Cham Island Tour
Just 5km (3 miles) off the shore of Cua Dai Beach, Cham Island is a quiet little fishing area populated by ethnic Cham people, an Austro-Asiatic group that fought the north Vietnamese for this territory for centuries. A tour to Cham Island costs just peanuts and takes half a day; you can make arrangements with sign-waving touts on Cua Dai Beach who will putt-putt you out on tour boats, and some travelers start their trip on the river right in the center of Hoi An and travel by boat to the sea before transferring out into the bay. Contact any hotel front desk or talk with the boatmen themselves at riverside along Bach Dang in Hoi An town. Expect to pay about $10 for one person from town to the beach.
For a bit of an adventure, contact the effusive Mr. Lodovico, an Italian expat of 10 years in Hoi An and the owner and operator of LaoCham Sailing Club Hoi An. His office is at 98 Bach Dang St. (tel. 0510/391-0782), near the Saigon Times Restaurant. For trips starting at $30 per person for an all-day excursion, you can explore, with a knowledgeable English-speaking guide, the high seas off the coast of Cua Dai, visit with a Cham family for a brief homestay, and snorkel on remote island areas. The trip can be done as an overnight, staying either in LaoCham's simple but cozy guesthouse on Cham Island or with a family, and Lodovico even runs special sailing trips on small local sailers for the adventurous.
An Excursion to My Son
My Son, some 40km (25 miles) from Hoi An (and 71km/44 miles from Danang), is an important temple ruin of the Cham people, a once powerful Hindu empire. The temples were constructed as a religious center for citizens of the Cham capital, Danang, from the 7th through 12th centuries during the height of Cham supremacy. My Son (pronounced Mee sun) might also have been used as a burial site for Cham kings after cremation. Originally there were over 70 towers and monuments at the site, but bombing during the war with America (the Viet Cong used My Son as a munitions warehouse) has sadly reduced many to rubble. Additionally, many of the smaller structures and most decorative carvings have been removed to the Cham Museum in Danang. The complex is a very serene and spiritual setting, however, and what does remain is powerful and evocative. It's not hard to imagine what a wonder My Son must once have been. The site is deep in the Truong Son Cordillera, and the main temples overlook the 350m (1,148-ft.) Mount Chua, "Mountain of the Gods." My Son is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The earliest temple constructions are from the 4th century A.D., but much of what remains today are structures built or renovated during the 10th century A.D., when the cult of Shiva, founder and protector of the kingdom, was predominant in the Cham court. Each group had at least the following structures: a kalan, or main tower; a gate tower in front of that, with two entrances; a mandapa, or meditation hall; and a repository building for offerings. Some have towers sheltering stele with kingly epitaphs. A brick wall encircles the compound.
Architecturally, the temple complex shows Indian influences. Each temple grouping is a microcosm of the world. The foundations are Earth, the square bases are the temple itself, and the pointed roofs symbolize the heavens. The entrance of the main tower faces east, and surrounding smaller towers represent each continent. A trench, representing the oceans, surrounds each group. Vietnamese architecture is represented in decorative patterns and boat-shape roofs. The temple compound is divided into a number of "Groups" built by successive Cham kings and designated by French archaeologist Henri Parmentier with letters of the alphabet. Group A is the most dynamic.
Group A originally had 13 towers. A-1, the main tower, was a 21m-tall (69-ft.) masterpiece before it was destroyed in 1969. Group B bears the marks of Indian and Indonesian influence. Note that B-6 holds a water repository for statue-washing ceremonies. Its roof is carved with an image of the god Vishnu sitting beneath a 13-headed snake god, or naga. Group C generally followed an earlier architectural style called Hoa Lai, which predominated from the 8th century to the beginning of the 9th. Groups G and H were the last to be built, at around the end of the 13th century.
Arrange a half-day trip to My Son with any tourist agent in Hoi An. Entrance to the site is 50,000 VND, and a private half-day tour with a guide is $35 for a car and $43 for a van. The half-day seat-in-coach tour by Sinh Café costs $2 per person and is nothing more than a ride there, without any explanations. Less frequent tours also depart from Danang (70km/43 miles from the site).