While it sizzled in Hue, it was “nearly burning” in Hoi An and My Son was “on fire”. Nearly 40C and here we are in the jungle, in what was once the sanctuary of Hinduism in Vietnam. This UNESCO Heritage Site was the political and spiritual capital of the mysterious Champa Kingdom which flourished from the 3rd century to the 14th century. Some records put it until the 18th century. About 17 of the original 71 monuments made of bricks and sandstone can be found here. These are the 17 that survived the war. And after the war, this heritage site had to contend with flooding from the nearby river and extremely high humidity which hampers preservation efforts. Not to mention the de-mining activities to keep the site clean and safe.

We spent 2 hours here, mindful that we walked only on paved, marked paths. Restoration work is ongoing but restricted because of the possible unidentified and unexploded mines in the area. A pity. We even found bomb craters side by side with the pockmarked tower monuments which were used to shield Vietcongs who hid there during the war while the Americans tried to chase them out by bombing and machine-gunning the area. So there. The site lost more than 50 tower temples to the war, climate conditions and flooding. It may not be as grand as Angkor Wat in Siem Reap nor the temples in Ayutthaya, but the legacy of the Champan Kingdom must be preserved for future generations. It helped that on our way from Hue to Hoi An, we visited a Cham Museum in Danang. Many Cham sculptures, many headless, are housed there.

My Son is only an hour away from Hoi An. Our hired van was allowed only up to a point, and we walked beyond the entrance marked by double arches towards the tram station. Here, you take the shuttle for a 10 minute ride and get off near the ruins of this complex of Hindu temples. There were tourists offloaded from a few hired vans and tourist buses. There were also the adventurous ones who came on motorbikes. There is a tiny Museum, as well as a theatre stage where guests were treated to a spectacle of cultural performances. If I were to do this again, I’d time it in the cooler months of January and February. At the height of summer, it’s an ordeal walking drenched in sweat around the complex.

I didn’t expect to like the cultural performance before we started the hike. But I found the Apsara dance very expressive, even sensuous. The play with the hands and bent knees require grace, poise and elegant execution. I couldn’t even stretch and bend back my hands the way they do! From the stage, the same performing group moved to one of the ruin sites where they danced with an impressive backdrop of brick temple ruins.

The Chams are a minority tribe in Vietnam now. Back then, they worshipped the Hindu god Shiva and created this cluster of tower temples spread across Central and Southern Vietnam. This one in My Son lies in a lovely valley surrounded by 2 mountain ranges and covering 2 square kilometres. Try to imagine how this heritage site — so pretty and serene — was carpet-bombed by the Americans in a single week! Heartbreaking 😔