My Son, spelled Mỹ Sơn in Vietnamese, and pronounced “me son” is a collection of temple ruins in central Vietnam, about an hour from the city of Hoi An.
My Son is a Unesco World Heritage site and gets thousands of visitors per year, so the Vietnamese government has accordingly raised the price of both the admission fee and the guided bus tours. When I was there, the entrance fee was 150,000 dong, up from last year’s price of 100,000. The tours to My Son used to cost around $5, but is now around $9-11 for a share tour. The government claims that the admissions will go to restoring the site, but it seems likely the price will get more expensive in the future.
My Son was built by the Chams, a Malayo-Polynesian people who formed the Champa Kingdom around 200 CE that eventually became prosperous through maritime trade. The kingdom had a rich Hindu culture highly influenced by India. The Chams were eventually annexed and absorbed into Vietnam and now live as an ethnic minority. Many converted to Islam starting in the 11th century though some have remained Hindu.
Construction of My Son began in the 4th century and the temple buildings were the main religious center of the Champa Kingdom until the 14th century and probably the most important of the Hindu buildings remaining in Vietnam.
Unfortunately, My Son was extensively carpet bombed by Americans during the Vietnam War (or American War, as it is called in Vietnam) because it was a hiding place for the Viet Cong. Because of this, the ruins are quite small, crumbling, and have lost a lot of their beauty. Since the years of the war, the ruins mostly haven’t been restored or well-maintained, and many of the more significant pieces of artwork have been taken to museums.
So that brings us to the question in the title: is My Son worth it?
I personally thought it was worth it, but I had my expectations in check and made the trip to get out into the countryside and see some of the permanent damage done in the country during the Vietnam war, and not just for the temples themselves.
Do not come here expecting anything on the scale of Angkor, or even Ayutthaya. If you do you’re pretty much guaranteed to be disappointed. The buildings are much smaller and have generally suffered more damage. Some of the designs and carvings on My Son are fairly similar to Angkor but not as impressive.
Hotels and homestays in Hoi An will all offer tours of My Son, the price for a tour to My Son by bus and back to Hoi An by boat was $11, the price for the bus both ways was $9. I decided on the boat trip, which included a very simple lunch of rice with some vegetables and tofu on top.
The tour bus came to my homestay around 8 am and the tour guide told the group some information on My Son and the Cham Kingdom on the way. The bus first stops at the ticket office, and then everyone crosses a bridge to a small lot. From there, shuttles are available to take visitors to the temples.
The ruins are in a beautiful jungle setting, but keep in mind it does get very hot in the afternoon so have water and a hat. Also, it gets quite crowded, so it can be difficult to get photos without a bunch of tourists in the background.
I would definitely advise coming here with a guide or guidebook. There are basically no descriptions of the ruins in English anywhere on the site. The guide for my tour was quite a character and very funny, he provided a lot of information though at times a bit too quickly that it was easy to miss what he said.
After touring the temples, I got on the boat ride back to Hoi An. The boat ride was nice, but there isn’t much to see on the river so I don’t think you’d be missing much to opt for the bus ride. The boat can also get somewhat crowded.
As a complement to My Son, check out the Cham Museum in nearby Da Nang. The museum was built by a Frenchman in the 1800’s and holds collections of Cham artifacts from many different periods. One section has artworks taken from the My Son site.
The entrance fee is only 40,000 dong. I made a stop here before heading to Da Nang airport. The airport is within the city so it was only about 7 minutes away in a taxi.
While I personally did find the My Son day trip worthwhile, it’s important to note that there are plenty of other Cham towers in southern Vietnam. While I haven’t been to any others myself, my understanding is that the Po Nagar towers near the beach town of Nha Trang are some of the best preserved, although the site itself is smaller than My Son. If you rent a motorbike in Vietnam, then that could provide many more options of Cham ruins to visit.