July in Vietnam: The Cham Ruins of My Son

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The Champa civilisation was one of the Indian-influenced civilisations in Southeast Asia, similar to those who built the ancient cities of Bagan, Ayuthaya, Angkor Wat and Borobudur. One reason to pass through Hoi An was to visit My Son (pronouced “mi sen”), part of this temple circuit. With this trip, I added the last scalp to my belt.

I booked with a friendly though somewhat scatterbrained travel agent a tour to My Son, Vietnam’s answer to Angkor Wat. After a false early morning start where they forgot about picking me up, I finally got on a tour out there in the later part of the morning. The entrance to the ruins was a lot newer than expected and a friendly American family helpfully snapped a picture of me next to this spanking new pile of stone.

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We were raring to go see the ruins, but not before admiring the local cows enjoying a good bit of rumination under the shade. The morning was progressing and it was starting to get mighty hot.

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True enough, lots of tourists were already out there, heavily armed with umbrellas. Still, they were very much dwarfed by the Cham ruins, rising up majestically and rather shabbily at the same time.

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I was struck by how much of the structures still remained. They survived years of weathering and wars and retained most of the main features of the buildings. The red brick still stood but the cement had long fallen off.

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The entrances were tall and thin, probably reflecting the girth but not height of the people then. I admired the intricate carvings on the eaves of the entrances.

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Too bad about the statues built into the walls. The details had pretty much been weathered off and the details of faces and dress could barely be made out.

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However, no amount of weathering could disguise what this was. This linga was the most graphic I’d seen in Southeast Asian temple sites. There were lots of giggling tourists wondering how on earth to pose with it.

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Much easier for the amateur photographer were the headless statues dotting the compound.

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There were also plenty of reliefs of lesser gods with heads.

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These were less interesting to the average tourist, but the unique features that seemed to me part-Indian and part-Balinese left me admiring them for quite a while.

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It was a pity that the wasn’t a great deal to the site as quite a lot of the ruins were really just that. Many of them were ruined not so much because of the passage of time but because of American bombings during the war. Sad indeed.

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