The Mystery of Mỹ Sơn
Mỹ Sơn (pronounced me sun) was once the religious epicentre of Vietnam. What remains are the ruins of an ancient civilisation, the last clue the understanding the Champa who ruled Central Vietnam between the 4th and 13th century. It has often be likened to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, though it is much more compact and in our opinion, much more accessible. The temples are dedicated to Hindu divinities, at it's apex is Shiva, and it's Indian sub-continent influence is evident throughout the complex of temples.
How to get to Mỹ Sơn
Mỹ Sơn is a 1hr drive, give or take, from Hội An. We rented a scooter and did the drive ourselves. It was pretty easy to locate and well signposted along at the main turn off. Once you arrive you will pay to park your bike (around 10,000 Dong is standard) and purchase entry for 100,000 Dong (approx $5USD). There are many tour options that will pick you up and drop you off in Hội An if you do not feel comfortable riding out on your own, and of course you could hire a driver for the day, if that's an option for your budget which it is almost never is for us. For those riding out please be aware there are some highway portions of the trip, including navigating across a 4 lane freeway.
Once you enter the site you will walk up a long paved walkway where there are golf cart style mass transit vehicles which will take you up to the ruins. If you miss the buggy you can walk, it is around 2 kms.
What time to arrive
We arrived just after 6 am and we were first onto the site, there were a couple of other people around the same time but people start invading the area from 8 am onward. Tourists are shipped in by the busload so if you want some time to enjoy the ruins and take some great pictures get there early. Entry times are pretty flexible so it doesn't hurt to arrive a little earlier and try your luck. The site closes at 5 pm. Realistically you need around 2 hours to explore the complex fully, more if you want to take your time, and spend time on photography.
We prefer early mornings to the alternative of exploring in the midday heat where tempers can be short and the sweat overwhelming. If you get up early you can always have a nap in the early afternoon ready for an afternoon of adventure. Not only will you miss the crowds, you will also avoid the sunburn and heatstroke.
A little history
Mỹ Sơn has been important to the cultural tapestry of Vietnam almost since time immemorial. The site was in constant use as a religious site during the Champa dynasty (4th - 13th centuries). After the 13th century it was used more occasionally and eventually was neglected following the rise of the Viet and receded into it's surroundings.
Mỹ Sơn was just a story of a long lost kingdom until 1898 when it was rediscovered by M.C Paris, of France, an ironic name to be sure. Fellow Frenchmen, Henri Parmentier and M.L. Finot then conducted extensive geological observations, documenting the complex's many buildings and compiling a plethora of photographs, few of which can be seen at the Cham Sculpture Museum in Danang.
Restoration work was carried out between 1937 and 1943. But in 1969, during the Vietnamese-American war (known as the 'American War' in Vietnam) the area was decimated by carpet bombing. The result was complete destruction of 52 out of the 70 original structures, with only 18 remaining though not unscathed. The area surrounding Mỹ Sơn still remains dangerous with some unexploaded and mines thought to remain.
Mỹ Sơn was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, and since then marvelous restorations have occurred. The new sections, or rebuilt sections of the temples, are discernible only by the colour of the brick but they will, with time, fade too. Real efforts have been made to save this site and return the remaining structures to their former glory.
The temples are set among the green tangle of the Vietnam jungle far away from the civilisation we know today. It is an unusual glimpse back in time into a dynasty we know little about. It will have you wondering what went on within the walls, and, like me, you will imagine yourself as a one of the Champa, worshiping Shiva in the spectacular complex of mighty Mỹ Sơn.