Finding Nirvana in the Marble Mountains

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.

Tony relaxing in the train

Scenery north of Le Son

Karst mountains north of Le Son

River north of Le Son

Old homes along the tracks north of Le Son

Alicia playing solitaire

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.

View of Da Nang from our hotel room

Blustery day at the beach

Red flag warning - no swimming today

White statue in the distance

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!

On the motorbike

Da Nang residential alley

Coast road

Boats being repaired

Bridge construction

View of Da Nang

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.

Linh Ung pagoda stairs

Linh Ung pagoda

Linh Ung pagoda grounds

Dog friend at Linh Ung pagoda

Marble statue

Marble statue - with deer

Statue carvers

Wood carving tools

Buddha and Bodhisattva Statue of Mercy

Dragon carving

Carvings at base of Bodhisattva Statue of Mercy

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.

Lion of concrete and glass bottles at Linh Ung Pagoda

Dinnerware lion

Tang Chon Cave

Tang Chon Cave

Pagoda tower

Van Thong Cave

Steep stairs up Thuy Son Mountain

View from the top of Thuy Son Mountain

Moc Son Mountain center, Kim Son Mountain right, as seen from Thuy Son Mountain

Us at the top

Entrance to Hoa Nghiem and Huyen Khong caves

Inscription in Hoa Nghiem Cave

Descending into Huyen Khong Cave

Descending into Huyen Khong Cave

Huge buddha statue in Huyen Khong Cave

Natural skylights in Huyen Khong Cave

Carved lotus

Mini pagoda

Tho Son Mountain

Kim Son Mountain

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.)

Guardian at entrance to Am Phu Cave

Creepy hands at entrance to Am Phu Cave

Carving at Am Phu Cave

Guardian of the

the Dharmacakra

Carving in front of the Dharmacakra

Judgement hall

Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way, shall we? First, to hell with us!

A demon on the way to hell

Hungry creature

More demons

A lost soul

Ksitigarbha ministers to lost souls

At the bottom of hell

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.


Stairway to heaven

Sculpture collection on the ascent to heaven

Marble relief carving

Carved dog

Sleeping elephant

Small seated Buddhas

Cat angel relief sculpture

Looking back down

Looking back down

Pagoda tower

Carvings at the top of

Nirvana, at last.