On the outskirts of Đà Nẵng city just off the China Beach coastal road, the Marble Mountains (Ngũ Hành Sơn) consist of five craggy limestone and marble outcrops that are a popular attraction in the area. Literally the “Five Elements Mountains”, each peak is named after one of the five elements of Chinese philosophy – Metal, Wood, Fire, Water, and Earth. They also contain a large number of caves and tunnels, many with intricate Buddhist and Hindu relief carvings, and numerous pagodas and temples. The largest mountain, Thuy Son (Water), is accessible to the public.
The Marble Mountains were a base for Viet Cong fighters during the war, and one of the large caves even contained a VC hospital – all this in the presence of a nearby American airbase at Đà Nẵng. In some areas you can still see bullet holes from the fighting. Today, a village at the base of the mountains specializes in marble sculptures and stone-cutting crafts; for conservation reasons the stones used are no longer from the mountains, but sourced from elsewhere.
Thuy Son mountain’s largest cavern contains depictions of the underworld in the bowels of the earth, as well as literally a stairway to heaven and the open sky – both peppered with an eclectic mix of Hindu and Buddhist statues and carvings. The use of coloured special-effects lighting makes it a bit surreal (and a bit tacky, to be honest). Elsewhere on the mountain, a network of paths and steps connect to various other grottoes that contain more traditional sanctuaries and shrines. You can also follow a trail to the summit for a 360-degree view of the surrounding area.