Thursday, December 25, 2014

My Son, the Relics of the Oldest Civilization in South East Asia

We learned about Champa civilization in our secondary school history class many years ago. Champa together with old Kedah in Malaysia were the oldest civilizations in South East Asia. Today, most of the old Kedah's relics have lost due to the lack of preservation by the government, but a few of Champa's relics survived.

My Son temples were built by Champa Kings from the 4th to 13th century AD  to worship Shiva, which can be easily identified by the entrances that face east. The area were once amassed by 70 temples, and served as the center of religious ceremonies and burial sites for the kings and nobles. The first temple in My Son was believed to be built by Bhadravarman I between 380 - 413. The successors later continued building more temples in the surrounding area.

We departed to My Son (some sources name it as My Son Sanctuary) after taking a day rest at Danang. We had spent three days in Hue before that. We rented a car with driver for a whole day trip, from Danang to My Son, Hoi An, and then back to Danang. We paid USD50 for the car with the driver.

Starting from Happy Day Hotel at 8:30 am, our road trip to My Son took about 2 hours, as the heavy rain made our car moved with 30 - 40 km per hour most of the time. Luckily the rain turned lighter when we reached My Son and stopped 30 minutes later. There were very few signboards leading to My Son, you might need to plan in detail if you want to drive by your own. We strolled around My Son temples area for 2 hours 30 minutes.

If not because of raining, we should be able to see beautiful paddy fields along the road (upper left). The cows (upper right) and other animals could be seen along the road. Big signages could only be seen when we were close to the site (lower right). The arch with a big UNESCO logo on indicated that we were on the right track and really close to the site.

We reached the ticketing counter at around 10 am (upper left). From the counter to the entrance of the site is another 5 minutes of driving. Then, we stopped by a booth to hire an English speaking guide with VND 100,000 (upper right). Although quite informative, we could feel that he was hurrying us to walk around the area, and left us in the site after bringing us around for 35 minutes. Canteen (lower right) and toilets are available at the entrance. We need to take another 10 minutes walk to the site as vehicles are not allowed beyond the entrance.

Walking in the rain was no problem for us.

We were lucky to catch up with the Cham folk art performance. It was held in a hall (upper left), with Cham people performing their cultural dances (upper right), apsara dance (lower right) and musical instrument. The performance is scheduled on 9:30 am, 10:30 am. and 2:30 pm daily. By the way, the apsara dance in My Son is like "rock and roll" compared to "slow and graceful" apsara dance in Siem Reap.

This is the map of My Son. From the entrance, we will see Group C first. The dance performance hall is located somewhere before Group C temples. Group B, C, and D form the biggest collection of temples. Group A and G are on the other side of the stream. Group E and F are some 200 meters away from A and G. Group K is 300 meters away from Group E and F, which we can see it on our way out.

Group C is one of the most untouched collection of temples. These temples were built between 10th - 11th century.

Group B is located adjacent to Group C. The first temple of My Son was built there. The temple however was destroyed and rebuilt for several times. The relics that remain standing now were built between 11th - 13th century. Group D is located behind Group B.

 Group D temples.

Group A was formerly a part of Group D before a stream formed and divided them. This group is badly damaged, with just a few walls and an altar remain standing. These temples are believed to be some of the biggest and most magnificent within My Son, before the bombs turned them into rubbles. The entrance to the main temple of group A is facing west.

Group G is located on a small hill, with a few small structures remain standing. These structures were built around 12th - 13th centuries. The entrance of the main temple of this group is facing west. A similar hill temple, Phnom Bakheng in Siem Reap is the much bigger version of this temple.

If you are not sure about the meaning of "ruins", please go to see Group E and F. These two groups are the oldest among all, with a few structures dated back to 8th century.

Group K is far away from the others. It can be visited on our way out. The group contains only two small spearhead towers which were built around 11th century.

General architecture of the temples- the main temple contains lingam and yoni at the basement (upper left), with the entrance facing the middle temple and the monastery in a straight line (upper right). The monastery was the place for the preparation of ceremonies (lower left). Some of the main temples (Group B and C) were accompanied by a few of smaller structures, such as library.

The sculptures and bass relief are badly damaged by weather (upper row). Many of the sculptures had been moved into the monastery to avoid further damage (lower row). Many of them have been moved to the museum in Danang as well.

Visiting My Son need a lot of walking, with bridges across the stream (upper left), walkway across the wood (upper right) and dirt path around the temples (lower right). Bomb craters are scattered around the area.

My Son ruins is much less stunning than Angkor Wat and Bayon in Cambodia, or Borobudur and Prambanan temples in Indonesia. Even with all 70 temples remain standing, My Son is still far inferior compared to Bagan in Myanmar. However, as one of the oldest site of civilization in South East Asia, it is worth all the effort for us to visit it. As Old Kedah civilization in Lembah Bujang has basically cannot be traced anymore, My Son is the only place that we can go to catch the bit and pieces about the glory of the past civilization.

Well, visiting My Son have nothing to do with "enjoy" or "fun". The site is really a remote area with toilets and canteen available only at the entrance. So, we should go to toilet before exploring the area for hours without "toilet break". Drinking water is essential, as the humid surrounding will make us sweat a lot. Snacks might be needed to keep us moving forward. Shoes are recommended, but sandals and shorts might be a better choice during rainy season. The site was not friendly to wheelchair, but it can be accessed by those with walking aids. Umbrella is important too, as the weather is hard to predict. Visitors to My Son are not encouraged to walk beyond the designated walking paths to avoid stepping on land mine.

As we browsed through internet, the information regarding My Son was really limited: reading the information in Wikipedia,, and from the book "Vietnam" by Nick Ray. On the other hand, we are quite sceptical about the information provided in Wikitravel regarding the exploitation of My Son resources by outsiders. We would recommend that we should visit My Son and Hoi An first, before we visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Danang.

We took a short rest at the canteen. The food and drinks were sold with reasonable prices. We left My Son around 1 pm and continued our trip to Hoi An. We will share our experience in Hoi An in our next post. Follow us now for more updates. 

Other sharing about Hue, Danang, My Son, and Hoi An:

Our sharing about other places in Vietnam:


  1. Hi
    Would appreciate if you let me know where to book a car with the driver in Danang.

    Thanks & Regards

    1. Dear mayebelle,
      Good day! We booked our car with English speaking driver through our hotel (later we found that the driver could only communicate with simple English). We found that the rate offered by our hotel was attractive, compared to those we found elsewhere. Where are you going to stay in Danang? Last time, we stayed in Happy Day Hotel in Bach Dang Street. If you wish to communicate with us privately, you can opt to message us through our Facebook page.