Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hoi An - Vietnam :: Marble Mountains

A popular sight seeing spot (and religious pilgrimage site) near Hoi An (closer to DaNang, actually) is Marble Mountain.............. Which isn't a mountain.

A rugged hunk of rock in the middle of flat land off the coast -- Marble Mountains include 5 such "hills". Each one is named after an element: metal, fire, wood, water, earth. Supposedly these 5 formations are from the 5 pieces of a hatched dragon's egg that was being kept safely here. We visited 'water' (the largest one) which is called Thuy Son. 

view from Thuy Son of the other 4 - which also have caves

view looking the opposite direction - towards China Sea
Thuy Son is a labyrinth of tunnels and caves with Buddhist and Hindu grottoes tucked into corners and carved directly into the marble and limestone. There are pagodas and remnants of ancient Champa civilization. Bats whistle from the shadows and a few swooped above our heads. We cruised alongside worshippers and tourists (some of whom had tour guides that we eavesdropped into). I'm trying to forget about the Korean couple who left rapidly when the woman started to barf into a bag... no MERS, thank you. The boldness and insistence from many to get their photos with our daughters became overbearing - making quiet reflection and observation difficult.

This little soul prayed as soon as she saw the statues with palms together.
her prayer:
"dear God, thank you for daddy, mommy, sister, eempa"


We ascended via a rather incongruous modern elevator and walked around with the kids for about 2 hours. Inside the tunnels and caves, the air felt different. It seemed to me that it held a special energy - mixed with feelings of reverence and fear.

The next photo is not mine - it's from and it captures this cave:

I'm no history buff, but I learned that local folklore says these caves were used as a VietCong hospital as well as hiding spots during the Vietnam War. Right next to the American 'Marble Mountain Air Facility'. 

Hundreds of years before that, they were likely home or religious sanctuaries to the ancient Cham people. Nowadays, Vietnam is an "atheist state" as declared by the communist government. Wikipedia calls it one of the least religious countries in the world. That makes sense, because (driven by curiosity) I asked many people during our week-long stay about religion and they either gave me a blank stare, asked "religion?" or simply said, "I don't understand". Yet these ancient places are rich with a spiritual journey influenced by India, Cambodia, China, and folk religions. Small communities practice their religion - often despite impending persecution and hardship. Marble Mountain is one of these special places. While some local people are upset that it is now a tourist site, I am glad that it will therefore be preserved and noticed. It is a unique space.

Throngs of people converged on us as we entered the area and then again as we descended the long marble staircase to sell us trinkets and all sorts of things carved out of marble, stone, and rock. Stretching along the streets below are strings of family-run shops known for their exquisite carvings. These get shipped all around the world. I saw crated sculptures marked for Melbourne Australia and San Francisco.

A small marble pestle weighs a couple pounds - imagine a large sculpture!

they found one that reminded them of Jake-Pup


  1. So very cool. These are life-long memories you're making. I love to peek at the girls' expressions in the pictures-- and your little praying girl just stole my heart. :)

    1. She is something else. She has a thing for Eastern Religions, I think.

  2. That cave! Took my breath away. I can't imagine the joy of touring things and places like this so often. your little praying - AH so precious!