The Magic Marble Mountains, Danang, Vietnam
The Marble Mountains, just outside Danang in Vietnam, are a honey-comb of niches, many with a shrine or deity inside.
The Marble Mountains: I kept calling them “Magic Mountains” by mistake.
But they are a bit magical!
Near Non Nuoc Beach, nine kilometres south of Danang in Central Vietnam, five marble and limestone outcrops rise up dramatically from the flat plains around them. According to legend, a dragon climbed out of the East Vietnam Sea onto the beach and laid an egg. After a thousand days and a thousand nights, the egg hatched, and a beautiful girl emerged. The broken pieces of shell that were left on the beach eventually grew into the five mystical Marble Mountains. (Story paraphrased from Hotels.com; I want to know what happened to the girl!!)
Craggy and steep, these impossible-looking mountains are topped with Buddhist pagodas, and riddled with tunnels and caves. Alcoves and crannies are filled with Buddhist and Hindu temples and shrines, many many of them more than 300 years old. More recently, the tunnels provided hiding places for the Vietcong, very near the military air base maintained by the Americans during the Vietnam War.
It is not just me who finds these peaks magical. They are a popular tourist attraction and well-known pilgrimage site.
Their name in Vietnamese is Ngũ Hành Sơn, or “five elements mountains”: referring to the five elements that, according to ancient Asian philosophy, make up everything in nature. The individual outcrops are named for – and said to represent – one of these elements: Thuy Son (water); Moc Son – (wood); Hoa Son (fire); Kim Son (metal); and Tho Son (earth)).
My husband and I were staying at a coastal resort nearby (see: Resort Living) and it was an easy cycle to Non Nuoc Village at the foot of Marble Mountains. The village is famous for its stone sculptures and handicrafts – although, these days the marble used by the local craftsmen comes from nearby provinces or China, so that the precious mountains here are not destroyed.
We had a look through the shops before heading to the entry to Thuy Son or Water Mountain. We bought our modestly-priced tickets and started up the 150+ stone steps that rise and wind through the caves and alcoves to the lookouts at the top.
Non Nuoc Village is crowded with outlet shops selling marble carvings: from the smallest jewellery, through souvenir knickknacks, to the largest religious and decorative objects for public spaces.
Bright Lights and Crafts
The shops carry a range of local handicrafts; the teapots come in all shapes and sizes.
Stairs up the Mountain
There are said to be 156 steps up to the viewpoint at the top of Thuy Son, …
Kwan Yin (Quan Am) in a Niche
… but there are plenty of things to look at along the way.
Marble Bodhisattvas and Nagas
Around every corner, the visitor is met with Buddhist imagery.
Buddha over a Reflecting Pond
The rising steps are broken by landings …
Buddha in the Garden
… where visitors stop to rest and pose for pictures.
Tam Thai Pagoda
Inside Tam Thai Pagoda
Some of the shrines are wildly colourful and garishly decorated.
Shrine in an Alcove
Others are more subdued: carved from stone and aged with a patina of moss.
Prince Siddhartha on Horseback
Buddhism has strong ties to it’s Hindu roots: the Kshatriya Warrior Prince Siddhartha, was the ninth incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, the second god in the Hindu triumvirate. After his enlightenment, he was known as Siddhārtha Gautama, or the Gautama Buddha.
Buddha in an Alcove
As we follow the tunnels through the limestone caves, we come across more altars, …
… and more Buddhas.
Images of deer are often found in Buddhist gardens. They remind us of the first sermon Buddha gave after his enlightenment: to five beggars in Sarnath, a deer park in what is now Uttar Pradesh, India.
Pagodas in the Garden
From our first vantage point, we can see north west to Danang …
Marble Mountains and Prickly Pear
… and west over the outcrops towards the mountains.
Coconut is a refreshing energiser after a long hard climb!
The Bodhisattva of Compassion
All over Vietnam, you will see statues of Quan Am, the Bodhisattva of Mercy or Compassion.
Local Buddhists pray to her for guidance, fertility and protection.
Stairs into the Caves
In most places, the stairs up and down through the caves are well formed.
Look up through the Limestone
In other sections, we were literally climbing through rough gaps in the craggy limestone rock.
Shrine in a Cave
Another cave: another shrine; …
Buddha in a Niche
… another alcove: another Buddha.
Tháp Xá Lợi
We come back out into the open behind the Xa Loi Tower.
We make our way through Heaven’s Gate …
View over Non Nuoc Village
… and up to another lookout.
Back at the bottom of the mountain, we admire the sculptures awaiting packaging and transport …
Giant Kwan Yin in Marble
… as we pass under the blessings of a giant Quan Am …
… and past a Laughing Buddha who looks as though he’s been abandoned.
Before finding our bicycles and pedalling back to the resort, we stopped into the shops for another look around. We found a small piece of marble to take home with us; the stone might have its origins in China, but the carvers live right here – in the shadow of these magic Marble Mountains.
Until next time,