Hoping to escape the chill and drizzle of Ninh Binh, we took a slow 14 hour train ride south to Da Nang. The overnight sleeper was booked, but we could have a whole private compartment to ourselves on the 8 a.m. train. Since we had plenty of time, it was no problem to spend an entire day reading, playing solitaire and watching the world go by. That is one of the benefits of long-term travel. What would be totally unacceptable on a one or two week vacation is no problem when you have months and months to work with.
Da Nang was definitely warmer than Ninh Binh, but had even more clouds, wind and drizzle. Red flags were posted on China Beach, but we saw one lone surfer hanging out past the breaks.
Da Nang was really spread out and divided by a big river. Our hotel wasn’t particularly close to many food options, and we were curious about the big white statue across the bay. Time to rent another motorbike!
We drove the coast road towards the big white statue until we came to Linh Ung Pagoda and the 17 story Bodhisattva of Mercy Statue that overlooks the South China Sea. The pagoda and grounds looked recently restored and were full of and impressive bonsai trees and marble statuary.
The next day we drove south of town to the Marble Mountains. They are named well, because they are indeed full of marble and the base of the mountains are ringed by family businesses that create and sell huge marble sculptures. Each mountain is zig-zagged with footpaths that take you to pagodas, caves and shrines. The air is saturated with the smell of spicy, burning joss sticks.
One of the largest caves is Âm Phủ. Google Translate helpfully gives four different translations: Abaddon, infernal, hades and hell. Enter past the guardians and over a bridge with stone hands emerging from the stagnant water. Pass in front of the Dharmacakra, or Buddhist Wheel of Life, weigh your life on the scales and be judged in front of an all-seeing eye. Then descend to hell or take the stairway to heaven. (We’re sure there is much more to the symbolism and imagery than just that, so we apologize for the oversimplification.)
Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way, shall we? First, to hell with us!
Once you’ve reached the bottom, there’s no where to go but retrace your steps and go up. It’s steep and there are no handrails.
Nirvana, at last.