If you are in Hoi An, Vietnam a great day trip is Mỹ Sơn Holyland. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site with a long, interesting and often sad history. During my trip here I was treated to gorgeous, awe-inspiring architecture that still stands despite being abandoned for thousands of years to the elements. I also heard and learned more about the war in Vietnam than I have after several months living in Hanoi.
So… what is Mỹ Sơn? Mỹ Sơn was built by the Champa people between the 4th and 14th centuries. These are the same people that built Ankor Wat. Although there are conservation efforts being made to preserve the site, there has been a lot of damage over the years, from European archaeologists stealing from the site and the American’s horrific bombing during the war. It is still a stunning place to visit.
How much does it cost? I booked this tour with my hotel for $8 USD. All hotels in Hoi An seem to offer a similar tour.
How long does it take? Our tour was booked from 8 AM-12 PM, but as with most tours I have taken in Asia, the timing is nothing like what the brochure says. In reality, we left our hotel around 8:45 and it was a little over an hours drive to Mỹ Sơn. We stayed in Mỹ Sơn about two and a half hours before starting the journey home. In total our trip took from 8:45 AM to 2:00 PM, so about five hours.
How did you get there? The trip to Mỹ Sơn will start with a bus from your hotel in Hoi An. When you arrive in the area, you’ll take a small electric car through the jungle. Then after an easy hike over paved trails, you’ll arrive in Mỹ Sơn.
How did you get back? Another hike and electric car will lead you back to the bus and from there you have two choices. You can take the bus all the way back to Hoi An, or you can take a boat down the Thu Bon River.
What was for lunch? A meal of boiled veggies and rice was served on the boat, and although it was nothing to write home about. It was a surprisingly nice meal considering it was served on a ferry with no visible kitchens. For someone with a sensitive tummy, I was wary, but it was nice. Be warned that the sodas and beers cost extra (although very reasonable at 20,000 dong). However, if you wait long enough, free water bottles will be doled out once everyone has finished their meals.
Is it worth it? Yes. Understandably, no one wants to talk about the war. During my several months in Vietnam, the topic has rarely come up and when it does, it’s typically brushed aside with a comment like, “It was a long time ago,” “No use talking about it,” or, “We’re all friends now,” which is understandable, but it can make it easy to forget the atrocities that were committed by all sides… Mỹ Sơn provided a frank, propaganda-free, and painful view of the war. Our guide was very honest about his life and his father’s involvement in the war, as well as the bombing that happened in Mỹ Sơn.
The trip was worth it for the beauty and stability of the Cham architecture. If you’re going to Ankor Wat, maybe Mỹ Sơn won’t impress you, but these beautiful ruins in the jungle certainly made a lasting impression on me.
Recommendation! Take the sunrise tour. All the hotels offer a sunrise tour and if I could go back and get up several hours earlier for the 5 AM bus instead, I would have done it for two reasons. First, there were quite a lot of people and I imagine the sunrise tour would be a lot quieter and more picturesque, although there weren’t so many tourists that I wasn’t able to get some very nice photos.
The second reason was the heat. We went in March and although Hoi An was pleasantly warm, Mỹ Sơn was scorching. Taking a sunrise tour will keep you out of the impossibly muggy noon-time heat.
Overall Mỹ Sơn was a gorgeous educational afternoon. If you have three or four days in Hoi An, it’s worth trip to see these ancient ruins.
Check out this video of Mỹ Sơn if you want to see more!