1. We had set aside the first half of 26 May to see My Son (pronounced Mee Sen) and the remainder of the day to do the walking tour of Hoi An. This could spill into 27 May if necessary. As Hue was only about 150 km away, we decided to do only a day visit to Da Nang, to have lunch there and see the Museum of Cham Sculpture, before heading for Hue and spending 27 May night there. This would save us one day.
2. The ruins of My Son is located about 50 km to the Southwest of Hoi An. My Son was the spiritual centre of the Champa Empire while Tra Kieu (then known as Simhapura, Lion City. Singapura is not the first Lion City) was the political centre. Over a period stretching from the 4th to the 13th Centuries, some 78 kings built 70 temples here. My Son was abandoned after it lost ground to the Viet forces from North in the 15th century and over time fell into disuse and forgotten. It was discovered in 1898 by Frenchman, M C Paris. Unfortunately, the area was subjected to bombing by US forces during the Vietnam War as it was suspected to be staging areas of the Viet Cong forces. Although there are only 20 temples/towers are left, largely located in 3 clusters, it is still worth the visit. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999.
3. To get there, we travelled South along Highway 1 and then made a right turn, for another 30 km+. Signage was clear along Highway 1, but less clear along the 30 km + leading to My Son. GPS was not helpful as it did not have information on this road and we got lost a couple of times. Eventually, we got there at about 11 pm.
4. The temples at My Son were dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. What were left showed a fairly advanced civilisation, not far behind the Angkor in Cambodia. Structures were mostly made of bricks, with the bricks first laid and bas relief intricately carved into them. The space between the bricks was so thin, no sign of mortar, that until today it remained a mystery how the bricks were put together (see picture of a wall on the right). Each cluster was scattered with Linga, symbolising the God Shiva. In religious ceremonies, priests would gather water from the nearby Cat's Tooth Mountain and ceremonially pour over the head of the linga to produce the sacred water. Remember the river of the thousand linga in Siem Reap?
5. Through disuse over the years and damage caused by US forces, many of the towers were now somewhat formless. There were few remnants of the beautiful carvings left. Many of the sculptures had been moved to the Cham Museum in Danang.
6. We paid US$15 for a guide to show us around. Afraid of heat, she carried an umbrella when we were out in the open. We would have done the same too, as it was really hot; probably close to 40 degree C. She told us that on the average 500 tourists visited the site each day. On that day, we didn't see that many. There would probably be much more during the peak season. This works out to be about 150 000 a year.
7. After a quick lunch along the way, we were back in Hoi An at about 3.30 pm. After a very quick wash up, we were on our walking tour of the old town. What I find particularly interesting in the old town was the tapestry of different architectural styles of the buildings that reflected the rich past of Hoi An, the different eras of interaction with people from different part of the world.
8. The influence of the Chinese was obviously very significant, as reflected by the many Chinese buildings, the Chinese words that were still present in buildings and on walls, and the many Huay Kuans. As Sunny and I are Hainanese and Teochew we spent a little more time in the Hainanese and Teochew Huay Kuan. We also saw the Cantonese and Hokkien, as well as the All Chinese Huay Kuan, something like our Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Quality of the architectural finishes was impressive, with beautiful carvings, paintings etc. Buildings have layout of usual courtyard with left and right wing, all still in very good condition. The Teochew Huay Kuan was built in 1752 and had undergone couple of renovations. In the Hainan Huay Kuan, Sunny had the chance to practise his Hainan with a senior gentleman, who was probably a member of the Huay Kuan.
9. Continuing our walk along D Tian Phu, we came to the Japanese Covered Bridge, which was built by the Japanese community in the 1590s, to link them to the Chinese quarters across the stream, still in very good condition.
10. After a day of hard walking, we settled down at Tam Tam Cafe for a beer, which was opposite Mango Rooms, a restaurant recommended by my son, Yiping. We found that it was closed for a week for renovation and would only open on 1 June. In the evening, we had dinner at Cafe Des Amis, a set menu Vietnamese dinner, four dishes at 120 000 Dongs. Very good food and we enjoyed ourselves very much. A fitting way to celebrate our one mth on the road. Yes, we had been on the road for exactly one month.
11. Next day, 27 May, we took another stroll in old town to visit a heritage house (Tan Ky) but was told that our ticket only permitted us to visit ONE heritage house. With the remaining ticket we visited Handicraft Workshop which was located in a 200 years old house belonging to a Chinese merchant, a very beautiful house, well preserved.
12. In Vietnam, most girls would ride their bikes wearing a mask that practically covered their faces. Initially, I thought this was against the dust and dirt. While this was true, Thuan said that the girls wore them because they did not want to get dark. They were practically covered from head to toe, long sleeves etc, all looking like Zorros.
12. At 10.30, we were off on the road to Da Nang, then to Hue for the night. We took the coastal road to Da Nang along Cui Dai Beach (or China Beach) and discovered that this was the best beach that we had seen in Vietnam so far. Thuan said that this was the best beach in Vietnam. Wide span of white beach, with coconut trees, atap shelters to provide some cover. We decided to take a short break to enjoy the beach and a coconut. The beach stretched for kms and kms all the way to Da Nang, with many resorts fronting the beach. We could see that more resorts were under development. Along a stretch we saw a high end residential development. Thuan said that foreigners are not allowed to buy properties in Vietnam.
13. At Da Nang, we had a wonderful Vietnamese lunch at Apsara, which was a stone throw away from the Museum of Cham Sculpture. This museum contained the finest collection of Champ arts in the world, dating back to the 7th to the 15th centuries, many of them taken were discovered at My Son, Dong Duong, Tra Kieu etc. Exhibits comprised lingas, altars, garudas, Ganeshas etc, intricately carved to the finest details. I particularly liked this bronze piece (picture below) which went back a thousand year. The quality of the craftmanship then was really quite amazing.
14. After an hour at the Museum, we departed for Hue to spend the night there.
15. Central Vietnam of Hoi An, Da Nang and Hue is one area that I could easily spend more than a week here without getting bored. They are within easy reach of each other; Da Nang is 120 km from Hue and 30 km from Hoi An. It has beautiful and unspoilt white beaches that stretch from Hoi An to Da Nang. It has World Heritage sites of Hoi An old town, Hue and My Son Champ Towers. Da Nang is Vietnam's 4th largest city and has all the attributes of a buzzy city. I believe that this area will grow into a bigger tourist destination than what it is today.