Marble Mountains (Ngu Hanh Son in Vietnamese) is a cluster of five limestone mountain peaks, each named after an element of Chinese Yin-Yang philosophy, located not far from Danang in Vietnam. This riveting attraction has long been a Buddhist worshiping site as well as a famous tourist complex to travellers from all around the world. It is part historical treasure, part natural wonder, part spiritual setting, and totally beautiful.
Marble Mountains is home to a network of caves, tunnels, towers, and pagodas built by Mahayana Buddhists and the Nguyen Dynasty kings. They occupy a large area and still have a mysterious atmosphere of a truly historical and cultural landmark despite the impact of tourism.
History and the legend
Over centuries, Marble Mountains has held special significance for the people of Central Vietnam. The ancient Cham revered these karsts as a spiritual site, and Vietnamese emperors from Hue and legendary generals passing through paid visits to the peaks, adding to their store of legends. This legend had it that theis mountain complex was formed from a dragon egg who emerged from Non Nuoc beach. After a thousand days and thousand nights had passed, the egg hatched and out came a beautiful girl. The egg’s shell was left on the beach and grew into the magical Marble Mountains.
Marble Mountains are also a well-known pilgrimage site with peaks, caves, tunnels and temples all just waiting to be discovered. The structures and shrines blend harmoniously with nature: vine tendrils drip from above, frangipani and poinciana trees drop their blossoms on the stone paths, which are cut from solid stone and each one takes you up the steep karsts and higher over the horizon. Before you know it, you’ve reached the top.
The five Marble Mountains
Marble Mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuỷ (water), Mộc (wood), Hoả (fire) and Thổ (earth). Each of these five karst mountains offers a wonderful sight of natural beauty.
Thuy Son (Water Mountain): the worthiest mountain to visit in Marble Mountains must be Thuy Son (the water mountain) which has become a sanctuary attracting many Buddhist followers. You should visit the mountain’s pagodas and shrines outside and inside caves.
Kim Son (Metal Mountain): not as dramatic as Water Mountain, Kim Son has two pagodas – Quan Am and Thai Son.
If you have more time to spend at the Marble Mountains, visit the rest of the mountains – Earth Mountain, Fire Mountain and Wood Mountain.
There are half a dozen large caves hidden away in the Marble Mountains, and many other small ones that are rarely visited. Most of the caves are cool inside, with the jungle plants and mossy walls creating an exotic atmosphere found nowhere else. All the caves in Marble Mountains have unique features, and some have fascinating stories of being discovered and used as hideaways over the centuries.
Huyen Khong is the largest of the caves and it is located on Thuy Son Mount (water mountain). Its collapsed ceiling allows shafts of light to pierce the dark cavern and hit the Buddha statues inside the cave, creating dramatic spotlights inside. Huyen Khong was once used as a secret base and later a field hospital for Vietnamese revolutionaries. Its jaw-dropping size seems unlikely from the entrance, but it is large enough to house a massive stone Buddha and two shrines. One of the shrines is dedicated to the god and goddess of match-making, and is a popular spot for couples and singles to worship.
Also on Thuy Son Mount is the Hoa Nghiem Cave, which is watched over by a beautiful 400-year-old stone statue of Lady Buddha.
Hell Cave (Am Phu Cave) lies just opposite of Huyen Khong Cave, opening the whole another world to the eyes of tourists. It’s literary Buddhist’s hell made visible by the work of humans to illustrate the inevitable future awaiting for those who committed in wrongdoings. Dark, humid and filled with strange and scary creatures in the corners, Hell Cave is a place you can test your mind.
On Kim Son (Metal Mountain), Tang Chon Cave is worth a wander for the marble statues of chess players and mandarins placed inside the cave’s warrens, and Quan Am Cave is a must-see spot, featuring a very well carved human-size Bodhisattva statue made of natural marble. The statue looks like and is believed a work of centuries of water abrasive process on the cave.
Set aside time to explore a few of the other caves if possible.
Pagodas and shrines
One of the best parts of touring Marble Mountain is seeing the striking pagodas that claim this elevated perch. Linh Ung Pagoda announces itself with an amazingly detailed archway facing the sweep of Non Nuoc Beach. Stop here for photos before wandering around the courtyard to admire the small lotus ponds, bonsai plants and tile-work of the main structure. Nguyen Emperor Gia Long first ordered the pagoda built in 1825, and it bears many of the same motifs found in the UNESCO-listed tombs in Hue. A short walk away you’ll reach Xa Loi Tower. This 28-metre structure houses 200 statues of Buddha, and offers breathtaking views of the landscape below.
Across on Water Mountain, you’ll find Tam Thai Pagoda. This tidy pagoda, dedicated to the bodhisattva Phat Di Lac, has its own charming courtyard, and was rebuilt by the Nguyen Dynasty King Ming Mang more than 400 years ago, after falling into disrepair; most of its structure has been renovated many times throughout history. Tam Thai is at its most serene in the early morning hours. Hike up a steep slope of 156 steps to reach the three-gate entrance.
When to visit Marble Mountains
Marble Mountains can be visited during the year, but for photographing opportunities, the best time is the summer months, June to August. Wear comfortable clothes and good walking or hiking shoes before you start the trip because you will have to walk uphill and climb many (at times slippery) steps. Avoid stormy season, September to November, because the steps will be very slippery and dangerous when wet, and possibly the hottest hours of the day, which we didn’t, and as a result we sweated through three t-shirts each! Bring your sun hat and water along. A few shacks selling drinks and snacks can be found along the paths.
Marble Mountains is best enjoyed in the morning at 7am, when the air is cool for climbing and you can have the paths and pagodas all to yourself. Visitors are requested to wear modest clothing when touring Marble Mountains, which is an important spiritual and pilgrimage site. Remember to remove your shoes and hat before entering any pagodas.
Marble Mountains are located seven kilometres from downtown Danang, in direction Hoi An on the coastal road. The complex open daily from 7am to 5:30pm. You will need at least two hours to see Marble Mountains. A very convenient elevator will bring you up and costs 15,000 VND per person per trip, unless you decide to climb the stairs at different entrances. Admission to the site is 40,000 VND per person, kids go for free. An extra 40,000 VND per person are charged to enter Hell Cave. A guide can be hired for 50,000 VND per group.
Asian Itinerary traveled to Marble Mountains on an amazing Vinfast scooter, a Vietnamese version of a Vespa, kindly provided by The Motorbike Station. This one was electric, brand new, and it was yellow. Leonardo and I enjoyed immensely. Contact The Motorbike Station for your bike rental needs in Danang, reach them on Whataspp/Zalo/Wechat/Twitter/Viber/Kakaotalk: (+84) 922 771 171, or email them at email@example.com