The legend of Marble Mountain Da Nang
Marble Mountain. Sounds majestic doesn’t it?
There is a legend that surrounds this outcrop of hills and it dates back thousands of years. It speaks of a great mystical dragon rising out of the ocean, making it’s way onto the shore of Bãi tắm non nước (Non Nuoc Beach). There it buried and egg before mysteriously returning to ocean.
The egg laid dormant for one thousand days and one thousand nights. On the thousandth night, it hatched and out came a beautiful girl. The shell broke into five pieces. They named after Hoa Son ( the element of fire), Tho Are (earth), Thuy Son (water), Kim Son (metal) and Moc Son (wood).
Those five pieces are what we know today as Marble Mountain. What happens to the girl in this story is unclear. In another tale she is a fairy that hatches from the egg and rises to heaven to marry the Turtle God. Those are snippets of some of the folktales we’ve read about and there are many of them.
What is constant throughout all the stories is the creation of the five hills. Their history is pretty interesting too. There are several accounts of it purpose throughout the years. Some describe it as pilgrimage site, others the marble carving site it is famous for today. There are even the stories of it being a spy spot during the American/Vietnam war. It was a way to keep an eye on the troops who inhabited My Khe beach at the time. Or so it goes.
Like most places in Da Nang, it’s an easy spot to get to and only a 20-minute drive from Da Nang city.
There are plenty of tour operators with a multitude of options. Or if you’d rather wing it on your own, you can hire a scooter and shoot out there or hop on the local bus that runs between Da Nang and Hoi An. This option might be tricky due to the language barrier and ticket purchasing not being the easiest to obtain. We had a friend who took this bus recently and said the funniest thing for her was that she could get on easily but getting off was near impossible lol. Turns out the bus doesn’t have a stop signal and it doesn’t stop unless requested. Sounds like fun lol. In addition to that, ticket prices are hard to nail down. We’ve found a lot of variances but can’t tell why that is.
We opted for our usual share ride, Grab and the ride only cost us VND 47,000 (USD 2.07).
Marble carving is still a big part of the area and the creations are breathtaking. The marble in these hills have long gone. Today the artists rely on supplies from other regions of Vietnam or in some instances China. Irrespective of where the stone comes from, it is all beautifully crafted.
Yeah, even the copies of other statues are impressive. Hey, it’s south east Asia, it’s almost expected lol.
We’ve seen some interesting items hewn from the stone. There are the Buddha statues that are 12 feet high and almost as wide. Plenty of lions and shi shi’s, even small items of jewelry. While the carvings are impressive, it’s Marble Mountain herself that delivers the wow-factor.
And yes, it’s true, there is an elevator. In its defense though, the stairs can be tricky, but more on that later.
First impressions of Marble Mountain
Arriving at Thuy Son (Marble Mountain’s Vietnamese name) can be a bit underwhelming to be honest. She is smallish looking but still impressive.
The thing is, you have to run the gauntlet of merchants trying to sell you their wares first. The merchants we were aware of thanks to a tip from a friendly local the night before. Thanks Tam!
Then you have to fight your way through the never-ending line of tour buses. That and their hordes of passengers. They all disembarking in the same spot. This one was a bit of a surprise at 8 AM as we’d read that the tour buses don’t start arriving until the 9 AM mark. Lesson learnt. To be fair, there weren’t as many tourists at that stage as there was by 10 AM. That was when it got real busy.
And before you run off, give it a minute, she gets better…
This way to the elevator
By 8 AM it was already sweltering too and we decided to take the elevator.
Yup, your eyes are not deceiving you. To allow everybody access to of the mountain, they installed two elevators. The stairs from the ground level are tall and super slippery, a tricky combo, even for the seriously fit and able.
The elevator only eliminates the first section of steps, so don’t too excited lol. You have another two thousand or so steps to look forward to from that point on.
It’s a good bum work out or in my case a good excuse to ditch the morning workout for a sleep in lol. The upside is that you don’t have to be super fit. If you haven’t done a day’s exercise in your life, you might be sore the next day but anything over that and you’ll be fine.
Marble Mountain entry fee
There is a cost to using the lift and accessing the mountain. If you choose to use the lift it will cost you VND 15,000 (approx. USD 0.66) one way, per person. Access to Marble Mountain will cost you VND 40,000 (approx. USD 1.75) per person. For the two of us it came to a total of VND 115,000.
The total confused us a bit because there was an extra VND 15,000 that we weren’t sure what it was for. We tried asking about it but the ladies at the register didn’t speak of word of English. Either we were getting duped or the price had gone up since the day before lol. In the end we let it slide as it was a small amount. It was a little annoying not knowing what it was for is all.
Also, there is another cave mouth at the entrance of Marble Mountain. When we tried to go up to it, we couldn’t go in as it’s not included in the ticket we had and we had to pay another entry fee. We opted not to in the end. If you have been and want to give some insight, please drop us a comment. Thank you.
The ticket office sits to the right of the elevators and down the hill. Don’t go too far down the hill as you’ll have to run another merchant gauntlet lol.
Our first impression was good. The gardens surrounding the foot of the mountain were beautiful. Lots of ponds and lotus blossoms everywhere and plenty of shaded seating. It has a pleasant and welcoming feel to it. It was surprisingly clean too which was a nice change from the norm. But we were not there to see the entrance. We had a whole mountain to go and explore, so, we set off to do that.
Take plenty of water. You can buy drinks, fresh coconuts and ice cream but the selections are limiting. It can get pricey too if you’re there for a longer visit. You’ll need a fair bit of fluids on hot days too. In addition, we took some electrolyte tablets with us and that helped too.
If you have one of those cooling towels, that could be a good option too. Ours came in handy inside the smaller spaces filled with lots of people. It can get hot quick.
Comfortable clothing and shoes. There are a lot of stairs and on hot days you’ll be sweating a lot so dress to your comfort levels. Make sure you have comfortable shoes! (High heels work from what we saw but we wouldn’t recommend it as it may limit where you can go). It doesn’t have to be expensive gear either, good grip and support is all you need.
While we didn’t buy anything from the merchants, the advice we got was to haggle hard with these guys. They super inflate the prices and you’re probably not getting the bargain you’re looking for. Work out what you want to spend in your own currency, convert it and stick to your guns!
Meet the mountain
The elevator ride was brief. At the top we soaked in that spectacular view. We watched the shoreline stretching all the way to the south on our right. To our left the four other outcrops completing Marble Mountain. Between the hills are hundreds of older style Vietnamese homes, carved up by the maize of roads. It almost feels like you’ve darted back in time as the whole scene has an old worldly feel to it.
The first stop was the Xa Loi Tower. We didn’t stay long as the area got crowded quick. There were some great photo opportunities of the tower and its gardens, as well as the view out over the ocean.
We found our first set of real marble steps on the way to the Linh Ung Pagoda. These things were as tall as my knee is to my ankle lol. I’m only 5”4’ so it seemed huge!
Again, this pagoda was bustling with bodies and hawkers were not shy to grab you and try and sell you stuff. We side stepped the madness and made our way to the Lady of Mercy statue sitting to the right of the temple.
What was cool about this spot was the decorative dragons. Each one adorning the six concrete pillars supporting the pagoda roof.
Made of broken glass and pottery pieces, they were beautiful and almost seemed alive.
The whole area felt welcoming and peaceful. Lush greenery framing a pond and moat with a quaint bridge to the pagoda. It was here, taking photos that we realized there was a discreet walkway to the right and behind the big temple.
Tucked away in a cool, dim corner was this epic 10’ carving of mythical creatures. The detail was amazing. You could see the love and care that went into its creation.
But it didn’t hold our attention for long.
It was the lead in to a brick walkway with a genuine hole in the rock! Slipping through that, we were face to face with our first cave.
Thang Chon Cave
Turns out we’d discovered Marble Mountain’s third largest cave, Tang Chon. Inside the space was a cool blissful reprieve from the searing heat outside.
Once our eyes adjusted to the dim light we could see a massive Buddha in front of us. Sitting silently in its alcove observing the crowd. To the right sat a temple. Bathed in light from holes in the ceiling above it looked so peaceful and beautiful.
The Buddha and temple weren’t the only inhabitants of the cave. After exploring the space some more, we found another Buddha. Tucked away in a dark, eyes closed looking serene. This one was smaller and made of metal. The hole in the roof above it had a bright beam of light shining down it, making it look ethereal.
Going up the stairs past the smaller Buddha, we found a neat little surprise. Up the stairs and looking back, we found a great angle of the big Buddha through a hole cut out of rock face. We had to be patient with the crowd to get the right shot, but thought it was worth it.
Lots to explore
More exploring lead to yet another Buddha statue in a smaller cave leading off Tang Chon. This one was about 15 feet high and carved from the rock formation surrounding its base.
What made it so spectacular? It was the way the natural light came streaming through the holes in the rock illuminated the space. Almost like the main focus is to light up the statue only. There were small bats flying around everywhere, giving you a feel for being inside a real cave.
Thinking that was the best part of Marble Mountain we set off looking for more places to explore.
Van Thong Cave
Our next stop was at the top of a decent staircase, designed to test your fitness levels, lol. On the other side was this weird little hole into the side of the mountain. Getting to it proved tricky too as it was slippery with minimal proper stairs to rely on. (I was totally amazed by the women climbing this thing in high heels!)
Navigating the route wasn’t too hard but once inside we realized it was the wrong move. The space was small and filling with people fast. Chunks of smoothed marble was all over the floor, making it hard to walk or stand on.
We didn’t see anything enjoyable about this space so decided to get out. That’s when we hit a snag, the crowd coming up into the space was starting to block both ways in and out.
Let’s get out of here!
We had the choice of standing in line to climb up this tiny space to who knows where or turn around and go back the way we came. We chose to go back the way we came and ended up being stuck there for ten minutes trying to get out.
Finally, we made it out, drenched in sweat and a little frustrated. In the end we had to fight our way past the people who kept coming in a never-ending stream. Why was this a problem? Once you start your climb outside you have no idea what lies ahead. The route twists and turns out of sight and it’s not until you hit the jam that you know about it. But that was the only unpleasant experience of the day.
Giving up on Van Thong cave, we found this ornate gate with some stairs to the side of it. We walked past a sign pointing to something called Heaven’s Gate. Then followed the stone carved path, eager to found it what it was about.
Sounds lovely doesn’t it? It was but first we had to survive the stairs from hell lol. Tall and slippery going on and on. At one point we were starting wonder if we were actually climbing to heaven lol.
Arriving at the top, we were almost pushed back down the stairs with a wave of bodies descending from above. We had no idea where these people were coming from but there were a lot of them. Turns out it was from a very small hole at the top of this outcrop.
That’s when it dawned on us. This was the hole out of Van Thong cave, the one we thought we managed to avoid. It seems Van Thong had the last laugh. Lol.
Is the schlep up there worth it?
Fighting the crowd was not fun, but we sat on an outcrop of marble taking in the view. What a view it was too! We could see all the way from Da Nang to Hoi An (almost lol). We were up there for a good fifteen minutes. The breeze was refreshing and the amazing view rejuvenated us. With a lull in the crowd, we took the opportunity to climb back down to the ground to see what else we could find.
Heaven’s Gate is the second highest peak on Marble Mountain. Be warned though, it is slippery! The path, smoothed down from years of use and exposure to the elements can get nasty. Thing is, we didn’t find much of this in reviews or from talking to others, which surprised us. We were just glad we were wearing good shoes.
That was the second hardest part of the day.
Hoa Ngiem Cave
We found another ornate gateway and followed the simple pathway to a very tall statue of the Lady of Mercy. (She looked like a replica of the Lady Buddha in Son Tra.)
Further to her left we made our way to tunnel leading to this massive space. Bathed in the same light, pouring from holes in the rock formation turning it ethereal too. Descending down big carved steps, we passed four warrior statues sporting fierce reactions. Painted in bright colors, there were very lively looking.
This experience was amazing. Surrounded by a serene and peaceful vibe as soon as our feet hit the ground, we stood there, absorbing it all. Every person there seemed to be under its spell too. This was the one spot where the crowd seemed happy to respect the energy. It was an absolute pleasure to experience and one of my favorite parts of the day.
We got some awesome shots from this spot too. It was almost like we were there at the perfect time. The light, the vibe, everything just felt right in that moment.
Tam Thai Pagoda
At this stage of the day it was getting pretty hot so we took some shelter. We found this massive rotunda with a gorgeous thatched roof, all to ourselves. Sitting away from the crowds it was a great spot to catch our breath. There were smaller picnic tables scattered around it and buffered with lush greenery.
Seated away from the main flow of the crowd made it the perfect breather spot as nobody else came up there. To the side we watched a couple of ladies selling fresh coconuts and some chilled drinks. We decided to buy a drink each and got a couple of free wet wipes with it which was a nice little bonus.
While we were going over a few things and reloading batteries in the cameras, we made a discovery. The explanation for the extra VND 15,000 (~USD 0.65 / ~AUD 0.90) from the entry fee earlier in the day became clear. The map we had contained a set of postcards with photos from Marble Mountain. In the fine print we spotted the additional charge for the postcards (An not much of a deal either, which made it disappointing because we would have been happy about it if we could actually use them.). A clever, but sneaky tactic used by the office staff to up sell we guessed.
Leon did question the extra charge at the time, and we had to deal with the whole ‘no English’ thing and now we know why lol. So, if you’re not interested in buying postcards, double check your tickets before you pay.
After our break we set off to the biggest cave in the mountain.
There was one more stop on the map before we called it a day on Marble Mountain. This spot housed two more temples. Both with gorgeous courtyards and tropical gardens overlooking the valley below. The wind was toying with some wind chimes in one corner giving off a pleasant spiritual vibe.
At this point we’d been there for four hours and thought the temples were the last stop (according to the map). But there was more. After that, we found two more outlook pagodas. Both had awesome views over the ocean and back towards Hoi An.
We found plenty more stairs we thought was the way out. It wasn’t! We had to climb them all back up to where we came from and find the right way out lol.
Luckily for us the way out wasn’t too far from where we made our wrong move.
Overall impression of Marble Mountain
I’ll be honest and say that we weren’t sure how the day was going to go. We read a lot of reviews saying either we wouldn’t be there long or we could spend a few hours there. For us personally though, we had a blast. How many people can say they climbed all over a place of mystic folklore or connected to a real historic connection?
We thoroughly enjoyed our time on Marble Mountain. Taking in the sights, learning all we could and coming away with an awesome video and some kick ass photos. It is whatever you make of it at the end of the day.
Update: We have since learnt that we missed a fair bit of Marble Mountain. We opted not to trek out to the caves in the other hills because we didn’t want to get there and then be told we have to pay extra. While, we thought the ticket we brought covered all of Marble Mountain, we can safely say that was not the case for us. Whether they try it on with unsuspecting tourists or not we’re not sure either but it sure seems that way. Consequently, it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to avoid the hustle. I guess it’s just disappointing having to deal with it especially when you have a genuine interest in supporting their cause.
Would we recommend Marble Mountain?
Yes, if you have three days to a week or so, definitely. Depending on what you find interesting on your travels you might also be able to squeeze it into a short visit too. Either way it’s a good day out.
It’s not just the mountain that is the attraction. The plants and creatures are great too. Loads of flowers (plenty of orchid species) and Leon even saw a scorpion on one of the less crowded peaks. (I didn’t even know there were scorpions here lol). Oh, and heads up, watch where you sit too.
The thing we loved (and in one instance disliked), was that you could go anywhere and touch most things.
With the exception of the temples and some Buddha statues. Keep an eye out for those as you will need to take your shoes off to get closer to them.
Other than that, we could climb in, over and onto pretty much everything as there wasn’t anybody to shoo you away or yell at you. It was that hands on encounter that made it so much fun for us!
What did you think of Marble Mountain?
Well that the story of our visit to Marble Mountain. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting this unique place and want to share them, chuck us a comment. Likewise, if you have any questions.
And if this is your first visit to our site, welcome! Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.
Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…