My Son Ruins, Vietnam: Take a Tour or Do It Yourself?
“My Son Tour” signs are scattered all over Hoi An, but what are they actually advertising? Thankfully, it isn’t a sightseeing trip around Hoi An with the travel agent’s son. Instead it’s an incredibly cheap tour to My Son (pronounced Me Sun), a collection of ancient Cham ruins 40 km from downtown Hoi An.
Should you take the bait of the too-good-to-be-true $5 tour or organise your own transport? Luckily, I’ve experienced both options, so I can help you out with this most important of decisions. First though, let’s have a look at the ruins themselves.
The My Son Ruins
This old set of temples and towers has earned the “ruins” tag through hundreds of years of natural decay along with some bombing action during the Vietnam / American war. The result is an atmospheric little complex of ruins partially reclaimed by nature. The central group is by far the most impressive and has stood the test of time better than the others. This collection of orange brick structures, including temples, towers and alters is incredibly peaceful and atmospheric, but only if you don’t have to share it with hundreds of other people (more on that later though).
The other groups are worth checking out but the scale and number of buildings diminishes once you venture away from the main group. The big bright orange temple set on top of a small hill (seen below) is another highlight, but many of the other structures have been almost bombed out of existence. The whole My Son site is full of lush greenery and is surrounded by mountains — again it’s very peaceful when you don’t have to share it with anyone else (you can see where this is going…).
A lot of the finer details are missing (or stolen) from the My Son ruins, but you can walk inside one of the structures at the central group to see some carvings and statues.
Should you take a tour or do it yourself?
Way back in 2011 I visited My Son on a cheap tour from Hoi An and enjoyed it. The tour included a bus to My Son (via a few typical shopping stops) and a boat back to Hoi An. That tour set me back $5 (it would have been $4 to return by bus instead of boat) and it’s still around the same price. The stops were kind of annoying and the ruins were packed full of people, but it was still a good half-day trip and you can’t beat that price. The tours don’t include the entry ticket, which costs 150,000 VND ($7).
FURTHER READING: Two Weeks in Vietnam: The Ultimate Holiday Itinerary
Other Ways of Getting to the My Son Ruins
- Rent a motorbike: If you want to visit the My Son Ruins but don’t want to be stuck on a tour, you have a few options. You could rent a motorbike and drive yourself, which is the cheapest independent option. If you’re not confident on the roads you can hire a guy who will take you on the back of his motorbike — the return trip costs around $10 apparently.
- Hire a car and driver: This is what Gia and I did; it cost 550,000 (just under $25) — not bad for a couple of hours of driving and an hour and a half of waiting around. This option was perfect for us because we beat the tour crowds and ended up sharing the entire set of ruins with just three other people, and we only saw them for the first 15 minutes. Exploring the My Son ruins without the crowds is a completely different experience to taking a tour and is worth the extra money (unless you’re a begpacker of course)
- Ride a bicycle: This would probably take Lance Armstrong levels of endurance and steroid abuse, but I’m sure it’s doable.
So, should you take a tour to My Son or organise your own transport? It depends on your budget, but exploring the My Son ruins without the distracting crowds (and annoying shopping stops on the way there) was a memorable experience and easily worth the extra $16 or $17 that it cost us.
Have you been to the My Son ruins? Do you make an effort to get to popular tourist sites early to avoid the crowds? Let me know in the comments below!