My Son, Mystic Cham Ruins in Vietnam

In August 1969, American B-52’s carpet-bombed the My Son Sanctuary in Viet Nam to dislodge a unit of Viet Cong using the area for training. The Viet Cong believed the United States would not bomb a sacred and historical site. They felt safe in this naturally defensible area nestled on a valley two miles wide between two mountain ranges and fed by the Thu Bon River. The valley seemed a perfect place for training and rest. They were right about the valley but wrong about the Americans. The Americans bombed the area for a week, until various religious leaders pleaded with them to stop. Only 17 of the 71 original structures, rediscovered by French archeologist M.C. Paris in 1898, were saved.

My Son, which means “beautiful mountain” in Vietnamese is a cluster of 4th through 14th century Hindu Temples near the village of Duy Phu built by the Champa dynasties and built in conjunction with the cities of Indrapura and Simhapura. The cities today are known by the Vietnamese names of Dong Durong and Tra Kieu. Mu Son is the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina. In 1899 Henry Parmentier and M.L Finot did extensive documentary work marking out the various sites, grouping temples, sketching and photographing different buildings, while working in, what a Frenchman would consider, incredible heat and humidity. The temples were built to honor such Hindu Gods as Krishna, Vishnu, and especially Shiva.

For many centuries the Champa ruled much of today’s Viet Nam. Their center of power was at Dong Durong, near My Son. Eventually the Viet defeated them and pushed them out of the area. They moved farther south but were unable to survive as a cohesive group.

Thirty-two steles (large stones and slabs carrying inscriptions) survive in the area. The inscriptions document various kings, and gifts of land and treasure to groups in the area. They also tell of different Gods. Some of the more interesting Steles document historical events including wars with Cambodia in the 12th century.

Most visitors today come from DaNang or Hoi An on organized tours. Roadside cafes line the route. Some tour buses stop at higher priced restaurants because they receive a commission. Most larger tours do not bother and drive directly to My Son where snacks and drinks are available next to the gift shop. The nearest hotel is about a mile from the entrance.

The sunrise tour departs Hoi An about 5:30 am. This tour arrives about 6:30 before the throngs of regular tourists who arrive at 8:30 or later.

There is a Champa museum near the ticket office and another one inside the compound. The best Champa museum is in DaNang and is well worth a visit. Tours can be arranged at almost any hotel, guesthouse, or travel agency in nearby towns including Hoi An, DaNang, and Hue. Return trips from My Son to Hoi An often include a one hour boat ride back to the town.

Electric trams drive visitors from the entrance to the ruins about a mile away. The path through the sites is relatively level and an easy walk under a canopy of rich green foliage. The gift shop offers a variety of interesting goods including reproductions of a dancing Shiva.

On a stage near the gift shop dancers offer a program as part of the tour. Just the costumes offer a lovely site although the authenticity of the dances are suspect, having little original information from which to draw. Regardless, the performances offer a nice respite in the shade and are unique pleasure.

There is a beautiful lake near the ruins. So far the lake is mostly undiscovered. This will not last long. Several tours, like Karma Waters, offer hiking in the area and kayaking on the lake. Discover a secluded area and tourists will come. Such is the dilemma caused by tourism.

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