If there’s one way to destroy your enjoyment of a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s to almost die en route to it. Especially if, once you show up, you observe that the size and awesomeness were greatly over-hyped. Yeah, I’d say we experienced underwhelming emotions towards My Son Sanctuary when we finally arrived in one piece. And just barely in one piece, might I add.
What even is My Son Sanctuary?
My Son Sanctuary is a cluster of ancient Hindu temple ruins located about an hour outside of Hoi An.
The sacred grounds were used as a hiding place in the Vietnam-American war. At which time they were bombed extensively, leaving behind mounds of red brick piles now being eaten up by foliage. The surrounding areas are considered dangerous due to the unexploded land mines still kicking around. So don’t stray too far off the beaten path. Literally.
Some of the temples have remained relatively in tact, and others are in the process of being restored. Generally speaking, the redder the brick, the newer the brick.
You can learn more about the history of My Son Sanctuary and the Champa Kingdom on the official UNESCO web page here.
How do you get there?
It’s one of the most popular attractions in the area, so you can easily join a tour group for about $10 – $50 CAD, depending on the length of time and inclusions.
If you don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn to pile yourself into a tour bus that stops numerous times along the way to pick up many other passengers. Only to arrive hours later, at the exact same time as all the other tour buses, then you can arrange independent transportation. That’s what we did.
Thorough directions can be found online if you’ve obtained a Vietnamese motorbike drivers license and wish to bike through the countryside and surrounding villages all on your own. No one in our group of friends had such a license, though. Nor would we want to trust our navigation skills for this trek.
We were sitting in an open air restaurant in the outskirts of Hoi An one afternoon, enjoying a bite to eat. We mentioned to the woman serving us that we were looking for someone to take us to on a day trip to both Marble Mountain in Da Nang and My Son Sanctuary.
The words had barely left our mouths and the woman had already brought over her friend to sort out the details and arrange for payment. A few minutes later and our transport was booked for the following morning. Perfect, we thought. That was even easier than expected.
We each paid $25 CAD for the round trip to the two locations. $150 total for the whole group.
Why did it disappoint?
Well, our driver turned out to be a complete whack job. He felt it was his duty to pass every single car, truck, scooter, and pedal bike he came across. And not just pass them. But drive so close to them, hand laying heavy on the horn, that they were nearly ran right off the road or into the vehicle in front of them.
He would pass at alarming speeds when it was clearly not safe to do so. On windy single lane dirt roads. While going through quiet little villages with children playing too close to us for comfort, and old ladies lugging produce home on their carrying poles. He nearly plowed all of them down.
For a group of six close friends, the drive was remarkable quiet. We all sat with bated breath and white knuckles clutching the seat and praying for safety. I’m amazed we weren’t the victims of a fatal head on collision. No exaggeration.
Given the stressful journey to get there, we probably weren’t in the best frame of mind to fully enjoy the sights, anyhow. We were admittedly shaken up. Combine that with the images we’d conjured in our minds of these ruins being Vietnam’s mini Angkor Wat, and disappointment ensued.
Should you go?
If the price is good, yes. But go with realistic expectations, and ignore everyone who calls it the “Angkor of Vietnam”.
I’m glad we went (although I know I cannot speak for everyone in my group). I just wish we had a less homicidal maniac behind the wheel of our van.
My Son Sanctuary was not as awe-inspiring as I had hoped. And it was most definitely smaller scale than expected. But it was a nice break from the beaches and shopping we’d done so much thus far on our trip.
And the ruins, while quite baby in size, were still beautiful in the end.
Planning your own trip to Vietnam? Head over to our Vietnam destination page for more related posts, including travel tips and guides.
**Some of the photos in this post were taken by my good friend and travel partner, Hep**