A short 7 minute drive from the Furama resort, where we stayed in Central Vietnam, sat the five lumps of the Marble Mountains that jutted out of the flat beachy plains. We drove by a few times, and briefly considered a quick visit, but had mostly decided against it, until we shared a cab with a family coming home from Da Nang's bridge extravaganza and they raved about it.
So on our last day in Da Nang, we took the short cab ride and were let out at the entrance of an elevator. I bought a few tickets, but was pretty confused to discover that they were for a separate entrance, and I had to buy a few more tickets for the larger Marble Mountain entrance by elevator.
Once we had our tickets sorted, we rode the elevator up about 10 stories to the top of the largest mountain of the five Marble Mountains, Thuy Son Mountain. It seemed this was the only open mountain, but the map we bought for about 50 cents listed the others as well. At the top, there were little paths going like webs every which way, through concessions areas,
temples and pagodas
and steaming panoramas and cliffs. The view far out looked straight over the Da Nang beach we stayed on.
We tried to get to the Mountains as early as possible, and that turned out to be a good idea as the day grew hotter and wetter with each minute. Honestly, we had no clue how much hiking would be involved INSIDE the mountains, but when we saw the first path up the marble steps, we started in.
Although that entrance looks wide (and it was), once we passed through a few openings, we had to shimmy up through very steep rocks and holes that barely fit our bodies. It was so intense, and with the marble so slick with condensation (since it was cooler inside), I was sure I was going to slip right off.
Once inside the mountain, we passed through cave after cave. Right behind this statue was the hardest of the slots to wiggle through.
Just as soon as we'd walk through a cave, we'd pop out into the swarmy sunshine for another vista point.
The mountains themselves are pure marble, and so everything carved in them was, in the day's heat, just a little bit damp. Inside the mountains was considerably cooler, but outside was raging heat. A few minutes outside and we darted back for the caves.
I would love to write in detail about each cave, but there were so many, and many of them led from cave to cave (or just to small, dark corners). I think the map notes about 4 large chains of caves and 3 large pagodas, but each cave often had so many lobes that I was only a little nervous we wouldn't be able to find our way out.
We were totally unprepared for the scale and could easily have spent more than the half-day we did here. At so many points, I turned a corner and saw steps down into cool caves lit from openings above and gasped.
See how small the people are in this big cavern?!
There was holy water dripping inside this cave and lines of pilgrims waiting to let it drip on their fingers (one slow drop at a time!).
Can you believe how Indiana Jones it all is?! It felt like a dragon might slink around a bend at any moment.
Around the top of the mountain sat several large temples; this one, Chua Tam Thai Pagoda, was quiet and empty in the mid-day.
Did I mention how hot it was?
We took the steps down the back of Thuy Son, and I was kindof feeling out each stair to make sure I wouldn't slide right off the rounded marble stairs.
In a confusing twist, we still had the first tickets we'd bought. I thought they were for a different mountain, but when we walked back to the first entrance, past a horde of marble stores and tour busses
we discovered that the tickets were for a separate, lower cave within the same mountain. So we headed into the Am Phu Cave. Honestly, we were so sticky that we nearly skipped it, especially since the tickets were only a few dollars each, but I'm so glad we ventured up and in. For one, we passed these creepy guards in the little mote entrance. Yes, those are marble hands in the water.
We had so much fun turning corners to discover the next bizarre and enchanted sight, never knowing what was ahead.
Because I plan trips (Alie), I'm rarely surprised with what I find; but this! Bats! Singing grottoes! Ancient-looking symbols lit in neon!
Unlit, dusty cave trails into the center of the mountain, so deep and dark photos wouldn't show anything.
I still can't figure out how they managed to have speakers and fluorescents so deep in the caves.
There were hundreds of pilgrims around and very few Western tourists. I think the caves held both Buddhist and Hindu relics.
The smell was sweet of incense, and musty of the condensation on the marble, and a tang of dirt and dust. The paths tingled out reedy music. And we kept saying how very glad we were we didn't miss such a surreal expedition!
Back on level ground, we hopped in a very hot cab straight for the salty waters of Furama again.