Yesterday afternoon Binh (my brilliant Vidotour travel guide) and the driver took me about 45 kilometers southwest of Hoi An to the hallowed shrine of My Son, a cluster of ancient Hindu temples built between the 4th and 14th Century. The trip meant driving for an hour through a symphony of rural atmosphere and flavor and cultural detail. I felt like a wide-eyed lad of five. Everything was new. To die for.
Hindu temple at My Son — Friday, 11.23, 3:55 pm.
Vidotour guide Nguyen Thai Binh (just call him Binh) at the entrance to the shrine.
I sat in the back seat and drank it all in. Earthy aromas, water buffalos, fields and rice paddies, three or four lively ragtag villages (which weren’t even acknowledged on the iPhone 5’s map app), dense forest, hundreds on scooters and bicycles.
The valley at My Son was a site of religious ceremony for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes. The Cham (who still live and maintain a marginal culture in Vietnam) more or less ran the show in what we now call Southern Vietnam until the 15th Century of thereabouts.
The temples (made of brownish, orange-y brick) are located in a valley surrounded by two mountain ranges. The area is roughly two kilometers wide (although it felt smaller), and is close to Duy Phu in the Quang Nam district, and about 10 kilometers from the historic town of Tra Kieu. The temples dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva.
I told Binh that I was a bit of Hindu in my early 20s due to a series of LSD meditations with readings of the Bhagavad Gita.
Most of the temples were destroyed by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. That’s really something to be proud of, U.S. Air Force! There are four or five huge bomb craters in the vicinity. Binh isn’t sure precisely what year this happened, but the planes were apparently trying to kill some Viet Cong who were hiding in or near the temples for shelter. Binh’s grandfather, Vo Trong Khiet, was a Vietcong solder from 1965 until his death in the mountainous area near Laos sometime around 1968 — Binh isn’t sure exactly when.
It’s quite a feeling for an American walking through and knowing that your guys did this. Hell, they weren’t my guys. They never have been. Yes, war is war and you do what you can do lay waste the opposition, but you’d think the guys dropping the bombs would’ve thought twice.
One of the bomb craters from the U.S. aerial attack.