Ashamed of My Son

My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples in central Vietnam that were constructed over 1000 year ago by the kings of Champa. Located 69km south of Da Nang and based near small rural villages, the temples of My Son were built by the kings of Champa between the 4th and 14th centuries. All temples here are dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and are situated in a valley that is 2km wide and surrounded by mountains.

myson21

From the 4th to the 14th centuries, the valley at My Son was a site of religious ceremony for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes. It was closely associated with the nearby Cham cities of Indrapura and Simhapura. At one time, the site encompassed over 70 temples as well as numerous stele bearing historically important inscriptions in Sanskrit and Cham. Yet despite being perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in all of old ‘Indochina’, a large majority of the architecture here at My Son was said to have been destroyed by US bombers during a single week of the Vietnam War.

myson22

I’ve always been interested in learning about ancient kingdoms and cultures across Asia, specifically in South East Asia, so the opportunity to visit the fabled My Son Ruins – once a stronghold of the Cham Empire – as a day trip from Da Nang was not only too good an opportunity to miss, but also the chance to be among the highlights of my trip to central Vietnam. It didn’t really work out like that, and, actually, I am very angry about it.

The My Son temple complex is regarded one of the foremost Hindu temple complexes in Southeast Asia and is the foremost heritage site of this nature in Vietnam. It is often compared with other historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia, such as Borobudur in Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bagan in Myanmar, and Ayutthaya in Thailand. As of 1999, My Son has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Yet despite this, I would never say that My Son is on the same level as Borobudur or Bagan, and whoever thinks these dilapidated ruins in the Vietnam jungle should be put in the same breath as the Temples of Angkor really is having a laugh!

myson7

myson4

The thing that disappointed me most with My Son is that there is a distinct lack of infrastructure here. I know we are supposed to be in the wilderness, and in that regard it’s no different to the temples and pagodas in Bagan, but really no effort is made by the authorities to enhance your visit, nor to enlighten you on what you are looking at. Sure, the ruins looked amazing, and lend themselves very kindly to a fantastic photo or six, but it was very hard at the time to actually understand what it was that we were actually looking at. I did a bit of research the night before (as I always do before visiting temples in any country), and I am glad I did, as without that prior knowledge I wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on!

myson20

The tour I went on from Da Nang only cost me around $7 – booked from my hotel – and this included return transfers and a “guide”, although he was rubbish, to be frank. What annoyed me with him is that he tried to keep lighting cigarettes every 5 minutes when he was supposed to be educating us on the state of the Hindu ruins, but I kind of guessed that he didn’t know much about the temples anyway, so I was glad he didn’t speak! On the way home though, he was very insistent that we peruse the local wood-carving shops and buy some “souvenir”. Admittedly, the wood carvings were very nice, but I was not in the mood, after having much of my day ruined.

myson1

The ruins at My Son were very nice to look at, especially in the early morning dew, which is probably the best time to get here if you want to avoid the masses of tourists who get here on their day trips from Da Nang. However, a lot of the official photographs of the My Son ruins are somewhat deceptive, as the ruins are far less impressive when you are up close and personal with them. They’re not bad, of course, but don’t come here expecting the Vietnam version of Angkor Wat!

Have you been to My Son? Was your experience underwhelming? Did you, like me, find the neglect of these important ruins very disrespectful? Please share your experiences below.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Ashamed of My Son

    1. It’s a good comment about the order in which you visit these sites. I went to Borobudur before Prambanan and as such didn’t enjoy Prambanan as much. So I recommend visiting My Son before Angkor Wat, certainly. 🙂 Those Americans certainly created a lot of these ruins… 😦

      Like

  1. Very interesting. I work in the museum sector in the UK. Our site isn’t a World Heritage site, but it does have significant Listed buildings. Even in a rich western country, dealing sensitively with important monuments to retain their integrity while making them accessible can be difficult and expensive. I can understand why you might feel cheated by your experience at My Son, though.

    The site’s entry on the UNESCO WHC website says this, which might explain a little why the site is relatively undeveloped as a tourist site: “There remains an enduring issue of the possible presence of unidentified, unexploded ordnance within the boundaries of the property’s buffer zone, which has affected the archaeological research of newly-discovered areas, restoration of eight monumental areas, as well as site presentation for visitors.” The website also suggests that there is a Master Plan in place, backed by government funding, that should see better interpretation of the site by 2020, and acknowledges that much work needs to be done: “With significantly increased numbers of tourists visiting the site, managing its carrying–capacity will be increasingly important and should also be addressed as part of a Management Plan as is required for the site. It is essential to continue with the de-mining work to ensure the safety of people and to allow appropriate access and understanding of the monuments in their setting.”

    I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of My Son, so thanks for talking about it. I’d like to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice information, Mrs Hicks! 🙂 I didn’t know too much unexploded ordnance was still around here, I thought that would have been cleared long ago around such an important tourist site. Then again, with the Vietnamese authorities here, I am actually not too surprised… I hope you can visit in the future, as hopefully by then My Son will be restored closer to its former glories, without scaffolding and fencing obscuring the views.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. When I was there in 2014, my guide (who was pretty great), said all the buildings were in good condition until the war, and the Americans bombed it to flush out the Viet Kong. We were explained about the unexplored ordinance everywhere, that hadn’t yet been removed, and that it was a long process. Lee, Perhaps if your guide had been better, you would have enjoyed it more. I would love to go back again soon.

      Like

      1. I think you could be right, Shona. I don’t know if I am ever going back to that part of Vietnam, but if I did, I would certainly get a good guide.

        I really wanted to like My Son…but alas I didn’t much.

        Liked by 1 person

Tell me what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s