I was en route from Hue, the Imperial City, to Hoi An. I had seen the Top Gear Vietnam Special where they went over a spectacular road called the Hai Van Pass and I was keen to follow in their footsteps. Public transport made use of the tunnel through the mountain which meant that there would be no view so I had to arrange a car and a guide.
Once we were over the pass, which really did have spectacular views, the guide suggested that we make a small detour to the Marble Mountains near Danang. Initially I wasn’t too keen, but he was persuasive so I agreed. When I arrived I was quite surprised and happy that we made the trip.
The Marble Mountains (Ngu Hanh Son) are not far from the China Beach Coastal road near Danang. There are 5 limestone hills clustered together. Each of these mountains represents an element namely wood, water, metal (gold), earth and fire.
The dragon legend
I always enjoy the local stories when I travel. This legend tells of a dragon coming out of the ocean to lay an egg. After a thousand days a beautiful girl emerged from the egg. The broken shell fragments left on the beach grew into the 5 Marble Mountains. I think that this is a quite nice tale to describe the origins of the mountains, don’t you?
Shrines and grottos
These mountains have been used as a centre of worship for hundreds of years. They hold a spiritual significance to the Vietnamese and they can be quite busy at weekends and religious holidays so you will need to plan your visit accordingly.
There is a steep climb to the top of Thuy Son, the mountain of water. If you find this a bit too daunting then you then can use the glass elevator . The view from the top is spectacular and looks towards Danang and the surrounding villages dotted below the mountains.
The mountains are filled with caves, tunnels, Buddhist and Hindu shrines. These caves are really interesting to explore, but be careful because they can be slippery.
The mountain top
Once you reach the top and pass through the gate the first thing you see is the Xa Loi Pagoda a beautiful stone tower built in the 18th century that stands like a sentry guarding the mountains. Stairs lead to a viewpoint from where you can see China Beach in the distance. If you look carefully you will see the decorative dragon carvings on the pagoda.
I loved the Tam Thai Pagoda. This was constructed in 1930 and is a national pagoda for Buddhists. The style of architecture follows the shape of a Chinese character meaning king.
The Huyen Khong Cave is probably the most famous of the caves. One of the holes in this cave was a result of a direct hit by a bomb. It is very dark except for the light coming through holes in the rock. This cave was used as a VC hospital and a base during the war.
There are numerous other caves to explore as well so take your time to wander around. Look out for the 2 viewing platforms for spectacular photo opportunities.
Non Nuoc village
At the foot of the mountain is a village dedicated to handicrafts and sculptures. The villagers used to take chunks of stone from the mountain for their carvings. They have however realised to value of tourism and it has been declared illegal to remove any part of the mountain. The marble/stone used now comes from nearby provinces. They will happily ship your purchases back home for you.
Take a light with you as the caves can be quite dark
Take lots of water with you as it can be extremely hot and humid.
The admission fee to the mountain is USD 1.00. There are guides available for an extra cost. It is worth taking one as they are extremely knowledgeable and will give you a great deal of extra information.
If you want to go into the cave at the bottom of the hill you need to pay an additional dollar.
Tickets for the elevator are around 60 US cents one way.
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