Sacred site vs. bomb site

My Son

My Son is an UNESCO World Heritage site just outside Hoi An. A collection of Hindu temples built around the 10th century CE by the Cham people who used to live in central Vietnam, it is very much like Angkor in style, but a lot less overgrown. It lies in a remoteish valley surrounded by mountains, and was pretty much undiscovered until the 20th century.

Well, undiscovered by the western world, I’m sure there were a few locals who liked to hang out here, but they probably don’t count. This would normally mean a pleasant stroll through a really well preserved temple complex, but no, since the Americans and the Viet Cong managed to preserve Hoi An through apparently mutual agreement, they needed somewhere else to vent their frustrations.

In what seems to be par for the course in Vietnam, the Viet Cong holed up in the temples, and the Americans proceeded to carpet bomb the area with B52s (you don’t want to go walkabout in a jungle full of locals holding a mighty grudge, do you). Since once they levelled the temples, they couldn’t make out the ruins from the trees, and couldn’t find the Viet Cong, they dumped agent orange defoliant all over it too.

Despite their best efforts they managed to miss a couple of towers, and thanks to a few dedicated archaeologists (and more probably a good number of demining experts), a few buildings have been restored for our viewing pleasure today. Not much remains though, and if you’ve ever seen Angkor proper, or Angkor style temples in Southern Laos, don’t bother. They are nice, and quite interesting if you’ve never seen the like before, but they don’t really merit the world heritage site status for their sightseeing value.

In fact, it has just dawned on me that all these world heritage sites in Vietnam have been given the status not so much on merit compared to other places in the world, but because of a long history of non appreciation of their value by the locals and their not so welcome visitors, UNESCO status being their one and only hope of ever surviving.

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