If you’re ever in Central Vietnam (you know, just kicking around the neighbourhood) Mỹ Sơn is a set of can’t-miss ancient temples that date back to roughly 200 A.D. Most visitors make it a day trip from the popular beach town of Hội An, which is worth the trek to the middle of the country all on its own, and really makes for a great one-two punch. The temple ruins at Mỹ Sơn are spectacular, set in a beautiful, lush environment, with the sounds of local jungle birds and humming insects replacing the roar of larger Vietnamese cities. There is plenty of history to the site, ranging from the mysterious construction methods to its more recent role in the Vietnamese-American war. In short, it’s serene, beautiful, and still (set your face to stunned) doesn’t get too crowded by bus loads of tourists if you arrive at the right time.
Trying to keep track of all the different religious groups that have used the site can get a bit confusing, but the main ethnic group is the Champa. They were Hindu for a long time (though they were never afraid to add their own local tribal flavour, including penis-shaped staelae), and have been slowly assimilated to larger Vietnamese culture ever since the 19th century, thus explaining the group’s gradual conversion to Buddhism ever since. Many of the inscriptions on these ruins remain untranslated and shrouded in a certain amount of mystery, which only adds to the intrigue.
As with many of these types of sites, there is plenty of literature available for purchase once you arrive at Mỹ Sơn (both of the academic variety and the more general), and it’s worthwhile getting to know a bit about the place. Tour guides are also readily available, and relatively inexpensive and so aren’t a bad option, either. There is a museum to check out as well, either on the way in or out.
The best way to get there, naturally, is via motorbike. If you’re in nearby Hội An, Mỹ Sơn is roughly a 1-hour drive down some relatively low-traffic country roads. Bikes are cheap to rent ($5-6 per day) and give you a much finer view of the countryside. Leave early (6 a.m.) to beat the heat and the traffic, and you also have a good chance of getting to explore the ruins without too much company. Not sure how to get there? No problem. There are plenty of maps available, but if you just stop and say the words “Mỹ Sơn” to any local, they’ll point you in the right direction. Take a wrong turn? No problem. Folks are friendly ’round these parts.
The bike trip, as a matter of fact, is reason enough to make the trek. While en route to Mỹ Sơn you’ll travel through several quaint, small towns and a few interesting sites – if they’re a little strange, they’re all the more interesting. A large, open-air church, replete with strange Viet-Christrian statues and mini-alters is but one of the little gems worth checking out along the way. Or how about a place so hot that spicy Thai peppers are simply left on the roadside in the sun to dry? With the air rushing by you on your motorbike, the faint aroma of peppers makes the drive a borderline culinary experience. In fact, there is some excellent food to check out along the way. Just take a look at the delectable bowl below and imagine yourself exploring Vietnam’s mini Angkor Watt. Sounds like a decent way to spend a day, doesn’t it?
Photos Courtesy of J.P. Nikota; Slider photo courtesy of Flickr, Patrik M. Loeff (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)