Tag Archives: pagoda

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

Top pagoda experience in Saigon

It took us a while but we eventually found it.

Lost in Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown, we ended up relying on the locals. When they saw us walking up and down the streets frantically checking our Lonely Planet guidebook, a few women would put their hands together in a prayer sign and then point across the road, to the left or to the right. Ok, they have figured out that we are looking for the pagoda, and we clearly aren’t the first tourists who get lost in the area….

Outside the Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda
Outside the Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda

The Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda isn’t even mentioned in my edition of the Rough Guide, and if it wasn’t for my friends Adrian&Lynette (who joined me a couple of days ago) I would have never got there.
And I would have missed out on one of the best experiences in my travel life!

This pagoda is said to be the only pure Taoist pagoda in Vietnam and is unique for its colourful statues of Taoist disciples. It also operates a home for several dozen elderly people who have no family.

When we got there it was Sunday late morning, and following some female voices chanting inside the pagoda we reached a room where some ceremony was taking place.

Five women (nuns, I’d say) where sitting around a table, praying and singing and preparing offerings, while three more women in the back of the room were playing some traditional music.

All their costumes were reminiscent of Chinese/Tibetan tradition, and all their prayer books were written in Chinese.  Food and drinks were on the table. Incense sticks burning everywhere in the room.

We were initially directed upstairs. from where we could follow part of the ceremony.  But we were soon invited to join a group of local people in the same room where the ceremony was taking place, so we sat with them for some time. It was absolutely incredible!

Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda
The ceremony

When we left we wanted to know more about the ceremony. Unfortunately none of the locals could speak English.

This will definitely remain the “top pagoda experience” of my travel life so far :-)