Located in the limestone hills of Ngu Hanh Son, south of Da Nang, ‘Marble Mountain’ consists of a small cluster of marble and limestone structures. The five hills represent the five elements, as dictated by Vietnamese lore; Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). Despite this, only one of the hills, Thuy Son, is accessible to and climbable by tourists.
Getting to ‘Marble Mountain’ is fairly simple. Situated, pretty much, equidistant between Da Nang and Hoi An it doesn’t take very much of an effort to get there. In fact, even in the throes of an internal revolution (yes, we have hangovers occasionally, shoot me), we were able to arrange transport for a very reasonable price through our hotel. However, you can do this through local tour companies but we’d advise shopping round to make sure you make the most of your time and money.
Having paid our way and made the short, comfortable journey from our hostel in Hoi An we arrived at our destination. Given the plethora of tacky, parodically Asian marble trinkets (par for the course lions and Buddha effigies) that lined the streets, one could be mistaken that they had wandered into Tulisa Constavlos’ front garden. But traveller, beware! While you may be tempted to whip out your dong with a view to purchasing a chintzy memento, you must be careful when considering purchasing anything from the local artisans. Whilst that six foot fat Buddha may very well be the most marvellous addition to that Asian-inspired garden you’ve been dreaming of ever since setting foot off the plane, there’s something terribly important that you need to know. Yes, before you start boasting to Friday nights date about the coup of a chess set crafted at the feet of the mountain from locally sourced marble, the one you’re desperately wishing oozes the faux-intellectual vibe you hope your homestead secretes, stop! Because it really wasn’t. That’s not to say it’s not impressive work. It’s just we don’t want you bleating on about its authenticity, because we truly believe that the foundations of any healthy relationship can’t be built on lies, no matter how small. It just can’t. The hordes of vendors merely serve as a relatively expensive tourist trap.
Having evaded, or not, the countless hawkers – trying to convince you that the purchase of an 8-foot lion, balancing atop a marble orb, is the answer to your endless search for an appropriate souvenir – and made your way up the hill, away from the town, you’ll find yourself at the foot of a large glass lift. The lift is a mild amusement, and as you rise you will be offered panoramic views of the surrounding areas, which we don’t mind saying can be quite breath-taking. On reaching the top and exiting out onto the bridge, the views beneath are certainly worthy of the taking of some snapshots. Just try to look a little more pleased, a little less stupid and have exponentially more pride in appearance than we did before posting them up on Instagram, or whatever your social poison may be.
So enough of our narrative indulgence. The mountain has much to explore and should be given a full days worth of attention. Standing amidst the rubble, looking upwards as light sprays through cavities in the rocky roof, it is hard not to indulge in an ephemeral Indiana Jones-esque moment of discovery, a man amongst nature, a human key to previously sealed secrets.
Then, another party will arrive, awaken the bats and you will, understandably, shit yourself as they flap furiously above your head. The constant flow of visitors, both local and tourist, is understandable due to the religious, spiritual and historic significance of the mountain and its various caves. As well as being a place of great Buddhist significance, the tunnels and caverns served as a place of hiding and healing for many Viet Minh soldiers during the conflict with the Americans.
While traversing the various troughs and peaks within the mountain, you would be well served to watch your step as the stairways are often very steep and, curiously, almost constantly wet to the point of ice-rink like grip. Whether or not this was a devilish ploy to unbalance the eternally flip-flopped of us or simply the result of some other practice taking place upon the mountain was a mystery to us – but you would be wise to wear your sturdiest and most ‘grippy’ shoes, unless you fancy an involuntary, tailbone shattering thrill ride down one of Marble Mountains many stone stairways.
Marble Mountain is definitely worth a visit although we would recommend three things are ensured. You best feel fresh. You best be hydrated. You best leave your Havaianas at home.