Tag Archives: Danang

A visit to the Marble Mountains

AKA: the ascent to heaven is best not done wearing flip flops.

The Marble Mountains are marble and limestone hills located between Hoi An and Da Nang, about 20Km from Hoi An. You can visit them independently, and reach them by motorbike/xe om/ local bus, but I chose the lazy option and joined a tour. Lucky enough I was the only person on it, so had a private guide and driver for half a day!

So, back to the Marble Mountains: there are five of them and they are also called the Mountains of the Five Elements (water, metal, fire, wood, and earth).  They are of great importance to the Vietnamese and are dotted with Buddhist and Hindu temples and pagodas.VietnamPhotogallery_079
They were also a base for Viet Cong fighters during the  war.

Nowadays the most visited peak is the Water mountain – Thuy Son – which is also the tallest.
After visiting a couple of cave pagodas there, my guide told me that we would follow the path to heaven and led me to the very top of the mountain through narrow, slippery and steep tunnels. Caving and rock climbing in flip flops!
(Now I know how I will go to heaven, I thought at some point…).

Climbing out of a vertical tunnel
Climbing out of a vertical tunnel

When I reached the top I felt like I had climbed the Everest! This was also an opportunity for lots of photos of the coast and the other four mountains.

I also visited the largest and most impressive cave on the Water mountain (Huyen Khong cave), where a huge Buddha statue towers over everything and stalactites resemble animals and human faces. Sunlight streams enter the cave from the roof, and create a very dramatic atmosphere.

Inside the Huyen Khong Cave
Inside the Huyen Khong Cave

The Marble Mountains are also famous for their stone engraving activities, although marble now comes from other areas of Vietnam instead of being extracted locally. Several souvenir shops located at the base of the mountains will try to sell you marble objects of any sorts, the most popular being the “Happy Buddha”. Rubbing its belly supposedly brings good luck!

And no, I didn’t buy one but under my guide’s advice I made sure that I gave a good belly rub to one of the big Buddha statues on the Water mountain :-).

The Happy Buddha
The Happy Buddha

My epic journey from Da Lat to Hoi An via Da Nang

There are no toilets on the bus.
And I am the only Westerner on board.
And no one speaks any English.

These were the first thoughts that crossed my mind as I boarded the Phuong Trang (Futa) bus from Da Lat to Da Nang. Not before having had a major argument with the Futa staff who refused to tag my suitcase and give me any form of receipt when they stored it in the luggage hold.
This 14-hr bus ride is going to be fun. Not.

Inside the sleeper bus
Inside the sleeper bus

I had reserved a seat on the sleeper bus via my hotel in Da Lat and I hadn’t really bothered with many questions. I got picked up at the hotel and dropped off at the Da Lat bus station, where my ticket was waiting for me. Once I got to the bus I realised it was going to be an eventful overnight ride…

My seat/bed was actually quite comfortable and having booked on the “upstairs/window” I had a nice view. We went through mountain villages and stunning scenery, until the sun started setting and I feel asleep (courtesy of the travel sickness tablets).

More mountain scenery
More mountain scenery

Three hours into the journey we stopped at a restaurant. I think we were in the Nha Trang area, judging by some road signs. All announcements were made in Vietnamese only, though, and the rude and unhelpful Futa guys on board ignored any of my requests to explain how long we were going to be there. Great: I am completely on my own here! Roll your sleeves up, Chiara, I thought.
Back on the bus, we followed the road along the coast for some time. In the darkness surrounding us, the lights from the fishermen boats looked like a huge number of fireflies. It was stunning.

Then the bus started climbing up towards some mountain pass, overtaking on hairpin bends seemed to be common practice.
When we stopped again a few hours later – the Futa guys needed a smoke… – a few men got off the bus so I followed. Toilet break, yay! Only to find out that there were no toilets: we were in the middle of nowhere and the men were all standing on the nearby bridge with their legs apart. “Toilet for women?” I asked the Futa guys in my total naivety. They stared at me showing no understanding of my question, then looked at each other and started laughing. Their attitude was really getting on my nerves at that point. Then one of them pointed at the line of men standing by the bridge. Great: bush toilet, but with nowhere to hide. All I could do was going to the other end of the bridge and hope that the darkness would protect me. Not happy.
Back on the bus I fell asleep and slept most of the night.

At 6am we arrived in Da Nang. The bus dropped us off and left. This was not a bus station. And now where do I catch the bus to Hoi An? I was suddenly surrounded by ten men saying “Motorbike! Motorbike!”. No, I don’t want motorbike: it’s 30Km to Hoi An, I want the local bus. Tired and dehydrated I walked to the ticket office and asked for the bus. A heaven-sent guy told me to follow him, and walked me all the way to the bus station, which was 500m away, and left me in front of bus #1 to Hoi An. I got on board and was asked to pay 50,000 dong. No! I know the real price is 20,000 I said. I had read enough internet forums about this scam. The price dropped immediately to 30,000 and I agreed to that. Too tired to argue any further. After all, we are talking about 50c difference here…

An hour later we arrived at Hoi An bus station, which happens to be out of town. On for the last fight! Surrounded again by “motorbike!motorbike!” men, I got asked for 50,000 dong for a ride to town. No! You gotta be kidding. I know the price is 15,000 I said. “Oh town very far” they replied. I stubbornly stood in front of the town map with the GPS on my phone switched on, trying to work out how long it would take me to walk to my hotel and which direction to go.
And I didn’t give in to the motorbike men pressure. And I walked all the way.
Half an hour later and completely covered in sweat, I arrived at my hotel. Shattered.
It was 8am.
I had left Da Lat yesterday at 4pm.