“Remember this is Yellow. Bus. Number. 9” bellowed Dung from the front of the stuffy bouncing vehicle as we trundled, honked and swerved our way down the road from Hoi An to My Son.
Dung (pronounced Yung) has been a guide for two years and is pretty much the most enthusiastic human I’ve ever encountered. He probably speaks the best English I’ve heard anyone speak here in Vietnam too, although I got the distinct feeling he learnt it by watching Sylvester Stallone on TV, as every word was belted like a defining line in an action movie. In fact, only this caged (possibly rabid) monkey was more animated this morning, seeing as we got up at 6.30am to take Dung’s tour.
Being “in charge” of our experience, Dong was determined to tell us everything he knows about this UNESCO World Heritage site , an hour from Hoi An in Vietnam, which was once a sacred place for the Cham people to hold religious ceremonies. He didn’t know why the monkey was in the cage at the entrance but he did know how the doors in My Son always faced east to receive the sunrise, which was nice… even if these days they mostly receive sweaty tourists all trying to get a photo without any sweaty tourists in it.
“It is 38. Degrees. In. My. Son”, Dung informed us, as a growing sweat patch under the arm of his neatly ironed shirt confirmed his statement. The stifling heat around the ruins had most of us chugging back water and wiping our faces on our own clothes, with the exception of one lady who seemed to be on some sort of arctic exploration in her own head:
Each to their own.
The French stumbled across the site of My Son in the late 19th century and decided to restore it, bless their stripy cotton socks. They weren’t all niceties and “please have some soft baguettes while you work,” though. Not by a long shot. Dung told us how the Vietnamese have had to replace all the heads on the human statues in My Son because the French nicked them and put them in the Louvre in Paris. I thought this was particularly sad as I’ve been to the Louvre in Paris and the “boring collection of boring heads in the boring wing just right of the Mona Lisa” wasn’t getting much attention out of context. Shame. Here’s one of the new heads on an old body:
Bit rubbish really. I sort of want to go back to the Louvre with this photo and see if I can guess which head used to be on it. 🙁
Anyway, none of that head thievery mattered much in the end anyway because along came the Americans, who bombed the crap back out of My Son, leaving just 20 out of what was once 68 beautiful temples. The derelict earthen colours in the ancient bricks and moss looked like the perfect backdrop for a photo shoot to me… especially when these girls with umbrellas got involved:
We walked around some giant craters now covered in grass, caused by the bombs and Dung showed us a couple that were dug up later in the ruins of one temple. I couldn’t help but think they’d make lovely urns these days. In fact, if Dung hadn’t told me they were bombs, I probably would have thought that’s what they were. (Remind me never to join a weapon recovery team).
A few years ago U.S $250,000 (400 billion dong) was put into reconstruction of My Son, which Noah says is what some clients in New York will pay for one rooftop garden. Puts things into perspective a bit. It’s not hard to see why it should all be restored though.
Overlooked by Hon Quap, (Cat’s Tooth Mountain) My Son in its heyday was the most important religious and intellectual centre of the kingdom of Champa. Hinduism and Buddhism were mixed together here, as they were in Angor Wat in Cambodia. It’s pretty enough today for all of its rubbly abandonment, surrounded as it is by babbling streams and jungle. It’s all the more intriguing for its dedication to divinities, such as Shiva – someone I talked a lot with in Bali last year. Shiva was seen as both the founder and protector of the Champa dynasty and watched over My Son from its initial occupation in the late 4th century. There’s a linga on site, for good luck. Good luck in what I’m not exactly sure but I touched it anyway, (ahem).
It’s a shame that My Son was stripped of its gold-plated glory after it tumbled into decline, as its towers must have once shimmered and shone like the top of the Chrysler Building. Imagine that in this jungle setting, against the mountains; a glimmering Vietnamese legend in the making.
We declined Dong’s offer of a hot and sweaty boat ride back to Hoi An, even though he made the inclusive “Soft. Lunch” sound tempting. Turns out a “soft lunch” is vegetarian, as opposed to a hard lunch which I assume features mountains of meat, as usual. Instead we fell asleep on the death-bus back to the city and dreamed of headless statues, rabid monkeys and a strange Arctic explorer in the 38 degree jungle.
**We booked our tickets to My Son with the guy at the front desk of our hotel in Hoi An, who put us on our fully sized shuttle bus for $5 each. Still we got there ok, if a little sweaty and then paid the 100,000 dong each to enter the site. Not too bad at all.