Days 4 and 5 were again jam-packed with history and culture. We spent the morning 55 km southwest of Hoi An at My Son, another UNESCO World Heritage site, this one owing its origins to Indian Hinduism. Beautifully set in the mountains, this area became a religious centre under King Bhadravarman in the 4th century, and was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom until the late 13th century, the longest period of development of any city in the Mekong region.
Unfortunately, the area was heavily carpet-bombed during one week of the American War and only around 20 of the original 70+ Hindu temples and associated structures remain, most of these now in ruins and standing among the bomb craters. Limited reconstruction is taking place.
We saw the remains of several temples built in fired red brick, with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. They were dedicated to many Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu, but mainly to Shiva. We were told that Shivite Hinduism remained the state religion for the Cham people long after Mahayana Buddhism penetrated their culture.
According to UNESCO, these monuments are ‘unique and without equal in South East Asia’. The technological sophistication of the My Son temple complex is evidence of the advanced Cham engineering skills, and their elaborate iconography and symbolism provide valuable insights into the evolution of Cham religious and political thought.
A boat trip with lunch on board (not our best culinary experience in Vietnam but better than many Vietnamese have themselves!) took us back to Hoi An where we spent the rest of the day exploring the Old Town, our guide having mistakenly decided that we were not to be part of the afternoon’s city tour. Had we been aware of the details of our itinerary, we could have done something to correct this, but in any case, we were pretty glad to have the time to explore on our own at last.
And there’s plenty to explore in the Old Town of Hoi An, yet another World heritage Site! Picturesquely located on the river bank, once a major port, the town used to be an important regional trade centre.
Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses have been transformed into museums, galleries, coffee shops, trendy wine bars or restaurants and attract millions of tourists annually. Despite the huge numbers of visitors it’s a fabulous place with a great ambiance through which we can catch a glimpse the glory days of the past.
Lucky for us, we were able to explore Hoi An again at our leisure the following day before a mid-afternoon flight to Hanoi.