Located west of Hoi An in the middle of a lush valley surrounded by jungle mountains is a cluster of Hindu temple remains, the My Son Sanctuary.
It’s a unique site within Vietnam not only for the fact that it was once at the centre of the ruling Champa groups but also for the reason that its construction development began in the 4th century—these structures were going up eight hundred years before Angkor Wat.
This sanctuary was one of the most important constructions for the Champa civilization, and as of 1999, the My Son Sanctuary has been included as a part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The sanctuary has become a popular day trip from Hoi An for those looking for a picturesque and historical outing.
This article will provide you with everything you need to know about visiting this historic sanctuary in the hills of Central Vietnam.
History of the My Son Sanctuary
The My Son Sanctuary consists of a series of tower temples, which are the remains of the unique Cham culture that was present on the central coast of Vietnam during the 4th to 13th centuries CE. The temples were continuously constructed and built up over the next ten centuries and were the political and religious capital of the Champa Kingdom for that time, with spiritual origins based in Indian Hinduism. Many of the temples were built with the purpose of worshipping the Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu. However, Shiva above all is predominately portrayed in the reliefs found.
The temples were built by an intriguing construction process where soft firebrick assembled by hand was rubbed into its final position—a much more sophisticated technique than the modern process of bricks and mortar. Mainly used by the Champa as a place of worship, kings and religious leaders were interred here as well. The site was used until the early 19th century before it was forgotten and reclaimed by the jungle.
y Son was rediscovered by the Western world in 1885 when the French encountered the site. First documentation, excavations, and inventory works were carried out by Henri Parmentier and his colleagues over 12-months (1903-1904). At this point in time, My Son was comprised of 72 monuments that were classified into 13 groups. The groups categorised the temples by estimated construction date, along with unique elements that differentiate the structures in the area—essentially making it easier to record and document the temples.
Unfortunately, during the Vietnam War the Viet Cong used the ruins as a base, and consequently, the site was bombed extensively by the Americans. This reduced the number of monuments to 17, which are now categorised into eight different groups.
The My Son Sanctuary and its monuments are perceived to be the most important constructions of the Champa civilization. They uniquely depict the cultural interchange that was taking place at the time, with an indigenous society adapting to external cultural influences, namely Indian Hinduism. This is the main reason why My Son Sanctuary was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1999.
Visiting the My Son Ruins
My Son ticket price: 150,000 VND (6.50 USD) – Business hours: 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The My Son Sanctuary is located on a 142-hectare property on the backdrop of Cat Tooth Mountain. When you enter the actual property, a well-marked path takes you all the way around the area and to the different groups. The temples that remain today are categorised and labelled A to H. Group B-C-D make up the largest cluster and are the best-preserved buildings. Details and decorations in the other groups are much smaller in comparison and are fading due to age.
Before making your way to the temples, you should visit the museum located 100 metres behind the ticket booth on the right side of the road. With a permanent and thematic exhibition, it provides historical, archaeological, and religious information about My Son and the Cham civilisation. The entrance to the museum is free and is a good idea to check it out if you’re looking for a better understanding of what you’ll be seeing.
Opposite the museum is the bridge and road to the temple complex. While it’s entirely possible to walk up to the site, you should take one of the free electric buses that depart frequently. Save your energy for wandering around the area and enjoy the temples.
The drop-off location from the bus is also the start of the marked path leading you through the site. There are also a few restaurants here offering refreshments and an office where you can hire a private tour guide to accompany you.
My Son tour guide: 100,000 VND (5 USD) – Big bottle of water: 20,000 VND (1 USD)
Official regulations call for “civilised tourism” and ask visitors to remember that this is a religious site. We advise modesty and to save the beachwear for the beach, but do know that covering knees and shoulders is not strictly enforced. Staying cool and protecting yourself from the sun is probably more important as the My Son Valley holds the heat of the day.
How to get from Hoi An to the My Son Temples
Tours to My Son
Below you’ll find a number of different ways to reach the My Son Sanctuary—from self-transport, public and private tours, along with cycling, there are plenty of options to choose from.
There are plenty of tour operators around town to book a public tour to My Son with, all of which offer relatively the same package deal. While it’s possible to book online for some tours (Ex. My Son Sanctuary Day Tour from Hoi An), walking in and booking in person is your best bet for getting a good price. The public tours offer two times to choose from to depart from your hotel and are all usually around 7:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., with the tour lasting approximately four hours in total.
Choosing to do a private tour (Ex. Hoi An Private Car Charter) to My Son is a great option if you’re looking for a more comfortable outing. You’ll be able to choose a time of your choice to be picked up from your hotel, and you’ll have the added comfort of being driven in an air-conditioned car. The driver will wait in the parking lot while you take your time exploring the My Son ruins. It is a convenient and pleasant day if you’re willing to spend the extra money.
Choosing a sunrise tour (Ex. My Son Early Morning Tour by Bus) to My Son holds the benefit of enjoying the ruins with a soft and dreamy light compared to the harsh rays of daytime. Additionally, the temperature will be more bearable. It’s due to these reasons that the sunrise tours are gaining popularity among visitors, which in turn, has led to an increase in tourists being found in the early hours of the morning amongst the temples.
Another interesting tour option (Ex. My Son Sanctuary from Hoi An with Thu Bon River Cruise) is to be taken to the ruins by car and to return to Hoi An by boat. After enjoying My Son you’re taken to a dock on the Thu Bon River where you can watch the world go by as you cruise back downstream towards town.
Bicycle tour from Hoi An to My Son
If you’re looking for a full day trip along with a workout, an interesting way to reach the My Son temples is with a guided bike tour (Ex. Bike Tour to My Son Sanctuary from Hoi An). You’ll travel along back roads through rural villages and farms that are unpopulated by tourists to reach the temples. It’s a long day but well worth it to gain insight into the locals’ life in the countryside.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling competent and wish to tackle the ride there yourself, renting a bike and heading out on your own is an ambitious option to consider. Just be aware that depending on what route you take, it can be anywhere from 40 to 50-kilometres one-way. Remember to bring sun protection and sufficient water.
Renting a scooter in Hoi An and driving yourself to My Son is your best bet to reach the ruins. Scooters or motorbikes can be rented relatively cheap for a day and prices vary depending on where you rent them. All sorts of shops advertise scooter rentals on signs and prices start at 80,000 VND (4 USD) per day. Prices at rental companies start 160,000 VND (8 USD) per day. Official parking is available at the far side of the car park. This area is shaded and has a permanent guard. Parking a motorbike costs 5,000 VND (0.20c USD).
Start by making your way to the QL1A Highway, located roughly 7-kilometres west of Hoi An. Once you reach the QL1A, head south around 3.5-kilometres to Hung Vuong, then turn right and go west. The road changes names and there are a few bends, but you’ll stay on this road for 19-kilometres. Finally, you’ll turn left and head south for 6.5-kilometres where you’ll reach the entrance for My Son.