My Son Sanctuary

Does this remind you of someplace? You would be correct if you said it reminded you of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Angkor Wat and My Son were built by the Cham people, whos vast empire, around the 4nd-13th century, once expanded the other parts of modern-day Cambodia and Vietnam.

My Son Sanctuary is over an hour inland from Hoi An and a little further from Da Nang. It is impossible to get here without a car. I ended up taking a rather expensive tour from my hostel that included a guide but not the entrance fee into the park. Without a guide, you have a lot more time to explore the grounds but will miss out on a lot of the history and context of the ruins as there is no audio tour available. Another bonus of a guided tour is hopping on the tram that takes you on a 10 min ride further into the park. Especially on a hot day, the ride is a lifesaver as the heat and humidity can get oppressive in the jungle.

When you walk into the first building in My Son, you will notice a significant temperature and humidity difference. The Cham were ingenious, creating a brick that did not hold moister, making it a bad conductor for the summer heat, which is precisely what you want in this part of Vietnam. This brick and the buildings’ architecture give them natural air conditioning. It amazes me that the Cham developed this brick technology for hundreds of years only to be lost through wars and colonialism. Cham architecture is a reminder that the world has lost a lot of indigenous and traditional knowledge that would solve problems in modern-day life.

On my tour, I walked through two areas of the ruins, which were temples to Hindu Gods. Although The Cham people followed their own practices, some of which differ from modern Hinduism, it is believed that the Cham migrated to Vietnam by sea from India. It amazed me to see all the references to the Hindu gods and the relics in the Cham architecture. I was lucky to watch a Cham performance of dance and music where there, too, I could see the heavy Hindu cultural influence. I really never knew how far-reaching Hinduism was across South East Asia.

With the fall of the Cham Empire and My, Son became lost to time and the jungle surrounding it. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that people realized the richness of My Son that was hidden away. Unfortunately, that discovery came a little too late after the People’s Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong used the sanctuary as a base of operations in the area. Unfortunately, when the American army discovered this, they started bombing the area distorting most of the remaining temples. It wasn’t until a soldier on the ground infiltrated the site and notified officials that the place was of great historical significance that the bombing stopped. Unfortunately, that was too late, leaving bullet holes in the remains buildings and depressions in the ground from the impact of bombs.

My Son has been named a UNESCO world heritage sight, and for a good reason, the history of the Cham Empire has been lost to time and war. There are ongoing research and archeology teams from across the globe working on restoration to see if there is any more knowledge that can be discovered about the Cham.

Although this trip took half a day and we were not free to explore the grounds, I found My Son and its history well worth the time and money to explore. Especially since I enjoyed a short boat tour watching the sunset as I rode down the river into Hoi An.

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