Misadventure on Our Way to My Son Sanctuary: A Guide on Visiting the Site Without a Tour Group

When I traveled to Vietnam last month, one of the must visit on my list was the My Son Sanctuary. It is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and 14th century AD by the kings of Champa. The temples were dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Shiva. The people of Champa descended from seafaring settlers who reached the Southeast Asian mainland from Borneo about the time of the Sa Huỳnh culture, the predecessor of the Cham kingdom. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champa)

Image by Raymond de Peralta

My Son Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is located in a small valley in Duy Tan Commune, Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam. It is about 70km southwest of Danang and 40km from Hoi An. The temples are in a valley roughly two kilometers wide and surrounded by a ring of mountains. It is open daily (including holidays) from 5:30 to 17:00 in summer and 6:00 to 17:00 in winter. Entrance ticket is VND 150 000 (~7.5 USD) per person.

Image by Raymond de Peralta

Conservation of the My Son monuments began in the early part of the 20th century CE soon after their discovery in modern times by French archaeologists.  During World War II, the First Indo-China War and, especially, during the Second Indo-China War, many tower temples were damaged. However, conservation work has been carried out and the remaining tower temples have been maintained and are well-preserved. (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/949/)

The Cause of Our Misadventure

We visited My Son from Hoi An. My brother and I arranged our schedule in such a way that we will be able to get back at the hotel before lunchtime to check-out. My brother tried to look for cheaper ways of going to My Son without joining a tour group. But it turns out there isn’t really any reliable public transport from Hoi An and booking a tour is the cheapest way to go.

We decided to book a Sunrise Tour with the hotel we were staying at. The tour costs VND 200 000 (~10 USD). It is inclusive of an English speaking guide, hotel pick-up, and breakfast. We will be picked up from the hotel at 5 in the morning and will be back at 9 in the morning. We were happy coz we will still have a little time to roam around the Old Town before checking out. Everything would have turned out as planned except when we got back to our hotel room after having dinner and exploring Hoi An Old Town, we found this note in our door:

Stormy, seriously? It was already late to find another booking office to book a tour, and we didn’t want to skip visiting this site so my brother searched for directions on how to get there by public transport. It involves taking a bus bound for Phuda and a motorcycle/taxi ride from the intersection going to My Son.

Our Little Misadventure on Our Way to My Son

The following day, we left the hotel before 6 in the morning. We rode on a taxi to the T-junction (Ngã ba Vĩnh Điện)(refer to the map below). There we waited for route number 6 bus (the bus from Da Nang bound for Phuda).

The area encircled with red is where we asked the taxi driver to drop us off

It didn’t take long for the bus to arrive. The bus is an ordinary minibus (not air-conditioned). Bus fare is VND 40 000 (~2 USD) and travel time is about 45 minutes. If you are taking the bus, make sure to tell the bus conductor to drop you off at the intersection to My Son, especially if you plan on sleeping on the bus (like what my brother did).

Inside the bus to Phuda

We thought that there would be motorcycle taxis waiting at the intersection, but we were wrong. There were locals who offered to take us there but they were charging VND 300 000 (~15 USD) for the round trip. We thought it’s too expensive (compared to the cost of booking a tour) so we declined. We decided to walk until we find a cheaper alternative, and even considered walking up to My Son, but the sign at the intersection says My Son is 9 kilometers away.

If we had plenty of time we would have done it. But we needed to be back to Hoi An before noon so we tried asking the people that we passed by if they know of a motorcycle taxi that could take us there. What made our search for a transportation to take us to My Son more difficult was that the locals didn’t know how to speak English. We communicated with them mostly through sign language and Google translate.

Finding a Ride

Just when we have given up the thought of finding a ride, a man on a motorcycle with a sidecar stopped beside us and offered to take us there. I forgot to take a picture of his vehicle, but it looks like the ones used to transport sacks of rice from the farm. It looks old and rusty but I didn’t mind riding in there anymore as long as he can take us to My Son.

Just like the others, he doesn’t speak English too. His offer was like the others, VND 300 000 (~15 USD). We tried to haggle with him using Google translate and we agreed at VND 200 000 (~10 USD) round trip. After we agreed on the rate, he called someone over the phone. A few minutes later, a young Vietnamese guy arrived on a motorcycle. He was the one who took us to My Son.

Touring the My Son Sanctuary

We arrived in My Son at past 8 in the morning. There was only one vehicle parked and they have just arrived. This means the place is not crowded with other tourists. After paying the entrance fee, we started our tour. On the way to the station for the electric shuttle car, we passed by the My Son Museum. When we saw the group of tourists who arrived there before us heading towards the museum, we decided to go directly to the ruins so we could enjoy the place to ourselves.

The visitors who arrived there before us

From the entrance, you need to walk a few hundred meters to the station of electric shuttle cars which you can ride free to the ruins. On your way to the station, you will pass by the museum and a bridge.

My brother at the bridge on the way to the station of the electric shuttle car

The electric shuttle car. This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The distance from the station of the electric shuttle car to the ruins is around 2 kilometers. It’s an easy walk but if you’re pressed with time or if it’s very hot, it’s better to take the shuttle.

The Map of the My Son Site

The ruins are explored by foot. At the drop off point of the shuttle, there is a map of the My Son site. The map gave us the impression that the place is larger than it actually is. We thought we had to walk a few kilometers before reaching the ruins but about five minutes into our walk we already saw a site which is under restoration.

The pathway that leads to the ruins.

The Ruins

There are three major areas that you can see in My Son: the first is a relatively complete temple complex with about a dozen buildings; the second is the site where the bombs destroyed a temple complex; the third is where restoration had either taken place or is still taking place.

Example of a site where bombs destroyed a temple complex

Image by Raymond de Peralta

Image by Raymond de Peralta

Restoration in progress

Image by Raymond de Peralta

The site with relatively complete temple complex with about a dozen buildings

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The My Son Sanctuary, located near Hoi An, Vietnam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the central worshipping centre for the Champa people who had five kingdoms in the surrounding areas and this temple complex was built between the 4th and 14th century. Tip when visiting this place which my brother and I discovered when we went there: if you want to avoid too many tourists when you explore this place, don't join a group tour and be in My Son at 8 in the morning. It will be more expensive going there on your own but there won't be any tourists by that time because the sunrise tour goups leave My Son around 8am and the 2nd tour leaves Hoi An at that time so you have about an hour to explore the place all by yourselves. #MySonSanctuary #MySon #UNESCOWorldHeritageVietnam #Vietnam

A post shared by tdeps0616 (@tdeps0616) on

More photos of My Son Sanctuary photographed by my brother Raymond:

Below are pictures of some of the things you’ll see inside the temples. Photos from my brother.

What started out to be a misfortune turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We may have spent more going to My Son by public transport, and even had a hard time finding a ride, but when we got there we were able to enjoy the place by ourselves. We were able to explore the whole place, including the museum in less than 2 hours. By the time we finished exploring the sites, tour groups started to arrive. Oh, and by the way, it was sunny when we explored the site and there were no traces that it had been stormy there the day before.

Groups of tourists started to arrive when we finished exploring the site

How To Get There:

There are many options when going to My Son:

  • Join a tour group. This is probably one of the cheapest options. These leave Hoi An at 5 and 8 in the morning and costs around VND 150 000 to 200 000 (~7.5 to 10 USD). Hotels in Hoi An arrange a tour and you can also book in the ticketing offices in Hoi An. You can also book online here for an early morning bus tour, here for a day tour from Hoi An and here for a day tour from Da Nang.
  • Car hire with driver. Car hire costs around VND 700 000 to 800000 (~35 to 40 USD) from Hoi An. You can book online here.
  • Hire a motorbike and drive yourself. Motorbike hire costs around VND 80 000 to 100 000 (~4 to 5 USD) for the day.
  • By public transport. Ride a taxi from your hotel to the T-junction (Ngã ba Vĩnh Điện)(refer to the map above). Taxi fare is around VND 120 000 (~6 USD) At the intersection ride route number 6 bus (the bus from Da Nang bound for Phuda). Tell the bus conductor to drop you off at the highway intersection to My Son. Bus fare is VND 40 000 (~2 USD). From there, hire a motorcycle taxi to My Son. Fare for round trip for 2 persons ranges from VND 200 000 to 300 000 (~10 to 15 USD).

Tips When Visiting:

  • If you want to avoid too many tourists when you explore this place, don’t join a group tour and be in My Son by 8 in the morning. It will be more expensive going there on your own but there won’t be any tourists by that time because the sunrise tour groups leave My Son before 8 am and the 2nd tour leaves Hoi An at that time so you have about an hour to explore the place all by yourselves.
  • If you are not an early riser, visit the place in the afternoon. The place is much busier with tours in the morning.
  • You’ll be walking a lot so it is recommended to wear comfortable footwear when exploring the place.
  • Bring water and snacks if you get hungry easily. There are plenty of benches to sit on in case you get tired from all the walking. There is also a canteen inside the sanctuary.

 

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