My Son Sanctuary

What is My Son Sanctuary?

There isn’t much that can evoke a sense of mystery more than temple ruins and the surrounding jungle in the midst of reclaiming its land. Possibly the most famous in the world is Ta Prohm, the ancient Angkor temple with snaking thitpok tree and strangler fig roots running through its moss-coated bricks, but several more exist around the world in jungle-thick countries like Mexico and India. Just about 500km from Ta Prohm lies Vietnam’s own offering, My Son Sanctuary, formally recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

My Son Sanctuary

My Son Sanctuary is the best-preserved relic of the ancient civilisation of Champa, who existed as a buffer between the mighty civilisation of Angkor and what is now called the East Vietnam Sea. The site is a complex of about 20 ancient temples, tombs and shrines, once standing at over 70 different buildings before warring, abandonment, then further warring lead to their decline. The temples of My Son were built and expanded between the 4th and 13th centuries in worship of the Hindu gods that governed the everyday lives of the Cham people. Statues and motifs of Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva, Ganesh and many more can be found at My Son Sanctuary, with some still remaining fairly well intact considering the fact of their heavy-handed history.

The Cham people were forced to abandon My Son Sanctuary after the Cham-Dai Viet War in 1471. The site went undiscovered until a French colonist found them and began restoration efforts to reclaim the overgrown complex from the jungle, which had ensnared many of the buildings with thick roots. Important excavations by Polish archaeologists revealed much more about the Cham people and their practice of worship at the site. My Son became a hiding spot for the Viet Cong during the American War and the site duly received mass bombing, evidence of which is still apparent in its unfilled craters, while the jungle around the main path is declared unsafe due to unexploded landmines. 

Where is My Son Sanctuary?

It is very easy to get from Hoi An to My Son Sanctuary, as the ancient Vietnamese trade port is now connected to the ancient temple complex by a road that cuts through the jungle. It takes about one hour to get from Hoi An to My Son Sanctuary by car, and just a little longer by motorbike, making it a popular half-day trip from the romantic coastal destination. Historically, My Son Sanctuary was placed close to Indrapura, a major city and one-time capital of the Champa Kingdom, which is now modern-day Da Nang

What to do at My Son Sanctuary?

Despite its long history and UNESCO recognition, English information around My Son Sanctuary is still largely absent, and many independent travellers are left enraptured by the wonders but disappointed by the lack of information about them. Going with a guide on a half-day tour is a great option for getting a full account of both My Son Sanctuary’s various religious sites and the Champa civilisation in general.

1.5 to 2 hours around the ancient complex is enough to explore its remaining buildings. You will see the temple towers constructed of red brick, but now showing the scars of time and war in their brown or even blackened current appearance. Detailing on the sculptures of Hindu gods remains well preserved and the unknown substance that has held some of the bricks together for 1,500 years still remains a mystery to scientists and archaeologists.

Sa Huynh Champa Culture Museum

Alongside the various religious buildings, My Son Sanctuary features several tombs reserved for kings and the highest-ranking priests of the Champa Kingdom. The contrary level of the tall towers and low tombs create some fantastic photo opportunities, enhanced further by the tree-top mountains around the perimeters that are sometimes half-shrouded in a beautiful mist.

There is also a cultural dance reserved for tours coming to this place from Hoi An, where visitors are greeted to the site by colourful dancers in elaborate dress. Traditional Cham instruments are revived for the performance, giving you the sights and sounds that featured in Cham celebrations around My Son and in other important sites throughout their kingdom.

Another feature on many half-day trips from Hoi An to My Son Sanctuary is the Sa Huynh Champa Culture Museum, which explores the roles of the independent Sa Huynh tribe in the development of the civilisation of Champa through artefacts and personal accounts. Any further research into Cham culture and history can be done at the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang, just 40 minutes to the north of Hoi An and the location of the world’s largest collection of Cham sculptures. These give great accounts of the Cham people’s artisanal skill in sculpting along with a history of their expansion through Asia and foray into Islam.

Check our best tour to My Son Sanctuary: My Son Sanctuary by Jeep BoatMy Son Sanctuary Half day Tour, or Hoi An Da Nang Jeep Tour.

When to go to My Son Sanctuary?

Unfortunately for the Cham, much of their kingdom was subjected to brutal rains during the wet season, which did and still does lash the central and south of Vietnam at different times during the year. My Son Sanctuary was exposed to the same dangers of the central wet season, and much of the wear of the buildings is due to vicious rain erosion over hundreds of years.

Avoiding these rains should be your biggest concern if visiting My Son Sanctuary; Hoi An’s wet season occurs during the later months in the year, most prominently over October and November. Of course, a lot of time spent at My Son Sanctuary is outside, but cover can be sought within the temples should the skies open up to a downpour.

The ideal time to visit My Son Sanctuary is January when temperatures are cool and rain is minimal. There is also a good chance that the mysterious mist will descend from the mountains and create beautiful photo opportunities above the temples and in front of the forested mountains. Another great time to go to this place would be the official dry season, from March to August, when rains are very rare but soaring temperatures can make for sweaty visits, along with a powerful sunshine that beams dangerously from above.

My Son Sanctuary

What to Bring to My Son Sanctuary?

Your camera – In an area as beautiful and enigmatic as My Son Sanctuary, you will be able to fill an SD card full of evocative and truly artistic snaps.

Sun cream – Even during the wet season, My Son Sanctuary can still get a tickle of sunshine. In the dry season, especially over May, June and July, the sun will be in full force, so bring skin protection.

A raincoat – Necessary during the rainy season, a good raincoat will ensure that you don’t have to spend most of your time hiding underneath temple roofs. Doing so for a bit is actually encouraged if possible; the rain that falls on the buildings, mountains and jungles provides an amazingly tranquil atmosphere in a truly ancient setting.

Walking shoes – Tour companies usually spend around 2 hours in the majesty of My Son Sanctuary, meaning that you will be required to do quite a bit of walking, as well as some mild climbing up potentially slippery steps. Bring a good pair of walking shoes to make this much more comfortable.

How to get to My Son Sanctuary?

On a Private Tour

For both the convenience of travel and the information afforded by a professional guide, a private tour is the best option for getting to My Son Sanctuary from Hoi An. Leaving early in the morning, your private car or Jeep will travel along roads flanked by lush jungle, arriving at My Son Sanctuary an hour later in time for the cultural dance. After 1.5 to 2 hours of exploring, you will either return by road or along the Thu Bon River connecting My Son Sanctuary and Hoi An, which is done via boat on tours such as this.

On a Motorbike

Independent travellers with a sense for adventure can rent out a motorbike and drive the scenic road for about 1.5 hours from Hoi An to My Son Sanctuary. Simply park the bike for about 10,000 VND ($0.45 USD) and pay the entry fee of 150,000 VND ($6.70) for international visitors or 100,000 VND for Vietnamese, before strolling around at your own pace. As mentioned before, there is a distinct lack of English information, and solo bikers don’t get the privilege of attending the cultural dance, but if you’re just after photo opportunities in mysterious temple ruins, then this is a good option.

Via Public Transport

Not much exists in the way of public transport between Hoi An and My Son Sanctuary, most probably to promote tours around Hoi An. Information on public buses is scant to say the least, but motorbike taxis can be taken from anywhere around the town. You will have to haggle for the price, and be expected to pay a little more if you want your driver to wait for you to explore My Son Sanctuary, but these are always cheaper than car taxis and a thrilling way to see the ancient site.

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