A pre-eminent complex of the old Hindu civilisation of the Champa kingdom, the city of My Son was once a massive temple citadel built into the valley of the mountains southwest of Da Nang in the Quang Nam province of central Vietnam.
Boasting a substantial historical and cultural significance, this archaeological site was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Since then, My Son has become a popular day trip destination among travellers hopping over for a visit from Da Nang or the heritage port city of Vietnam; Hoi An.
Having visited the magnificent icon of Cambodia; the temple of Angkor Wat, I can honestly opined that My Son is not quite as astonishing or impressive. Nonetheless, comparison aside, My Son has its own unique details and story to tell. Thus, embarking on an exciting adventure to this old city should not be overlooked when you are in Vietnam.
Built by the Champa Kingdom in the early 4th to 14th century, the temple of My Son, was totally isolated from the outside world, nestling among the mountains and jungles with little rivers. With religious beliefs originating from Hinduism, the statutes and stelae of Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna can be found throughout the temple complex remnants. On some of the newer structures, Buddhist influences can also be seen. In total, there are 8 groups of temples and 71 monuments identified from the archeological rubbles.
After the Vietnamese defeated and annexed the Champa Kingdom, My Son was left in total ruin, forgotten and abandon within the prolific nature of Hon Quap and the Thu Bon River. Back then, the Vietnam dynasty wanted to eradicate and prohibit all other forms of beliefs, practices and religions and force every living soul in Vietnam to conform to their Vietnam confucio-fascism. But the spirit of the Kingdom endured. My Son was later rediscovered by some French scholars and archeologists in 1898, saving the kingdom remnants from further destruction cause by abandonment and nature’s elements. A series of restoration works began in 1973. However, during the Vietnam war, My Son was not spared the heavy American air offensive and was heavily destroyed by bombs.
A major conservation project to restore My Son took place in 1982 and was led by the Vietnamese government. As the structures of My Son were built solely out of bricks with no mortar and other complicated materials involved, reconstruction works on some of the structures was relatively simple and progressed rather smoothly. However, for some, the arts, sculptures and architecture behind them were so complex and with so little left to salvage, most of these objects cannot be restored altogether. Today, the main groups of the ruins are a reminiscent of how they would or could look like back in the early centuries.
For some tourist dollars you get to enter the My Son heritage site which provides free shuttle buggies between stations within the vast compound. The Champa kingdom has many similarities to the other early Hindu-like civilisations of the neighbouring lands of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar including the temple of Angkor Wat in terms of architecture, art and engineering methods.
These structures have actually existed since the last few hundred B.C. and was mostly destroyed by the Nguyen dynasty under Minh Mang’s campaign of annexing and eradicating the Champa empire. Although most local tour guides and most written documents would largely blame the U.S. for bombing this area, as marked clearly with the bomb craters from the Vietnam War, actually most of the structures and people of this early civilisation was destroyed by the Nguyen empire and its Vietnamese fascism.
The remarkable thing about the My Son ruins were the type of architecture and engineering employed in constructing these mega complexes. Most of the intricate details of figurines and sculptures are carved out of the red kilned bricks stacked in depth. The bricks, pillars and door frames are actually stuck together with a cement like gum resin found from gum trees in the forests nearby. Sadly, most of the carvings of structures and ornaments are slowly disintegrating under the influences of global warming.
For what it’s worth, My Son is a nice historical place to visit although most of its exhibits and structures are poorly maintained and are slowly corroding away over time. Just be careful of the unkept walkways as the ground becomes muddy and slippery when wet. As the locale of My Son is kind of remote and far from Da Nang, it is best to find a tour or private car to get to this place with an option to pop by Hoi An on the way.
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