You can easily get to Mỹ Sơn from Hoi An by bike, the road is around 34 km. Just follow the pedestrian route on Google Maps.
My Son Tours
Another option is to book a tour from Hoi An or Da Nang that will include transportation and a guide and maybe lunch. Most tours are half-day tour that leave in the morning and come back around 2pm.
Here are few recommended tours to My Son Sanctuary:
- Half-Day Tour From Hoi An – Including hotel pick-up and drop-off in Hoi An, transportation, water, entrance fee, and an English-speaking guide
- My Son Sanctuary small group tour at 6 am – Including hotel pick-up and drop-off in Hoi An, light breakfast, transportation, water, and an English-speaking guide (entrance fee not included).
- My Son Sanctuary from Hoi An with Thu Bon River Cruise – add a cruise down the river with a stop at a traditional village and lunch.
- My Son Sanctuary Luxury Trip – Including a tour to My Son, a cooking class, lunch, and a boat ride – transfer from Danang available.
Useful things to know
Try to avoid the warmest hour, the ruins are in the middle of the jungle, and it’s super humid. If you go on your own, try going later in the afternoon as to avoid the morning crowds as well.
The ruins are particularly spectacular at sunrise but it’s also when there’s the more people
My Son entrance fee is 150k dongs for foreigners, the place is open from 6 am to 5 pm every day.
If you come by your own means, you still have the opportunity to hire a guide at the entrance. If you chose the tour with an agency, the guide would be included.
Make sure to bring water, snacks, repellent, and sunscreen. You will find a few shops within the complex where you can buy snacks and drinks.
Other destinations in Vietnam to add to your itinerary:
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