For the year-end holidays, I had the chance to spend some time in central Vietnam via Da Nang, one of the largest cities in the country. Da Nang is a good gateway to three World Heritage Sites, all within reach of a day trip: the imperial capital of Hue to the north, the ancient city of Hoi An to the south, and the ruins of My Son, which is further inland, about an hourâ€™s drive from Da Nang.
My Son was the spiritual capital of the Champa kings and the temples, now in ruins, were built between the 4th and 11th centuries. The name My Son is cognate with the Chinese which means â€˜Beautiful Mountainâ€™. Located in a valley between two mountain ranges, the site has an other-worldy feel to it, isolated, serene and the light rains and mist at the times that I visited certainly added to the atmosphere!
If you’ve visited the relatively more recent temples at Angkor and Ayutthaya you might be slightly underwhelmed by the size of the complex. The temple clusters are numbered A-K, but you only get to see about three main groups. Group B-C-D are the most picturesque and intact of the temples, Group A are mostly foundation ruins and you can still see craters from the bombings in group E and F.
Bombings? Back in the American-Vietnam War, a week of carpet bombing by American B-52s destroyed most of the complex. The Vietcong had installed a radio tower on one of the towers, which made the ruins no longer a heritage site under the rules of engagement but a military facility that was supposedly fair game for warfare. I donâ€™t know if the Vietcong thought that the Americans would not bomb archaeological ruins (I remember when the Parthenon was used as a powder battery and it was still blown up). There was an outcry by international and American scholars, but by then it was too late.
I found myself making two trips to My Son. The first time was in the mid-morning, when there were a few hundred tourists already walking around despite the rain. In my second trip, I made a point to get there extra early â€“ around 8 â€“ to enjoy the serenity of the ruins. My Son is relatively â€œwildâ€ â€“ there are paths that take you through the major ruins, but they can be managed better to limit the impact of tourists walking through the ruins. With Da Nang set to become a major tourism gateway, I foresee the need for measures to be taken to manage the rise in tourist numbers in the near future.