From the World Heritage inscription for My Son Sanctuary:
During the 4th to 13th centuries there was a unique culture on the coast of contemporary Vietnam, owing its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of India. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence.
My Son Sanctuary dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries CE. The property is located in the mountainous border Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province, in central Viet Nam. It is situated within an elevated geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, which provides the watershed for the sacred Thu Bon river. The source of the Thu Bon river is here and it flows past the monuments, out of the basin, and through the historic heartland of the Champa Kingdom, draining into the South China Sea at its mouth near the ancient port city of Hoi An. The location gives the sites its strategic significance as it is also easily defensible.
The tower temples were constructed over ten centuries of continuous development in what was the heart of the ancestral homeland of the ruling Dua Clan which unified the Cham clans and established the kingdom of Champapura (Sanskrit for City of the Cham people) in 192 CE. During the 4th to 13th centuries CE this unique culture, on the coast of contemporary Viet Nam, owed its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of the Indian sub-continent. Under this influence, many temples were built to the Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva. Although Mahayana Buddhist penetrated the Cham culture, probably from the 4th century CE, and became strongly established in the north of the kingdom, Shivite Hinduism remained the established state religion.
The monuments of the My Son sanctuary are the most important constructions of the My Son civilization. The tower temples have a variety of architectural designs symbolizing the greatness and purity of Mount Meru, the mythical sacred mountain home of Hindu gods at the center of the universe, now symbolically reproduced on Earth in the mountainous homeland of the Cham people. They are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Their technological sophistication is evidence of Cham engineering skills while the elaborate iconography and symbolism of the tower-temples give insight into the content and evolution of Cham religious and political thought.
The My Son Sanctuary is a remarkable architectural ensemble that developed over a period of ten centuries. It presents a vivid picture of spiritual and political life in an important phase of the history of South-East Asia.
If you visit the smaller, more distant temples in Angkor, you’ll have an idea of what My Son is like. The architectural styles are very similar and both are of ancient Hindu origin.
My trip to My Son was rather disappointing. It is about an hour drive from Hoi An and is up in the hills. On the day I went it was raining heavily so what few photos I took had to be taken under an umbrella. It is also much smaller than I assumed it would be. Even in the rain, I was able to walk around the entire grounds in about an hour. While it is only a fraction of the size of Angkor, the visitor center and facilities are much better than anything you will see in Cambodia.
If you are in Hoi An it is worth the trip, but if you are expecting anything like the temples you can see in Angkor you will be disappointed.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.