Hoi An, Vietnam | Exploring the Champa Ruins of My Son

 

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The Longest Inhabited Settlement in Indochina

My Son Ruins are the largest surviving remains from the Champa Kingdom in Vietnam. The cluster of abandoned Hindu temples from this early civilisation lie hidden in a lush jungle valley, an hour drive from Hoi An and definitely should be on everyone’s list of places to visit during a stay in the area. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to be the longest inhabited settlement in Indochina, dating back to the 4th century and was sadly largely destroyed by the Americans in the war.

Best Time to Visit My Son

The unique site of My Son was on our plans to rest our legs from our cycle ride the day before, and our hotel had booked a driver to take us there. The drive followed much of our cycling route except following more of the main roads until it cut off into the surrounding hills. On arrival at the car park, we noticed the lack of other cars and buses. No one else was keen on exploring the ruins in the heat of the day, all the better for us, it appears that any tour groups mainly tour the site in the earlier mornings or later afternoons. After agreeing with the driver that we would return in two hours and handing him some cash for lunch we bought tickets and walked towards the shuttle bus that takes guests the 3km from the entrance up to the ruins.

Small Museum

Near the entrance is a small museum that houses some of the surviving sculptures and more delicate relics but we had to give it a miss in order to have enough time to walk around the ruins.

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Access With Children

The shuttle bus drove along the twisty road for about three kilometeres before reaching the path to the main My Son ruins. The ride on the golf cart is certainly fun and I am sure most children would enjoy it. Parents with younger children and toddlers will be pleased to hear that the path through the site is paved and so easily accessible with a push chair or with small feet, however keep in mind that the individual groups of the ruins are only accessible by foot.

Chipmunks in the Trees

On our stroll towards the first cluster of ruins, Jerome discovered chipmunks in the trees. The cute little critters kept running up and down the tree trunks and were fun to watch for a while.

Historical Facts About the Champas

Thankfully, the ruins are mostly shaded by mature trees, very welcome, as the midday heat was still quite oppressive when we were there. Archeologists have divided the remains of the My Son complex into groups with letters from A-K, unfortunately there are very few sign posts throughout the site that provided us with information about the history and buildings. From what I gathered on line the religious centre of My Son was continuously occupied by the Champas, an early occupier of the Vietnam coastal plains, for 9 centuries and the temples on site were dedicated to the Cham kings. The Chams traded widely across south east Asia and built a civilisation across much of what is Vietnam today.

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Decorations and Ornaments

It is known that the Chams built their structures of brick and then carved decorations and ornaments into the brickwork, the top parts of the towers were entirely covered in gold. None of the glory has stood the test of time and during the French occupation a vast number of sculptures and artefacts were taken to a museum in Da Nang. Luckily so, because the Vietnamese army used the complex as a base throughout the American war and they would have not survived the bombings by the Americans. Alongside the crumbling remains of the temples there are even still craters from the bombs visible in a few places, and, in places, bullet holes may even be discovered by those who search carefully.

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Decorations and Ornaments

The different monument groups are in varying states of preservation and while efforts to restore them have been made they are very much still ruins. We wandered from one group to the next, some of the structures were accessible and could be climbed on, plus a small number could be visited inside. The most distinguishing features were the different engraved ornaments featuring the classic animals revered in the region. We chanced upon some excellent examples of the Cham decorative style, typical for the 9th century that are said to resemble worms. This design is unlike any other that can be found in Southeast Asia. Other stones and buildings were adorned with goddess like statues and others with evil looking monster faces, glaring their teeth, rather scary looking for some younger children.

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Cooling off in the Mountain Stream

Wandering through the My Son site we crossed the mountain stream and watched one of the workers cool off in the fresh water. Jerome felt hot in the afternoon heat and went down the bank to put his feet into the torrent to cool off. Once we had toured the entire ground we stopped for an ice cream at the shop/restaurant before returning to the transfer bus.

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Lotus Blossoms

Back in our car we started our journey back to Hoi An and our hotel. On the way over to My Son we had spotted a large lotus pond near the road and asked our driver to stop on the return. It must have been the largest lotus pond we have ever seen and was a truly enchanting sight, the pink blossoms popping out beneath the round leaves. Even our driver seemed taken by the beauty of the lotus flowers and was happy that we had made a pause to take some photos.

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lotus pond

Banh Mi in Hoi An

Back in Hoi An we were hungry and made our way straight over to our favourite Banh Mi stand for yet another delicious pork bread treat to tie us over til dinner time.

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