more prosaic Vietnamese name for the Marble Mountains is Ngu Hanh
Son (Five Elements Mountains). The five peaks consist of limestone
in different hues and overlook the East Sea 8km from Danang.
Emperor Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen
dynasty and builder of Hue’s Citadel, decreed that the five mountains
named after the five elements of nature: Kim Son (metal), Moc Son
(wood), Hoa Son (fire), Tho Son (earth), and Thuy Son (water).
The small range is probably a fragment
of a much larger limestone karst system that has decayed over untold
millennia. Thuy Son is the largest, and considered
the most beautiful, of the five mountains. It’s actually three peaks
covering around 16 ha and, like its smaller neighbours, is riddled
with caves and grottoes, many of which house shrines and sometimes
complete pagodas. For visitors, its highlight is the Ling Ong Pagoda,
a shrine within a cave.
The Marble Mountains are an important
historic and religious. Their archaeological and architectural values
are significant. Unusually in Vietnam, several pagodas pre-date
their names by several centuries. The Tam Thai pagoda, for example,
was built in 1630.
There are Champa sculptures from the
14th and 15th century, and several of the Vietnamese stone and bronze
statues in the caves are more than three hundred years old. The
tradition of stone carving continues in villages at the feet of
the years of feudalism, the Nguyen Lords stored their gold and jewels
inside the Marble Mountain to be looked after by the monks who guarded
many the passages inside the caves. In those days, the villagers
of Nui Kim Son manufactured jewellery both for the warlords and
to sell commercially.
To ensure security, they never married
outside the village. Gradually, a belief grew that large amounts
of gold and jewellery were hidden inside the labyrinth of caves
and passages inside Nui Kim Son. The monks are long dead, and their
secrets with them.
The French military built bunkers on
the mountains, and the Viet Cong used the caves as sanctuaries for
the Viet Cong during the American war. At the same time, the US
forces built observation posts and artillery platforms high on their
mountains' high-grade limestone is quarried to support local
sculpture businesses. Workshops and factories in nearby Hoa Hai
village produce marble sculptures and stone furniture.
The industry began
many centuries ago - some of the locally produced steles in Quang
Nam Province's ancient pagodas date back to the sixteenth century.
products were votive or commemorative items, but today's craftspeople
now feed a thriving domestic and export market.
Marble Mountains are well worth a visit, but there are some disadvantages.
Visiting most of the significant caves and shrines involve a steep
climb up mostly rough steps that can be slippery in wet weather.
However, the main downside is a posse
of aggressive hawkers and would-be guides that descend on tourists
as soon as they appear. They are often young children and are annoyingly
If you travel with Haivenu, your guide
will deal with the problem! We are committed to direct the tourist
dollars into local people's pockets as far as possible, but most
of the goods and services on offer are a rip-off targeted at unwary
visitors and tarnishing our country's image.
A minority of the people with a hand
held out are deserving causes with no other means of support - elderly
widows, Buddhist monks and nuns, amputees, for example. Your guide
will advise you.