Fair warning: this post is going to have a lot of pictures. We couldn’t help ourselves. One of our last sightseeing spots was way too photogenic not to take a million pics. So – there. You’ve been warned.
We just wrapped up our last week in Hoi An – such a bittersweet moment. We’re always sad to leave a place. Especially a place like this – a place you’ve stayed for a month, gotten to know your hosts, which are more like friends at this point, and it’s a place where you’ve just gotten really comfy and settled. But at the same time – it’s always exciting to move on to the next destination. We definitely didn’t let our last week go to waste.
Marble Mountains – SO much cooler than we anticipated
When I say “cooler” I definitely don’t mean in temperature – because it was freaking hot. Like ridiculously hot – we were both completely drenched in our own sweat (sorry) by the end of our visit to this tourist spot but it was completely worth it.
The Marble Mountains are basically a cluster of 5 mountains (more like big peaks just jutting out of the ground from nowhere) that are located in between Danang and Hoi An. The mountains are made entirely out of marble and limestone. We’d driven by these peaks a few times – coming in from the airport, on our way to Hue and back – but didn’t actually make the effort to visit until the last week. We knew it was a major tourist attraction – which sometimes we’re not huge fans of – but we heard great things so we decided to give it a shot. So so glad we did.
First? We had to get in…
Of course – things had to start off a bit weird because…well…that’s how things tend to roll when you’re traveling. We parked our scooter at the entrance and walked up to the nearest ticket booth – paid for 2 entrance tickets, a man took our tickets and tore off the bottom portion, walked to the next man who looked at our tickets and said “these tickets aren’t for here.” Umm….say what? So many questions. What exactly is that ticket booth that’s ten feet away for? Why did that other man just take our tickets and tear off the bottom portion? And where do you get tickets for this entrance? So confused. He informed us these tickets were for the actual “mountains” and the entrance we were attempting to walk through was for a cave.
Okay – so we walked over to the other entrance – and we tried to go but the man taking tickets looked at our already torn tickets and said “no – these tickets are for the cave, not the mountain.” Oh my God. Seriously? We explained to him how we literally just tried to enter the cave with these tickets but were refused entry and didn’t want to buy tickets again when we hadn’t actually gone anywhere yet. He spoke Vietnamese to some co-workers and they finally let us enter the main mountain area. Jesus.
Let the sightseeing begin!
ANYWAY – the trails up to the mountain start off super steep (mind you, it’s like 90 degrees out) but you’re immediately greeted by some crazy beautiful dragon carvings made out of marble. We knew we’d be in for a treat.
At this point – all we knew was that there were some caves and a really pretty pagoda at the top of these mountains but what we didn’t know was just how many caves, temples and pagodas there would be.
After being blown away by the dragon sculptures – we turned a corner and saw a massive white Buddha statue. I mean giant. The mountains are home to several Buddhist and Hindu sanctuaries and grottoes – this was our introduction to the many we were about to see. The giant Buddha in front of us and the ocean view to our right – it was just incredible.
There’s a path that leads you through the mountains – climbing stairs and walking through gorgeous greenery -with little one offs to see certain things before you return back to the main path.
The next stop was the “main” pagoda called the Xa Loi Tower. We could have taken an elevator to avoid the initial stairs but – 1.) we’re cheap and 2.) who knows how that ticketing experience could have gone.
The pagoda is beautiful – as is every other ancient structure we’ve seen in Vietnam – you can see it from the highway so we thought this was pretty much the main attraction and only thing to see here. It was beautiful, no doubt, but it certainly wasn’t the only thing to see.
Continuing on the path we just kept finding more pagodas after more pagodas – we had no idea there was so much going on up on these peaks. Even though it’s a big tourist destination for people in both Hoi An and Danang – it still felt very peaceful and very grounded to its religious purpose.
Behind some of these pagodas there was a cave – that I’m sure is easily missed because it’s not clearly marked. It’s called Tang Chon Cave and we were pretty much the only ones in there besides 2 other people with their tour guide. There’s a structure carved right into the middle of the cave – into the marble and limestone – that seemed like a prayer house. Then, as you walked around this structure, were other little pockets of statues. One of which was two men playing a game of chess. It was so quiet. You could hear the water dripping from the ceiling of the cave and it was so cool (literally in temperature this time) inside. It was incredible.
Also inside Tang Chon cave was another stupidly gorgeous statue carved straight into the marble of the mountain. It was huge! Just carved right into and from the mountain itself. It wasn’t brought there – it was made there. We couldn’t believe how incredible it was.
Next up was Van Thong cave. Again – couldn’t believe what we were seeing. More statues carved straight into the mountain and others that were brought inside. Either way – being inside a cave, high up on a mountain, with nothing but silence, the sounds of water droplets and the smell of the earth was something that’s straight out of make-believe.
What was cool about this cave was that the more you wandered the more you found little nooks to climb up and into – there were rings that were attached the walls of the mountain to help you climb the steep trails. Sometimes they’d led to nothing but an open area that let natural light shine in – but that was enough for us. Sometimes they led to scary tiny places that we decided to say “nope” at and turn around. By the way – I wish someone had told us that flip flops were not appropriate footwear for this adventure. We made do.
Going up and down more stairs – sweating more and more – but powering through because everything was so beautiful – we just kept being amazed at every cave or pagoda. There was a point where we climbed way too many stairs given the temperature outside but we reached the peak of one of the mountains for an amazing view of the ocean and the towns below. Drenched – my romper now one with my body – we were so happy to be there.
The surprises just continued – ancient structure after ancient structure. Archways and entryways that can only be described as incredible, amazing, beautiful – the words I use far too much. We couldn’t believe where we were.
But then came Huyen Khong Cave. Just when we thought things couldn’t be more visually and mentally overwhelming – we walked into Huyen Khong Cave. This. Thing. Was. MASSIVE! The entrance was beautiful and a bit quaint…but when you actually entered? Oh my god.
This cave was gigantic. It had statues, prayer houses, shrines – anything and everything that could possibly be peaceful and holy all at the same time. It felt belittling and empowering all at once. And again – so quiet. We actually left when a giant tour group came in and totally ruined the vibe. But for about 10-15 minutes – it was pure silence in here.
A couple more lookout points, a rub on a Big Buddha belly for family, and strolls along the paths – completely wiped out but thoroughly enriched – we left Marble Mountains with total awe. We were so glad we made the trek up on our scooter. Ended up having a beer in a marble shop with a German dude we met on the mountain – it was a good day.
Cooking for the household – Western cuisine meets Vietnamese taste buds
As our days were winding down at our stay in Hoi An – Kile offered to cook dinner for the house that we had been staying in. They had spoiled us so much – we wanted to do something for them. Well…actually…Kile is pretty much the only cook in this relationship so he offered the meal. I assisted. We (he) did pulled pork sandwiches with slaw and veggies. He ended up making a German style red cabbage on the side as well.
Of course, you’re dreaming if you think you can find all the Western ingredients you’d normally use but Kile still killed it. Not the pig – but the meal. The house – including our hosts, their family and other guests – seemed to enjoy it (for the most part…or being polite anyway.) It was a good send off for two of the other American guests staying with us since they were leaving the next day.
The Last Day – A Resort to Ourselves!
On our last full day in Hoi An – we were taken out to lunch at one of our fave local spots that we started at in the first place. Of course – delicious.
But afterwards – with fully bellies ready to relax – we went to a local resort near the neighborhood outside Hoi An we had been staying near. Apparently – it’s definitely not advertised – but if you slip the front desk about $5 USD – you can have access to their beautiful pool and beach. Yes please!
Since our host that was with us is Vietnamese, she gave us the hook up – Kile, Hanh, Mike (her husband) and myself were led to their pool that was completely empty. Seriously – not a soul to be seen. For $5/each we had this super posh poolside service. What a perfect way to end our trip!
Cảm Ơn and Goodbye Vietnam!
So that was it! Our month flew by – per usual – and we were outta there just as fast as we arrived. We loved our stay – loved our place – and loved spending time with our hosts who are now people we can easily call friends.
We felt completely spoiled the entire time – treated to delicious meals, fun karaoke outings and out of this world hospitality.
Can’t wait to come back to Vietnam to explore some more – hopefully sooner than later!