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Even Indy had to start somewhere!

Today we were off on a tour to My Son (pronounced "mee-suhn", not "ma-sahn"!), a large Cham Temple site. The Champa Kingdom lasted from the second to fifteenth centuries AD and they are best known for the large brick towers they built, many of which are found at the My Son site. We had decided to go on a tour rather than travel independently and when the hotel said they could arrange one for us yesterday we opted to go with them. We thought that as a smart hotel it would be a small group tour but I should have known better. The old adage “you get what you pay for” certainly came true today and we got US$6 worth of tour.

The bus picked us up at eight in the morning with not many people on board. The fact that it had seats that could fold down in the aisle was another warning sign and by the time it left Hoi An it was packed to capacity. Next to us was a British woman who seems to have been teaching English as a foreign language in various different places but is now cycling her way down through China and Vietnam. It was not long before she was winding us both up and by the end of the tour we were glad to see the back of her. She was one of those people who has an opinion about everything and most of them we disagreed with. Unfortunately, others were lapping up her advice so I suspect there will be some who miss the best parts of a trip to Halong Bay and others who will be paranoid about travelling in South America. Contrary to our own experience she was convincing people that it is a dodgy and dangerous place to be.

It was about an hour or so in the bus to get to My Son. The drive was through pretty scenery with lots of rice fields lining the road on either side. Along the way we were asked if we wanted to buy our entrance tickets (60,000 dong each) ourselves or if we wanted to give the money to the guide for him to get them for us. His spiel was that there would be long queues and it would be quicker to get him to buy the tickets for us. As it turned out this was total tosh and we would have been better off being self sufficient.

The state of play worsened when he hopped off our bus and on to another equally packed one, saying as he went that both bus loads (over fifty people) would join together and go in one group around the My Son site. When we finally got there we were dropped off at a café about five hundred metres walk from the entrance. For no explained reason, but to give us time to buy breakfast, we simply hung around for about half an hour before heading towards the entrance. We quickly realised that giving the guide our entrance money was a big mistake. Those that had not were already ahead of us and making their way into the site while we were hanging around. As soon as we could we ditched the tour and made our own way.

About two hundred metres beyond the ticket office is a control gate where they check you have a ticket. You then walk over a bridge to where jeeps and minibuses run a shuttle service taking you one and a half kilometres further up the road. You then walk a further five hundred metres before you reach the site. All in all it was a bit of a disorganised process for getting there and had we stayed with the group it would have taken ages to get there.

The site is now simply ruins but in its day it must have been a pretty incredible sight to see. It was mainly a religious site dedicated to Cham kings who were in turn associated with Hindu divinities. Archaeologists have found traces of 68 different structures at the site. The site was occupied until the 13th century and since then only 25 escaped without pillaging. Unfortunately the Vietcong used My Son as a base during the American War so it was bombed liberally by the US. Of the 25 non-pillaged sites only 20 were spared damage from the bombs.

All in all it adds up to an atmospheric visit, if you can block out the inevitable groups of tourists. The archaeologists have not been very imaginative in their labelling of the site and have simply clustered buildings together and called them group A, B, C etc. Even though our guide book has brief descriptions of each of the groups we couldn’t work out which group was which so quickly ditched the book and just wandered around.

The buildings have all been made from red bricks, some of which have intricate carvings on them. Apart from one group which is cordoned off for safety reasons, you are free to amble around and on top of all of the ruins. Considering it is a UNESCO World Heritage site little seems to be being done to protect the remains from the hordes of people walking all over them. We only saw one building that had had a shelter built over it to protect it from the elements but there were no signs of ongoing conservation or preservation.

We made our way back to the bus, with Stef doing a quick detour through the jungle to a building along the way. By the main gate there was a small museum with photos and information panels of how the site was found in the early 20th century. Most people were back at the café’s at the allotted time of 11:45 for the bus back to Hoi An so it was frustrating to find that our driver and guide had just sat down to eat lunch. Stef gave them about fifteen minutes and then asked when we were off to be met with a “you sit down and have lunch” from the woman running the café. It seemed to do the trick though because within minutes we were getting on board the bus only to find that one person was missing. The irritating British woman was a lone voice saying we should wait longer but everyone else wanted to go so off we set.

Beach vendor ("Buy from me, be lucky for me!")

Back in Hoi An we escaped as quickly as we could to the retreat of our beach resort and tried one of the local restaurants for lunch. Tanks at the back were home to large lobsters, one of which was huge. We had a very tasty and garlicky lunch which set us up well for a couple of hours lazing on the beach. A quick dip in the hotel pool rounded off our afternoon and we showered and changed and caught the hotel’s shuttle back into the town centre.

Today is Tet Eve, or Chinese New Year as we more familiarly know it. There are a range of different activities taking place in town tonight and although we had initially thought about going along a re-read of the information the hotel had given us swayed our minds and we decided to get the shuttle back to the hotel instead. It had started to rain before we left the hotel, good luck for Tet apparently, and the river was running very high in town. We ambled along to look at some of the riverside restaurants and dodged the water on the pavement. A little more rain and the whole thing will be flooded.

There were lots of people out and about with their Lonely Planet all enjoying their Western food and banana pancakes. There are noticeably few local people about, probably in part because they would eat in other places but mainly due to Tet. It is a very family focussed festival and very few shops are now still open. Most people are already at home with the celebrations underway.

We had a not very remarkable meal in a place that was very busy. Our food took ages to arrive which we wouldn’t have minded if they had just kept letting us know what was happening. We had much more fun in the bar next to where we picked up the shuttle back to our hotel. Although it was a hotel bar it was definitely not a tourist place and I think we were the novelty for the night there.