Grottoes and Caves of the Marble Mountains

According to ancient folklore, a dragon emerged from the water on Non Nuoc Beach and laid an egg. A thousand days and a thousand nights followed before the egg hatched, and out stepped a beautiful girl. The fragments of the shell were left on the beach and eventually grew into the five mystical Marble Mountains.

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It’s taken me AGES to write about my experience at the Marble Mountains, as the I lost some of the memory cards from my camera that I used for most of my time in central Nam. That said, I can always remember my time there. It will live long in the memory.

When you think of the Marble Mountains that lay just outside Da Nang on Vietnam’s central coastline, you think of 2 different things: first, the mountain’s appearance from a distance; second, the grottoes and caves and waterfalls that exist within its core; and third, the view from the top – and it’s the middle part of this analysis that bewildered me the most!

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For some reason, I have never been a fan of cave systems. They may be one of the only kind of ecosystems that I don’t really wish to explore. It may have something to do with my claustrophobia. I saw Pak Ou Caves in Luang Prabang, but they are fairly open and do not run deep, and the same could be said of the Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur, so they are each a good starting point for Cave Virgins like myself. However, the next stage of overcoming my claustrophobia would be to explore deeper caves, and Vietnam has many of them (as does the Philippines). What better place to start than at the Marble Mountains, I thought!

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But before we get to the caves and the grottoes, I would like to mention that “the Marble Mountains” is actually a term for a cluster of five marble and limestone hills. These five ‘mountains’ are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire), and Tho (earth). All of the mountains have cave entrances and numerous tunnels, and it is possible to climb to the summit of one of the peaks. Several Buddhist sanctuaries can also be found within the mountains, making this a famous tourist destination. Not quite as touristy as Halong Bay in the north, but it’s not far behind!

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There are a number of grottoes, including Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, which seem to be the most popular. They are on most of the walkways and hiking trails. Inside are Buddhist and Hindu regalia and the caves act as sanctuaries for any pilgrim wanting to worship. The sanctuaries feature depictions of religious scenes carved out of the marble.

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In some places, Chinese statues adorn the interiors of the grottoes and as the sunrays beam in through the mountain crevices, it really creates a wondrously eerie sight. As you would expect, the echoes of being in the cave system also add to the atmosphere. I wondered if it was possible for anybody to live down here, but I think it’s intended as a place of worship only – although in Vietnam people will try it if you let them!

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Close by is Van Nguyet Grotto which is a nice resting spot where you can grab a fresh coconut to drink. The Lantern Cave is also worth a look, small but deep and filled with lava along with Am Phu Cave which heads down to a very scenic viewpoint. It reminded me of a Jules Verne novel, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth…

Amazing views down on to the beach
Amazing views down on to the beach

Finally, when your cave exploring and grotto-raiding is over, you can begin climbing up the Marble Mountains and enjoying spectacular views across Non Nuoc (also known as China Beach). A stairway of 156 steps took me up to the top and I was very impressed with what I saw – even if I was struggling to readjust my eyes to the sunlight after being in the dark for so long!

For only $1, you can get admittance to almost everything at the Marble Mountains, and if you’re in the Da Nang region of central Vietnam, it is well worth the effort to pay a visit. For me, before I came to Da Nang, I was expecting to find the Marble Mountains a bit ‘meh’ whereas I thought I would enjoy the ancient ruins at My Son Sanctuary. As it turned out, it was the other around!

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