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My Son

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Central Coast : My Son
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My Son is a set of ruins from the ancient Cham Empire in the central coast of Vietnam. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Understand

My Son

My Son was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

My Son was built by the Champas who ruled Central Vietnam from c200AD to c1700AD until finally annexed by the Vietnamese in the 19th Century.

Influenced by Hinduism they built temple complexes in Central Vietnam. The best known and preserved temples still in daily use by Buddhists is the Po Nagar Cham Towers in Nha Trang. By 10th Century some Cham people became Muslims (there are Cham Muslim communities in Cambodia).

The Champa King lived in the political capital of Tra Kieu (the commercial capital was the port of Hoi An) - so the temples of My Son were the most important temples of the Champa Kingdom between the 4th century and the 13th century. Bricks were used to build the temples — without the aid of mortar — and sculptures of gods, priests, animals, and scenes of mythical battles and devotion adorned the walls. These temples are places of worship of Lord Vishnu.

After the fall of the Champa the jungle began to reclaim the temples. The temples had already fallen into disrepair by the 1960's when the Viet Cong used My Son as a base - the Vietnamese are not Cham and having defeated them have little respect or interest in their culture & heritage. Finally an Act of Congress was passed prohibiting US bombing of My Son - which in effect allowed the Vietnamese to use My Son as a base.

Today there is no benefit for the local communities in My Son from tourism to this UNESCO site, although local community benefit is required under UNESCO WHS status. In general SE Asia UNESCO WHS sites are very poorly managed compared to sites in developed countries. This points to a deeper problem within both the United Nations and host countries. A Western foreign tourist to SE Asia should expect all SE Asian UNESCO WHS site status to be no more than a sales & marketing pitch for mass tourism - i.e. more destruction than preservation ! For example, at My Son there are no Hindu Cham monk or priest, no respect for the Hindu religion or temples, no connection of the temple to local communities, no benefits to local communities from tourism, artifacts are being stolen, buffer zone nature being destroyed, etc.

There are travel guides that compare My Son with Angkor Wat, Bagan and Borobudur. Historically, they have a point: in their time, these complexes were leading spiritual centers, and they have all fallen into a state of atmospheric ruin. However, the ruins at My Son are not as impressive as either of the aforementioned sites, for various reasons: the smaller scale of the original site, for example, the comparatively poor upkeep, and severe damage to the buildings from time and war. As such, they're not likely to wow anyone who's been to Angkor recently, but even so, the gorgeous jungle scenery may be worth the trip, and anyone who has an interest in Vietnamese history that doesn't involve America or France will be fascinated.

The energy of the Champa Kingdom lives in the feelings felt when visiting My Son. The layout of the Champa Kingdom with the temples (My Son), political capital (Tra Kieu) and commercial centre (Hoi An) and the offshore Cham Islands is based on the principles of feng shui.

The best time of the day is to visit My Son is early in the morning or late afternoon when there are few tourists.

Get in

It is a 1-hour drive by motorbike from Hoi An, assuming you find your way the first time! The park is open 8-5, but the later afternoon hours are calmer and not too hot. Bring water.

One way to visit My Son is to join an organized tour from Hoi An, which is about one hour away. Any hotel or travel agent will be chomping at the bit to set you up with one. The cost can be absurdly low — US$3 will get you there and back on a bus, or you can do the trip in a bus and a boat, with lunch and an extra stop or two, for US$5. Neither includes the cost of admission to My Son, though, which is 60,000 dong (US$3 Feb 2012).

It is cheap, why? For the duration of the tour which is 6 hours, you only get 1-hour for the tour proper. The assembly, toilet, and snack times take away the rest. The bus will make the rounds starting at 8:00 am picking booked tourists from each hotel. It is ridiculous why it has to make a stop over rest at a restaurant for more than 30 minutes when people were expected to have just jumped out of their bed and had breakfast a bit of a few moments ago. The arrival time at the last assembly point inside the complex is at 10:30 am (the sun is already high up) for one final briefing. By then almost everyone is grumbling and frustrated at the too much idle time spent while listening to the last instruction - "Be here by 11:30 am." Then everybody dashes out for the path leading to the first attraction group. Each group is separated by about 3 to 10 minutes of moderately brisk walking and there are about four visitable groups plus the more than 10 minutes walk to and from the Assembly point (there is another assembly point by the restaurant outside the complex and another 30 minutes plus of killing time). Here's the time line: Walk from Assembly Point to 1st group in 8 minutes -- See 1st Group in 3 minutes -- Walk to 2nd Group in 10 minutes -- See 2nd Group in 8 minutes - Walk to 3rd Group in 3 minutes -- See 3rd Group in 3 minutes -- Walk to 4th Group in 10 minutes -- See 4th Group in 3 minutes -- Walk to Assembly Point in 12 minutes. Synchronized with the limited time frame of touring, a cultural show is going on, so one may feel bitter not having to see the show. This tour is only for people who need a quick photo op then scram (Jan'12).

For a sunrise tour, expect to leave Hoi An around 5AM. Most other tours leave around 8AM. A private driver and car runs about US$70 from Danang (My Son admission excluded) with return trip included.

Given the relatively small scale of the ruins — and how easily they're overwhelmed by crowds — you're much better off doing the trip on your own. A round-trip on a motorbike taxi from the center of Hoi An should cost about US$10 and 4 seater car about US$35. The rural scenery on the way to My Son is among the most beautiful in the country,

Most tour groups will have left My Son by 2PM and late afternoon when it is cooler in Summer is another good option.

If you'd like to drive yourself you'll see more foreigners on motorbikes here than anywhere else in Vietnam (but be aware that International Licenses are not valid in Vietnam and unless you have a Vietnamese motorcycle license you will be breaking Vietnamese law and there will be no insurance!). Motorbike hire should cost about US$4 to 5 for the day, which gets you the bike and about enough gas to reach the nearest filling station. As it is only a 43 km (26 mi) drive, you will need to buy at the maximum 2 liters of petrol which costs about 42,000 dong.

Directions: from Hoi An take Hung Vuong Street and keep following it towards the town of Vinh Dien for about 7 km until you pass under a highway. Take your first left after the curve and go straight for about 100 meters and at T junction on Route 1 (or 1A) turn left towards the South. Drive for 7 km (4 mi) to Nam Phuoc and take a right at a blue sign for My Son. From there, keep following the signs for 30 km (19 mi) until you reach the entrance for My Son.

Most tours sold as "My Son boat tour" actually go no further than about 10 km (6 mi) North of Hoi An and stop at the Route 1 bridge which is still about 40 km (25 mi) from My Son!

Why cheap? the buses are owned by the same people who profit from the restaurant inside the Park and who are supposed to be responsible for site management ! simple, they have a monopoly. Why is there no local community benefit from tourism? same reason !

Get around

Bridge after the ticket office, My Son

All vehicles go as close as 100 meters (110 yd) from the temples.

In the past drivers will leave you near the ticket office, which is a few kilometers away from the ruins. After crossing a bridge and walking through some gorgeous scenery for a few minutes, you'll arrive at a small depot, where jeeps and vans wait to shuttle visitors the rest of the way. The path is clearly marked — there's no mistaking it. When you're done touring the ruins, jeeps or vans will be waiting in the same place to take you back the other way.

You can explore the ruins by foot, with nothing more challenging than a slight hill to cover. Maps of the area tend to give the impression that the site is larger than it actually is. There are plenty of comfortable, rustic-looking benches along the way.

Little known is the lake at the bottom of My Son for quiet kayaking, or the surrounding hills for hiking.

Kayaking on My Son lake

See & Do

Impression of the ruins of My Son temple complex

Near the ticket office there is a Champa museum, describing many of the artifacts and the history of the site. The curators have made the odd (and maddening) decision to remove virtually all of the better-preserved sculptures from the ruins and display them here or at the small museum in Group A instead of in context with the temples where they belonged. Accordingly, try to visit the museum briefly before visiting the temples themselves — it closes a half-hour before everything else, so you might not be able to catch it on the way out. Note; pieces of sculpture, etc. visably have been stolen from My Son - also interesting to note the lack of CCTV and other security systems ! it is rumoured that rare trees are being harvested from the surrounding hills inside the "buffer" zone all under UNESCO status !

The temples are in varying states of (dis)repair, with restoration still underway on some. They are situated in nine "groups", labeled A-G. Effectively, there are three major sites: A, B-C-D, and E-F. The G, H and L ruins are separate and a little trickier to find. If you can't find them, don't spend all day trying; they're much smaller than the rest. All of the sites are connected by reasonably well-labeled walking tracks.

The entire layout of the temples is according to the sun and rays of the sun and in the early morning this is clearly visible. The early morning sunlight shines behind the head of Lord Vishnu from where it is scattered throughout.

The layout should be Sanskrit scriptures are first, then the Lingham over which water flows to wash hands and feet before entry barefoot into the temples. These buildings are places of worship, a UNESCO sanctuary, and should be treated with respect by everyone.

There are traditional dancing displays 9:45AM for the benefit of the tour groups (except Mondays). The stage is right before you reach the first group of ruins, across from the souvenir shop. These are NOT traditional dances, the entire show is not within the context of My Son as a UNESCO sanctuary - do holy Hindu temples in India and other countries have dancing ?

The streams running through My Son end up in a still lake about 3km long which is ideal for kayaking. Hardly anyone knows about or uses this (for now) unspoilt lake ! Karma Waters (http://www.karmawaters.com) operates tours including kayaking on My Son lake, Guided hiking tours, history & culture tours.

Buy

There is a souvenir shop within the site. It sells the basic Vietnam souvenirs and also a selection of items from Champa culture.

Eat & Drink

Numerous Vietnamese style road-side cafes and places for tourists to eat and drink line the road from Hoi An to My Son ! Tourist buses never stop along the route - mostly because drivers, Guides & tour operators do not profit from tourist benefits to local communities and the only places they stop at are places with inflated prices so drivers, Guides and tour operators can earn commission on the sale of high priced food & drink to foreign tourists - common practice in tourism throughout Vietnam !

The first open air restaurant "shack" on the left coming into My Son is owned by local family Mr. Duong who has lived in My Son since 1995 (when "My Son" village was created by the Vietnamese Government and funded by the Italians in anticipation of UNESCO WHS status and villagers were told the lie that they would benefit from tourism !). The old way (and rumoured to be in the future with electric cars being used) was no vehicles where allowed to go beyond the My Son ticketing office and therefore everyone had to park their motorbikes and cars outside the entrance at places like his restaurant. Duong provides good food, drinks, rest (especially in a hammock!), parking etc. - prices a little high but reasonable for My Son.

Next door to Duong and about 100 meters (110 yds) away from the My Son entrance is the Ganesa Restaurant, which sounds Indian but is in fact a Vietnamese restaurant. Check out the high prices and low quality. Note some tour companies like Camel Open Tour, Anh Phu and others stop at this restaurant. Ganesh is HCMC owned and operated.

Drinks and a few snacks (of the junk-food variety) are on sale next to the souvenir shop inside the temple compound. This is owned, operated and profited by someone - so vehicles are allowed into the park and therefore park management profits from tourism and not local cafes and community outside the park !

Sleep

There's no accommodation available in My Son. The nearest hotel is about 2 km (1 mi) down the road from the ticket office. Most visitors day-trip from Hoi An, Da Nang, or even Hue.

Stay safe

Don't wander too far from the clearly-marked walking tracks between the sites. Although authorities say that the area has been cleared of any unexploded mines or shells, you're a long way from help in case of an accident.

Get out

  • If your interest has been piqued, Da Nang has an acclaimed museum dedicated to Cham sculpture.
  • Just past Tra Kieu heading towards My Son on the left is the small but excellent Sa Huynh Museum which includes some artifacts from Cham (free of charge). Building shape is more Cham than Vietnamese. Many of the artifacts were donated by a Catholic Priest who lived in Tra Kieu.
  • Try Cham Islands for more adventure in Hoi An.

Table below see details of text above Get In:

Bang An Tower
  • If you enjoyed My Son and want to see a good example of a Champa Tower in Hoi An area then go to the nearby village of Vinh Dinh and on the road north (alongside the Vu Gia river) you will find a very well preserved relic the "Bang An Tower". This is hardly ever seen by tourists! and still used by worshipers today....

Table below see details of text above Get In on the total number of minutes actually spent on each group of temple ruins in My Son when using buses:



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