HOI AN (30 kilometers south of Danang) is one of the most charming spots in Vietnam. Described as a Vietnamese version of Venice or colonial Williamsburg, it boasts restored colonial buildings, well-preserved wooden Chinese temples and an extraordinary covered bridge built by the Japanese in 1593. One of the nicest things about Old Town is that cars have been banned. Unfortunately, though, in recent years it has become swamped with tourists. Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. It is also not a bad place to get you ears cleaned.
Most of the building in the old quarter are one- and two-story wood structures with carved doors and balconies and round wooden Vietnamese “eyes” that offer protection from evil spirits. A total of 844 structures have been identified as historically significant. They include houses, shops, wells, family ancestor worship chapels, pagodas, Vietnamese and Chinese temples, bridges, communal buildings, assembly halls, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese tombs and carpentry shops where mother-of-pearl inlays are taped into furniture. .
Amanda Hesser wrote in The New York Times, “Hoi An, which means "peaceful life union," is a sleepy place easily traversed on foot. When we strolled through the central market one afternoon, nearly all the vendors were napping, some lying on bags of rice, others with feet propped up on piles of dried beans. But the inevitable reorientation to tourists has begun, and it is hard to escape the town's many energetic tailors.[Source:Amanda Hesser, The New York Times, September 1, 2005]
“Hoi An's charm is its historic buildings, whose architecture was heavily influenced by immigrants from Japan and China. At Fujian Assembly Hall, a Chinese-style community center, a wooden model of a junk stood near sculptures of the man of the sun and the woman of the moon, two magical Chinese gods. At the back of the hall were altars to deities for beauty, wealth and social position. A group of young men wearing T-shirts that said "Netnam" - the Microsoft of Vietnam - crowded in behind us. They were there to pray to Tan Tai Cong, the tycoon deity who determines people's financial future. If an entrepreneur's prayers are granted, he is supposed to return to thank the deity. If he fails to, it is certain death - or, at the very least, social ostracism.
Hoi An is situated on the Thu Bon River, on the coastal plain of Quang Nam Province. According to statistics, the relics in Hoi An are classified into 11 categories, including 1,068 ancient houses, 19 pagodas, 43 temples, 23 communal houses, 38 family worship houses, 5 assembly halls, 11 ancient wells, 1 bridge, 44 ancient tombs. Worth checking out are Hoi An market, Tan Ky House, Diep Dong Nguyen House, Assembly Hall for Cantonese Chinese, Quang Cong Temple and the Chinese Fukien temple dedicated to the Sea Goddess. Besides diverse architectures, Hoi An has a rich cultural life with religious activities, folk art, festivals, traditional craft villages and specialty dishes.
With the total area of 60 square kilometers, Hoi An City is, about 50 kilometers to the northeast of Tam Ky City (the capital of Quang Nam Province). The population of Hoi An City is about 88,933 habitants (2009). Mostly of which are Viet (Kinh) and Hoa (Chinese) groups. The city has 13 communes, wards (9 wards, 3 mainland communes and 1 island commune). Tan Hiep Island Commune has the area of 15 square kilometers, includes 7 islands, of which the largest ones is Cham Island (Cu Lao Cham). Hoi An also has seven kilometer-coastline, which embraces Cua Dai Beach. The city has a tropical monsoon climate. Hoi An's annual average temperature is 25 degrees C, air humidity is 82 percent, rainfall reaches up to 2,066 millimeters. It is hot and dry from February to April and rainy from September to December.
Central Vietnam Belt and Getting to Hoi An
Central Vietnam Belt describes a belt of land only about 60 kilometers, or about 40 miles, wide, that acts as a divider between the north and the south and embraces Hue, Da Nang and the old fishing town of Hoi An. Amanda Hesser wrote in The New York Times, “Here in the center of the country, the mood is often less aggressive. Small vendors continue to sell bunches of temple incense gathered like colored brooms. Grooming is still done right on the street, with sidewalk salons for ear cleaning and facials that are conducted by running a thread over a customer's face in tiny strokes. And although motor scooters have taken over even in the villages, water buffaloes are never far from view. [Source: By Amanda Hesser, The New York Times, September 1, 2005]
Getting to Hoi An: Hoi An and Quang Nam Province is located in the middle of Vietnam, 860 kilometers from Hanoi, 947 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, and 108 kilometers from Hue City. The province is on the National Highway 1A, the South- North railway and on the route of Danang- Quang Nam- Kon Tum - Gia Lai - Dak Lak - Dak Nong - Binh Phuoc. Hoi An is 32 kilometers from Danang and can be reached by car, bus or minibus Hoi An City Bus Station: 84 Huynh Thuc Khang. Tel: (84 - 510) 3861 284. The nearest airport to Hoi An is in Tam Ky, the capital of of Quang Nam Province. Tam Ky Flights from Hanoi: 4 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 347, 558, 01h20'; Flights From Ho Chi Minh City: 4 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 347, 558, 01h40'.
Drive From Hue Via Danang to Hoi An takes most of one day and follows Route 1— sometimes referred to as the "route of the mandarins" — which runs through Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.Amanda Hesser wrote in The New York Times, “The route took us on a high-speed trip through the tiny theaters of Vietnamese daily life. As our car weaved around motor scooters and bicycles, we passed a woman on her haunches wearing a non (the conical peasant hat) and splitting wood; women carrying babies; computer stores and coffin shops; rice fields; haystacks for cooking fuel; bungalows and new McMansions trapped behind iron fences. The villages are small and pass by in a breath. [Source: By Amanda Hesser, The New York Times, September 1, 2005]
“After about two hours on the road, we began climbing Cloudy Pass, a harrowing stretch that marks the country's climate divide, separating the wet north from the dry, hot south. At the top, Dat pointed out Red Beach 1 and Red Beach 2, where the first regular U.S. ground troops landed in March 1965. To the east was Monkey Mountain, a spit of land, and to the south, Da Nang, nestled by mountains, hung under a band of haze. During the war, Da Nang was called "shelled city," because the Communist forces attacked it from all angles. We stopped in Da Nang for the only reason anyone stops in Da Nang: to see the Cham Museum, at the south end of town. The open-air galleries are jammed with Cham sculpture, mostly from the 9th to the 11th centuries, which was a great moment for free expression.
History of Hoi An
Hoi An was an important trading port for tea, silk and spices used by Arabs and Persians in the 10th century, Chinese and Indonesians in the 15th century and Portuguese and Dutch in the 17th century. From the 16th century to the 18th century it was one of the biggest trading centers in Southeast Asia. Merchants from Europe. Vietnam, China and Japan traded spices, porcelain, silk and all manner fo other goods at the four-month spring fairs. After the river silted up in the 19th century, cutting Hoi An off from the sea, many traders left. However, a surprising number of Chinese remained.
Archaeological finds and excavations have shown that there was a port and trading center of the local Sa Huynh people along the Thu Bon river as early as the 2nd century B.C. This continued to expand, and by the 15th century Hoi An (known in Vietnam and abroad under various names - Fayfo, Haifo, Kaifo, Faifoo, Faicfo, Hoai Pho) was already the most important port of the powerful Champa Kingdom. It continued after the Vietnamese absorption of the Champa Kingdom in the same capacity, becoming one of the most important centres of mercantile, and hence cultural, exchange in South-East Asia, attracting ships and traders from elsewhere in Asia and from Europe, especially during its most flourishing period from the late 16th century to the early 18th century. It was through Hoi An that Christianity penetrated Vietnam in the 17th century. [Source: UNESCO]
The old international market was known by many different names, including Lam Ap, Faifo, Hoai Pho and Hoi An. Hoi An retained its role as the main port of the central region throughout the 19th century, when the Nguyen dynasty kings operated a "closed trade policy." By the end of the century, the rise of other ports on the coast of Vietnam, in particular Da Nang, and silting of its harbour, led to the final eclipse of Hoi An. As a result of this economic stagnation, it has preserved its early appearance in a remarkably intact state.
Old Town of Hoi An
Hoi An, an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port, is an outstanding material manifestation of the fusion of cultures over time in an international maritime commercial centre. The town is a special example of a traditional trading port in South-East Asia which has been completely and assiduously preserved: it is the only town in Viet Nam that has survived intact in this way. Most of the buildings are in the traditional architectural style of the 19th and 20th centuries. They are aligned along narrow lanes of traditional type. They include many religious buildings, such as pagodas, temples, meeting houses, etc., which relate to the development of a port community. The traditional lifestyle, religion, customs and cooking have been preserved and many festivals still take place annually. [Source: UNESCO]
As a result its decline as a trading center and economic stagnation in the 19th century, Hoi An has preserved its early appearance in a remarkably intact state, the only town in the country to have done so. The ancient town is situated on the north bank of Thu Bon River. There is a street running east-west along the river's edge and three further streets parallel to the river. They are intersected at right angles by streets and alleys. Within this area there are houses (often combined with shops), religious monuments such as pagodas, temples, communal houses and family cult houses, a ferry quay and an open market.
The architecture of Hoi An, which is almost entirely of wood, is of considerable interest. It combines traditional Vietnamese designs and techniques with those from other countries, above all China and Japan, whose citizens settled there to trade and built houses and community centres to their own designs.
The typical house conforms to a corridor plan, the following elements occurring in sequence: house, yard and house. The buildings are: family cult houses, dedicated to the worship of ancestors; the community houses, used for worship of ancient sages, founders of settlements, or the legendary founders of crafts; the pagodas are almost all from the 19th century, although inscriptions show them to have been founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They conform to a square layout and decoration is largely confined to the elaborate roofs. In the case of the larger examples, they constituted nuclei of associated buildings with religious and secular functions. Some of the larger pagodas also served as meeting halls. These are located along the main street (Tran Phu).
There is a fine wooden bridge, reminiscent of Japanese examples, with a pagoda on it. It has existed from at least the early 18th century, as an inscription indicates, but it has been reconstructed many times. There is also a number of ancient tombs in Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese style within the buffer zone.
What is so special about Hoi An is its incredible state of preservation. It offers some of the most densely-concentrated sights in Vietnam with its old streets bordered with ancient houses and assembly halls, its pagodas, temples, ancient wells and tombs. The architecture of Hoi An is characterised by a harmonious blend of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese influences. After many centuries, Hoi An is still respectful of its traditions, folk festivals, beliefs and of its sophisticated culinary art. Set in a quiet environment, Hoi An is surrounded by peaceful villages that have kept alive traditionally crafts such as carpentry, bronze making and ceramics. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism]
The Ancient Town is located in Minh An Ward. It covers about two square kilometers. The streets are very short and narrow and are sometimes winding but generally set up like a grid. The topography tilts gradually from north to south. The buildings in the old town have no more than two floors. The traces of time is able to find not only on the architectural design of each building but also everywhere like: on the yin-yang roof tiles covered with moss and plants; the old gray mold walls; the pictures carved on a strange animal, or describing a old story.
People of Hoi An
Rich in traditions and exposed early to the outside world, the people Hoi An have a unique cultural identity, which has been well preserved from generation to generation. Lives of people who stay here tend to be subtle and quiet. In the mind of the natives of Hoi An, the town shelters a big family of many descendants including hospitable dwellers, friendly hosts and hostesses, kind-hearted women, obedient children and so on. They together form a harmonious community who has lived peacefully side by side through successive generations.
Over the centuries, Hoi An has developed into a melting pot of various nationalities who came to the area, bringing along their own cultures. There are animist cults of the Genie-Whale and worship of deities of natural phenomena (such as rain, wind, thunder). There are also worshipers of Holy Protectors like Thien Hau, Quan Cong, Bao Sinh Dai De, Avalokitesvara, especially among the Chinese community. They hold regular festivals or cultural and religious activities on the occasion of Tet Nguyen Tieu (the 16th day of the First lunar month (late January or February)), Thanh Minh (Third lunar month (late March or April)), Doan Ngo (the 5th day of the Fifth lunar month (late May or June)), Trung Thu (the 15th day of the Eighth lunar month (late August or September)), Trung Cuu (the 9th day of the Ninth lunar month (late September or October)), and Ha Nguyen (the 15th day of the Tenth lunar month (late October or November)).
Upon reaching Hoi An, visitors will immediately feel the hospitality and friendship the locals extend to them. One thing that has withstood the test of time, one thing that the Hoi An people today can be proud of and therefore, make every efforts to preserve is their popular ho (chants) and age-old cultural festivals. Among them, the "Nights of Hoi An" is held on the 14th night of every lunar month. Visitors can immerse themselves in a festive atmosphere imbued with the traditional identities of Hoi An.
Shopping and Hanging out in Hoi An
Ric Bourie wrote in the Boston “Herald, Want to know where to go for tailor-made clothes at outrageously low prices — There's a shopper's paradise within easy bicycling distance to beautiful beaches - in Vietnam. But before you start drooling, be aware if you come here you'll have to be able to stand tourists and shoppers. Lots of them. In the past 10 years, this town along the central coast of Vietnam, has gone from impoverished, sleepy fishing village to one of the nation's top tourist venues. One reason is you can be fitted for a suit or dress in the afternoon and have it delivered to your hotel the next morning. [Source: Ric Bourie, Boston Herald, March 20, 2005]
“In a rush — OK, you can pick it up in four hours. The cost — Twenty to 30 bucks, depending on the material you choose. The town is an Asian Filene's Basement, set among ancient streets, some cobbled. Tour buses park on the outskirts of old Hoi An, with its shops, squatting sidewalk vendors, galleries and cafes. From there, shoppers proceed on foot, ride in a cyclo (pedicab) or pedal a bike, if they dare.
“These streets are busy with bikes and motor scooters, many loaded with local families, vegetables, woven baskets, wood, metal pipes. They're also lined with more “cloth shops'' than you can possibly count. Imagi/ne the North End, but for every Italian restaurant or pastry shop there are a dozen fabric stores, stacked floor to ceiling with bolts of beautiful Asian silk, a spectrum of sheen. There are also cottons, woolens, satin brocades, linens and other fabrics.
“Nothing is off the rack here, except for infant and toddler outfits, tops and bottoms. Dress the kids like mandarins. It only costs $5. Women in the shops wield the tape measure and scribble your vital statistics. Somewhere, hidden from view in the back, upstairs or down the lane, the seamstresses and tailors cut fabric and bend to their sewing machines. Their proficiency and speed are impressive. At Thahn Lich, a small shop at 148 Tran Phu that also goes by the name of Elegant, I got a three-piece, pinstriped suit for $30.For my sisters, I brought home silk ao dais, the traditional dress of Vietnamese women. They cost $20 or $25. The ao dai consists of a snug mandarin-style dress, hemmed at midcalf, typically worn over black or white trousers. The shops display endless variations on the ao dai theme. Silk pajamas cost $20. I also had two pairs of trousers made, with the cuffs tapered beautifully, for $12 apiece.Women's tops, cut from silk and bordered with silk piping, go for $10. Hoi An's silk ties cost a dollar. Don't come looking for conservative here. These are bright, bursting with color. If you want to bring clothes home for others, come equipped with measurements - height, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, length from shoulder to hip. For ao dais, measure length from shoulder to midcalf. It helps to convert to centimeters, but the conversion can be done in the shops.
As darkness fell on Hoi An, I spied a visitor in boxer shorts in the fluorescent light of a particularly small cloth shop, looking torn, a little forlorn. He conferred with his wife, who was fully clothed. They appeared to be making critical sartorial decisions. Clothes aren't the only item for sale in Hoi An. The busy hub of the shopping district is a typical Asian marketplace, with squatting vendors offering luscious looking fruits, vegetables, greens, meats and dried items of mysterious origin to most Yanks.
Don't plunge too deeply into the market if you're the least bit claustrophobic. The passages are narrow, especially under the roofed section. Galleries and other shops sell assorted Vietnamese handcrafts - handsome chopsticks, carved wood and marble, lacquered wood items. Overshopped — Don't fret. Many shops sell duffels, backpacks and wheeled suitcases at a fraction of U.S. prices. Check the quality - the seams, the zippers, the wheels. Most are OK, coming out of the same Asian factories that manufacture for Western designers such as Nike, North Face and Louis Vuitton.
The cost of accommodations in Hoi An is not quite as inexpensive as for clothing and dry goods except for one hotel I found. You won't find a better bargain than the Thao Nguyen Hotel (also known as The Grassland), an immaculate family-run operation at 22 Hai Ba Trung. It's new, fairly elegant and an easy bike ride or healthy walk from the shopping district.
To draw guests from centrally located hotels, the Thao Nguyen rents nice rooms for $15 to $20 per night during the high season (September to March) and $10 to $12 in the off-season. Use of the Internet and bicycles here is free. The property also has a small swimming pool, too small for laps but ideal for cooling off or relaxing, and a rooftop terrace restaurant. These rates can be expected to rise as people discover this place. For a reservation or information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another find is the Ancient House Hotel, 61 Cua Dai Road, closer to the shopping district but secluded and private. The buildings here are traditional, with tile roofs. In a building at the front of the hotel, rice paper, a favorite of Vietnamese cuisine, is cooked over a wood fire and placed in the sun to dry - the white rounds resemble drumheads. The Ancient House has a restaurant, a nice pool and rooms from $70 to $90 per night, single or double occupancy, including breakfast. Go to www.ancienthouseresort.com.
Quang Nam Province
Quang Nam Province is where Hoi An is located. It covers 10,438.4 square kilometers and is home to 1,425,100 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Co Tu, Xo Dang, M'Nong, Co (Cor). The capital is Tam Ky City. Administrative divisions: City: Hoi An; Districts: Dai Loc, Dien Ban, Duy Xuyen, Nam Giang, Thang Binh, Que Son, Hiep Duc, Tien Phuoc, Phuoc Son, Nui Thanh, Bac Tra My, Nam Tra My, Tay Giang, Dong Giang, Phu Ninh, Nong Son.
Quang Nam is located in the middle of Central Vietnam and is surrounded by Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Ngai, and Kon Tum provinces. The Truong Son Mountains, Laos, and the South China Sea also border the province. Quang Nam has various of mountains and hills (covers 72 percent its surface) with many high mountains such as Lum Heo Mountain of 2,045 meters, Tion Mountain of 2,032 meters, Gole- Lang Mountain of 1,855 meters... Main rivers run from Truong Son Range to The South China Sea as Vu Gia , Thu Bon, Tam Ky rivers.
Sights in Quang Nam Province: Experiencing the ups and downs over the years, Quang Nam still preserves the unique historical and cultural remains of the past along with rich human values. Cultural and historical sites include: Hoi An Ancient Town, My Son Holy Land, Tra Kieu Old Champa Capital, Cham Towers in Khuong My and Chien Dan, which record the remains of Sa Huynh, Champa and the Dai Viet civilization.
Chien Dan Towers is located in Tam An Commune, about five kilometers from the city of Tam Ky and 60 kilometers south of Danang City, near the National Highway 1. Chien Dan Tower is a group of three towers built in the 11th or 12th century and dedicated to three deities of the Champa Kingdom: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Today, at the site there is a showroom displaying Cham objects, including many high quality statues. Most researchers classified Chien Dan sculptural works in Chanh Lo Style (11th century to early 12th century).
During many wars, Quang Nam was one of the cradles of the revolutionary movement. Bo Bo, Nui Chua, Vinh Trinh, Cho Duoc, Chu Lai and underground tunnels of Ky Anh and parts of the Ho Chi Minh Trail are all in the province and are now destinations for tourists.
Beaches Near Hoi An: Quang Nam Province possesses 120 kilometers of coastline stretching form Dien Ngoc to Dung Quat with many beautiful, clean and deserted beaches. The beaches of Dien Duong, Cua Dai, Binh Minh, Tam Thanh, Ky Ha and Bai Rang together with the lake of Phu Ninh, the rivers of the Thu Bon and Truong Giang and the island of Cham are ideal tourist attractions.
Cua Dai Beach is located in the area of Cam An Ward, about four kilometers to the northeast of Hoi An Town, It is over three kilometers in length and up to 300 meters in width. The beach boasts fine white sand, clear and blue water, moderate slopes and small waves, which make it ideal for recreational activities like swimming and other sea sports.
The Cu Lao Cham (Cham Islands) are situated in Tan Hiep Commune, Hoi An City, about 20 kilometers off the Cua Dai coast. The eight islets set are set as an arc, very close together: Hon Lao, Hon Kho Me, Hon Kho Con, Hon Tai, Hon Dai, Hon La, Hon Mo and Hon Ong, serve as a protective barrier for the ancient town. The area is renowned for its beauty, clean and vast biodiversity with pristine white-sand beaches and crystal-clear water.
Ha My Beach is located in Dien Duong Commune, Dien Ban District, about six kilometers to the south of Ngu Hanh Son. This beach attracts visitors not only by its clean and white sand and its wildness, but also by fresh ans tasty seafood.
Cham Site of My Son
MY SON (70 kilometers southwest of Danang City and 40 kilometers from Hoi An City) is an important Cham historical site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it is by no means as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Pagan in Burma, it is worth a visit. Established in the 4th century by King Bhadravaman and occupied until the 13th century, it contains the remains of 68 structures and temples, many of the with Hindu influences. During the Vietnam War, some of the best Cham towers were pulverized by bombs dropped by American B-52s.
The temples at My Son are divided into 10 groups—A, A', B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and K—that are all with a couple hundred meters of one another. Group B contains original masonry, bas-reliefs of elephants and birds and Malay-Polynesian-style boat roofs. Group A used to contain the most impressive structures but many were badly damaged in the Vietnam War. The ruins are reached via a three miles hike from the main road.
The Champa Kingdom, which began in A.D. 192, was an important phenomenon in the political and cultural history of South-East Asia, vividly illustrated by the ruins of My Son. The sanctuary is an exceptional example of cultural interchange, with the introduction of the Hindu architecture of the Indian subcontinent into South-East Asia. [Source: UNESCO]
My Son Sanctuary dates from the A.D. 4th to the 13th centuries. It is situated in a small valley belonging to Duy Phu Commune in the mountainous border region of 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.
While the religious significance of My Son was important, its location in a small valley surrounded by high mountains gave it strategic significance as an easily defensible stronghold. 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.
History of My Son
The Champa Kingdom began in A.D. 192 when the people of the Tuong Lam area rose up against their Chinese overlords and founded an independent state in the narrow strip of land along the coast of central Vietnam. This state is known from sporadic Chinese records, in which it appeared successively as Lam Ap, Hoan Vuong, and then Chiem Thanh, a transcription of Champapura, meaning "the city of the Cham people." The Cham economy was based on farming (wet-rice agriculture), fishing, and seaborne trade.[Sources: UNESCO, vietnamtourism.com]
The Cham came under the influence of the Hindu religion of the Indian sub-continent early in their development, though the exact date is not known. Many temples were built to the Hindu divinities, such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva. Mahayana Buddhism must have penetrated the Cham culture later, probably in the 4th century, and became strongly established in the north of the Champa Kingdom, but Shiva Hinduism remained the state religion.
There were two sacred cities in the Champa Kingdom, each belonging to a large My Son of the Dua Clan, ruled over the north of the kingdom and worshiped the God Srisana Bhadresvara. The Cau Clan, who reigned over the south had Po Nagar Sanctuary, dedicated to Goddess Po Nagar. Nevertheless, My Son was considered as the sanctuary of the Cham Kingdom.
My Son (the name in Vietnamese means "Beautiful Mountain") was sacred to the Dua clan (Narikelavansa in Sanskrit), who worshipped the mythical king Srisanabhadresvara and governed Amaravati, the northern part of the kingdom; it was also the capital of the whole Champa Kingdom. Whilst the religious significance of My Son was important, its location, in a small valley surrounded by high mountains gave it strategic significance as an easily defensible stronghold.
The oldest structures at My Son date back to the 4th century under the reign of Bhadravarman for the worship of God Shiva-Bhadresvara. But later on, the temple was destroyed. At the beginning of the 7th century, King Sambhuvarman had it rebuilt and rebaptized Sambhu-Bhadresvara. Each new monarch came to My Son after his accession to the throne, for the ceremony of purification and to present offerings and erect new monuments, which explains why My Son is the only place where Cham art flourished without interruption from the 7th to the 13th century.
Successive kings in the 6th to 8th centuries favoured My Son and endowed it with fine temples. Between 749 and 875 the Cau clan were in power, and for a time the capital was moved to Vivapura in the south of the territory. Nevertheless, My Son retained its religious importance, and resumed its paramountcy in the early 9th century during the reign of Naravarman I, who won many battles against the Chinese and Khmer armies.
From the beginning of the 10th century the influence of Buddhism began to wane, to the advantage of My Son, where Hinduism had always been strong. By the reign of Giaya Simhavaram in the later 10th century it had achieved parity with Buddhism in the Cham Kingdom. It was at this time that most of the finest surviving architectural monuments were built there.
Most of the 11th century was a period of continuous warfare and My Son, along with other sacred sites in the Champa Kingdom, suffered grievously. It was Harivarman IV who brought peace to the kingdom. He had moved his capital to Do Ban towards the end of the century but he undertook the restoration of My Son. Warfare broke out again in the 12th century, when Jaya Indravarman IV attacked the Khmer Empire and sacked its capital. This resulted in an immediate reprisal, and the Champa Kingdom was occupied by the Khmers from 1190 to 1220. From the 13th century the Champa Kingdom slowly declined and was absorbed by the growing power of Vietnam. It ceased to exist as an entity in the later 15th century, when worship ceased at My Son.
Architecture at My Son
Successive kings in the 6th to 8th centuries favoured My Son and endowed it with fine temples. In the later 10th century, most of the finest surviving architectural monuments were built there. The site represents the ancient settlement and sanctuary area; eight groups of tower temples have been singled out. In date they cover the period from the 10th to the 13th centuries, and this long date range is reflected in different architectural styles. All are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. [Sources: UNESCO, vietnamtourism.com]
Of the 225 Cham buildings and monuments found in Vietnam, My Son possesses 71 monuments and 32 epitaphs, whose contents are still being studied. Eight groups of 71 standing monuments exist as well as extensive buried archaeology representing the complete historic sequence of construction of tower temples at the site, covering the entire period of the existence of the Champa Kingdom.
The Cham 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 Mahayan Buddhist penetrated the Cham culture, probably from the 4thcentury 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 buildings of the My Son civilization.
The temples in My Son were built into groups that basically followed the same model. Each group was comprised of a main sanctuary (kalan), surrounded by towers and auxiliary monuments. The kalan, which is a symbol of Meru Mountain (centre of the universe, where the gods live) is dedicated to Shiva. The small temples are devoted to the spirits of the eight compass points. In the towers, topped with tiled, curved roofs, were stocked the offerings and sacred objects of the pilgrims. Cham temples do not have windows, so they are very dark inside. Windows are only found on the towers.
Cham towers and temples are built of bricks associated with sandstone decorations. It is quite noteworthy that no adhesive can be seen in between the bricks, which is amazing since some of the works have survived thousands of years. The structures were built, and only then did the sculptors carve the decorations of floral patterns, human figures or animals. This technique is unique in Asia.
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.
Every kalan in My Son is comprised of three parts: the bhurloka (foundations), the bhurvaloka (body of the tower) and the svarloka (roof). The main tower (kalan ) symbolizes the sacred mountain (Meru ) at the center of the universe. The square or rectangular base (bhurloka ), representing the human world, is built from brick or stone blocks and decorated with reliefs. Above this rises the main tower (bhuvakola ), constructed entirely in brick, with applied columns and a false door facing east. The interiors are plain, with small niches for lamps; the Shivalingam was situated on a plinth in the centre. It symbolized the spirit world, where, after being purified, men could meet the ancestors and the gods. The towers were separated from their roofs (suarloka) by a decorated frieze. Many of these roofs were originally covered with gold or silver leaf.
The predominant style of the architecture and sculptural decoration of the My Son temples derives directly from India.
The bhurloka is decorated all the way round by engravings of patterns, animals, human characters praying under small vaults, masks of Kala or Makara (monsters), dancers and musician, The bhurvaloka is built with very thick bricks (about one meter thick), but its height can vary from one monument to the next. The outside is decorated with pilasters, false doors or windows.
The svarloka usually has three storeys in the same style as the base, and features a main door and other, false, ones. It is decorated with small sandstone or brick statues representing mythical animals, which are mounts ridden by gods in the Indian tradition: birds, swans, buffaloes, elephants or lions. There are small decorative towers at the corners of the 1st and 2nd storeys. This roof, made of sandstone or brick, can be either pyramidal or boat-shaped.
Archeology and Conservation at My Son
In 1895, C. Paris, a French scholar, was the first one to clear the My Son Sanctuary. Then, many scientists came to My Son to study Cham epitaph, sculpture and architecture such as Henri Parmentier, C. Carpeaux, P. Stern. Thanks to Henri Parmentier, the temples of My Son were classified into groups of letters (A, A’, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and K), and then numbered according to their functions. It starts with the main sanctuary, the kalan, (number 1), then the gate tower (number 2), and so on. Even though these categories break up the architectural complex of My Son as a whole, they are remarkably efficient for the study and maintenance of the ruins. [Sources: UNESCO, vietnamtourism.com]
Research by archaeologists and architects have revealed that at the beginning, there was only one small wooden temple built by King Bhadresvara I in late 4th century. In the 7th century, King Sambhuvarman had it rebuilt, using more durable materials From then on, successive Cham kings, when enthroned, had their temple-towers constructed as offerings to their gods.During seven centuries (7th to 14th century), such temple-towers mushroomed in My Son, turning this land into a cultural, and religious center of the Cham Kingdom. My Son was a complex of buildings, including different temple-towers and stela in various architectural styles. French researchers listed some 70 temple-towers there. However, time and war together have taken their toll on these relics. Now, only 20 temple-towers remain almost intact. The rest have been reduced to ruins.
Historically, investigation by archaeologists, historians, and other scholars in the 19th and early 20th century has recorded the significance of the site through its monuments, which are masterpieces of brick construction of the period, both in terms of the technology of their construction and because of their intricate carved-brick decorations. The location and the sacred nature of the site ensured that the monuments have remained intact within their original natural setting, although many have suffered some damage over the years. Conservation interventions under French and Polish expert guidance have been relatively minor and do not affect the overall level of authenticity of the site. The authenticity of My Son in terms of design, materials, workmanship, and setting continues to support it Outstanding Universal Value.
Conservation of the My Son monuments began in the early part of the 20th century 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.
The site is at risk from severe climatic conditions such as flooding and high humidity, though stream widening and clearance of surrounding vegetation have minimized these impacts. There remains an enduring issue of the possible presence of unidentified, unexploded ordnance within the boundaries of the property’s buffer zone, which has affected the archaeological research of newly-discovered areas, restoration of eight monumental areas, as well as site presentation for visitors.
In 1969, U.S. B-52 bombers targeted My Son. The bombing of My Son was called off after President Nixon received a letter of protest from the curator of the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris. After the unification of Viet Nam in 1975, conservation work began again in earnest and now the conservation of the property is of a high standard with both national and international teams working on site.Although the Vietnamese authorities demined unexploded ordnance at four main monuments since 1975, this is progressing slowly and much de-mining work remains to be carried out.
The property was recognized as a National Site in 1979 by the Culture Ministry and as a Special National site in 2009 by the national government. All local and national authorities must act according to the provisions of the Cultural Heritage Law (2001 amended 2009). Overall responsibility for the protection of the property rests with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, operating through its Department of Preservation and Museology. This responsibility is devolved to the Quang Nam Provincial Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism which collaborates closely with the People’s Committee of Duy Xuyen District, which has established My Son Management Board of Relics and Tourism. Account is taken of the special needs of the historic heritage in the Nation Plan for the Development of Tourism and in the General Plan for the Socio – Economic Development of Duy Xuyen District.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020