Deep in the jungle, about an hour outside of Hoi An lay the ruins of Mỹ Sơn. A complex of 70 ancient Cham temples which used to be as mesmerizing as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Borobudur in Indonesia. This was something we had to see! But we decided to add a little adventure by going on a Hoi An Motorbike tour. A trip taking us through local villages and American war memorials where few other tourists come.
The biker boys
Many motorbike guides claim to be an easy rider in Vietnam today but to find an original easy rider you’ll have go Dalat. The easy riders here are motorbike guides wearing blue and black jackets who know the Central Vietnamese highlands like the back of their hand. In Hoi An you have similar guides who know the area like no other but who aren’t allowed to carry the name easy rider. So we’ll call them The Biker Boys.
Meet our biker boys.
Hawk, Bi, Chao and Tien. Bi (the guy on the right) and Chao (the one on the left) are our riders because we don’t have a motorbike license. Tien (second from the left) is the mechanic. And finally, there is Hawk. He is our guide for today. With his army trousers, tatoed arms and the 2 spiked piercing in his ear, he looks like a badass you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with. But he is the rough on the outside, kind on the inside type of guy. A great storyteller who is all about safety first: “I’m not letting you guys ride with flipflops. So put on shoes from our pile, get yourself a proper helmet and some gloves and then come back to enjoy the ride.”
Our rides are Minsk Soviet bikes made after the Second World War. They have a hipster retro look and feel and roaring sound that is hard to compete with.
Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’
Time to get going. “Just sit back, relax and enjoy the view” says Hawk as we start driving through little country lanes and alleyways. We are given a unique view on daily life in Vietnam as we pass through local villages and cross the river.
Our first stop is the Bang An Cham temple. This temple is very different from the ones you will see at My Son says Hawk. You can see that it is shaped like a male fallus symbol unlike the temples at My son where the yoni (female symbol) is of much bigger importance. Hawk points out a stone with ancient Cham inscriptions just outside the temple. “Take a close look at the bullet holes. You can clearly see the impact from an American shotgun on one side and the marks of communist rifles on the other. During the Vietnam war this was a battle field from hell.”
War memorial sites
Our next stop is Hill 65, an american base which was located 65 meters above sea level. There is nothing left of the base as it has been turned into a Vietnamese monument commemorating the reunitement of the North and the South. A few miles down the road Hawk stops on a broad paved road in the middle of nowhere. This used to be the American An Hòa Combat airbase and this strip you’re standing on was the runway. You didn’t want to be stationed here as the VietCong had a base in the mountains just a stonethrow away.
After a delicious lunch we arrive at the Hindu temple complex of Mỹ Sơn. The temples are located deep in the jungle surrounded by mountains and isolated from the world making it the perfect place for worship. The Cham people built the temples between the 4th and the 13th Century in honor of the god Shiva and the King Bhadravarman. The civilization was overthrown by the Viet around the 15th Century after which the temple was abandoned and forgotten for many years. In 1898 the French discovered the temple complex and started restorating the temples. This is one of the drawings of what the temple looked like during this period. And then drama happened. During the Vietnam war the VietCong chose Mỹ Sơn as a base which the Americans decided to bomb heavily. Many of the temples were destroyed completely turning them into nothing but a pile of bricks. Bomb craters can still be found everywhere. And even though we spotted some beautiful detailed elephant carvings we couldn’t help but feel a little saddened that temples of such great artistic value are still being destroyed everywhere in the world.
After roaming the temples for a few hours we drove back Hoi An stopping along the way at a viewpoint to admire the backcountry landscape for a last time. Arriving in Hoi An we had a last beer with the boys before traveling onwards. It was a good day.
Planning it yourself
We decided to book with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures.
The price for a full day tour is $95 per person.
It might sound lik a lot until you see what is included.
- English speaking guide, a mechanic and a driver.
If you have a driving license you are allowed to drive yourself of course.
- All entrance fees.
- Lunch, drinking water, coffee.
- Rain gear, helmets and protection.
- Pick-up from your hotel.
For those of you who are interested you can find the route we drove on the map below.