When our alarm went off at 4.30 am, we were both fast asleep. Waking up that early is always hard. But we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and met our tour guide outside the front of our hotel. We were off to catch the sunrise at the My Son Sanctuary, a set of ruins from the ancient Cham Kingdom, found a little over an hour outside of Hoi An. The reason we chose to head there for sunrise was simple, we wanted to avoid both the crowds and the heat of the day.
By the time we arrived at the My Son Sanctuary, it was just before 6.00 am. The ticket booth wasn’t even open yet and there was nobody in sight other than a friendly dog who came to greet us. It felt so peaceful. The peace was short-lived, however, as by the time the booth opened, a couple of small busloads of tourists had joined us at the entrance. We made our way to the electric car station, where a shuttle bus drove us the remaining two kilometres to the My Son site for our guided tour.
What is the My Son Sanctuary?
The My Son Sanctuary is a partially ruined set of Hindu temples that were built between the 4th and 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. These temples were dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. These archaeological remains are the most important of the Cham civilization. They are also considered one of best examples of Hindu architecture in Southeast Asia.
In 1999, UNESCO declared the My Son Sanctuary a World Heritage site.
The structures of the My Son Sanctuary
The buildings at the My Son Sanctuary have been divided into ten groups, which are designated by the letters of the alphabet. The most important and the best preserved archaeological groups are groups B, C and D.
In its prime, the My Son Sanctuary had around seventy temples. Sadly, bombs destroyed many of them during the Vietnam War and then the Viet Cong damaged them even more when they moved in to use the site as a military base. As you walk around the ruins you will come across many large bomb craters. Nowadays there are only twenty temples left and only a few of those are open to the public.
The first temples of the My Son Sanctuary were wooden. Unfortunately, fire destroyed them, so the kings of the Champa kingdom rebuilt them using red brick, without using any mortar to bind the bricks together.
Modern-day restorers have struggled to replicate the kingdom’s building techniques. Over time the walls they rebuild become covered in moss. The restorers use mortar, but somehow the original builders were able to fuse together the bricks without it, leaving hardly a gap.
So when you look closely at the temples today, you’ll notice that moss covers some of the red bricks. You might think that they’re the original bricks, but it’s not the case. The Cham people’s secret technique remains a mystery.
You can still find some very impressive ancient decorations carved into the bricks, such as pictures of snakes, elephants or scenes of battles.
It was very impressive to see the sun rise over the temples.
Where is the My Son Sanctuary?
The My Son Sanctuary is located in the jungle of the Quang Nam province, near the village of Duy Phu in central Vietnam. It’s around seventy kilometres southwest of Da Nang and forty kilometres southwest of the picturesque city of Hoi An. The temples were built in the Hon Quap valley which is roughly two kilometres wide and is surrounded by two mountain ranges.
How to get to the My Son Sanctuary
There are three ways to get to the My Son Sanctuary:
By guided tour from Hoi An or Danang
Many companies offer trips to the My Son Sanctuary. For a cheaper option, you can choose a group tour, but you might only spend one hour at the site itself. They normally stop along the way, to visit restaurants and businesses allied with the tour operator. You can also opt for a private tour which gives you more control. We booked a private tour through Andy Tran Tours and it was perfect for us. We drove to the site, explored the sanctuary and drove back, without any other stops. That was exactly what we wanted.
Renting a taxi is another great alternative but you will have to pay for a return trip and pay for the driver to wait for you.
If you are happy enough to ride a motorbike, motorbike hire from Hoi An costs about USD 5 for the day. You will just need to pay a bit extra for petrol. This lets you spend as long as you want exploring the temples.
How much is the entrance fee?
The entrance fee to the My Son Sanctuary is 150,000 VND. It includes entrance to the ruins, entrance to the museum and the ride on the electric shuttle to the sanctuary.
Tips on visiting the My Son Sanctuary
- Opening hours are from 6 am to 5 pm.
- Visit for sunrise or after 2 pm to avoid the majority of the tour buses which arrive around 10.30 am.
- Make sure you bring some water with you as it can get really hot walking around the ruins, especially early afternoon. There is no water once inside the temple.
- There is a museum directly inside the entrance which explains the history of the My Son Sanctuary. You’ll also find old artefacts and images of the temples before the war. Be sure to check it out after walking around the site.
If you are planning a visit to Hoi An or Danang, we highly recommend a visit to the My Son Sanctuary. It may not be as impressive as Angkor Wat, but nonetheless you should definitely visit this unique place.
Tours to My Son
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