Chân Mây – Da Nang City, Marble Mountain & Hoi An

Since we were so happy with our experience yesterday, Fred arranged another tour with Zoom today.  We met Tâm, one of Zoom’s English speaking tour guides, at 8am right outside the ship next to all of the tour busses.  Tâm showed us into a very comfortable van and once the driver started down the roadway, he quickly started telling us about the places we’d be seeing during the day.

Fred and Kayla walk toward the tour busses on the way to meet our guide.
Tâm, our tour guide, was waiting for us near all of the tour busses next to the ship.

We started out by taking the longer, more scenic route though Hải Vân Pass .  This was so that we could stop at one of the old borders between the north and the south.  If you look closely, you can see bullet holes next to Freddy’s head in the first photograph.

Fred stands next to one of the destroyed buildings at the border.
This is our first view of the old fortifications that still exist from during the Vietnam War.
Tâm took a family shot of us standing at the border.
I was really amused by these penguin garbage cans in such a tropical location. In fact, we saw them in other places around the country, too.
This structure is part of the old French fortification at the border between north and south Vietnam during the war.  Now, it’s main attraction is the climb to the top.

Once we drove through the mountains, we took a drive through Da Nang City.  We didn’t stop, but we did drive over Dragon Bridge, which opened in 2013.  I couldn’t get great photos from the van, but you can get the idea.  It’s a really long, serpentine-style yellow dragon that seems to be swimming (or floating) just above the water on the Han River.  It’s really quite something.  I wish we had gotten to see it at night, since I’m sure it’s really lovely with the lights along its structure.

This is the best photo I could get of the Dragon Bridge.
heading into Da Nang City
I took this photo from the van as we stopped at a traffic light in Da Nang City.
We stopped to get some local currency at an ATM & Tâm joked with us that we were millionaires.  500,000 dong is actually only worth a little over $21.

After our quick tour of the city, we drove to Marble Mountain.  Tâm told us about the history of the area and how two kingdoms back in the tenth century fought for control.  The Vietnamese eventually conquered the Cham Kingdom, but the area is still influenced by their culture.  Today, the Cham people make up only 2-3% of the population in Vietnam and they are known for their talent as sculptors.  They take local marble and hammer, chisel, and chip away until they’ve created incredible statues, tables, tea sets, vases, etc.  We stopped at a shop and were delighted with the quality and ended up purchasing a few smaller pieces.  We could see sculptors working in one area of the shop while we were there.

A sculptor hammers away at a block of marble in a local shop on Marble Mountain.
Here are just a few of the many marble statues we saw at the shop.
We really liked this one.  I actually bought a really small version in jade to bring home with us, since I know it will remind me of Vietnam every time I look at it.
Tâm explains the significance of the large Laughing Buddha statue behind him.  In a nutshell, he likes to have his belly rubbed and many claim that he makes problems disappear.

Once we were happy with our purchase and back in the van, we began to climb higher up the road on Marble Mountain.  We knew we’d be hiking, but we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Since this was one of Fred’s ports to arrange, I hadn’t done any research at all and he’d just trusted in Zoom to plan something for us.  We literally didn’t know what we were doing until we climbed into the van that morning!  In any case, it was a hot & humid day, but we weren’t afraid of the few hundred steps that Tâm told us we’d be climbing, so we grabbed our water bottles and headed into the unknown.

At the beginning, we saw the typical tourist vendors and stalls selling the usual merchandise, including some really small marble trinkets of lesser quality than those we viewed earlier.

The first thing we saw when we reached the hiking area was more souvenirs.
We stopped to take a quick photo before we started the ascent.

We started up the stairs …. it was a hot day and I kept feeling lightheaded due to the heat and not eating much for breakfast.  I powered through it though, enjoying each and every one of the sights along the way, including a Buddhist sanctuary. 

Everyone is waiting for me. Of course, I can always claim that I’m stopping to take pictures 😉
Another family photo, thanks to Tâm – this one in front of a marble statue of dragons!
a small sanctuary dedicated to the Buddha

At the sanctuary, we stopped, took off our hats, and asked if it was ok to take photos.  Here Tâm told us about the type of Buddhism evident in the mountain sanctuaries that we were seeing, a type of Mahayana Buddhism.  He told us about the Buddha, the significance of the number seven in Buddhism, as well as the lotus flower and its symbolism.  I’m not going to cover all of that here, but I do recommend looking it up.  It wasn’t until I got back to the ship later that I learned how the Marble Mountains were historically a place for the anchorites of Mahayana Buddhism to set up sanctuaries.  They definitely have left their mark on the area.  It’s truly incredible to see.

Another beautiful sculpture outside of the sanctuary – these were to either side of the entrance

This little pagoda was adjacent to the Buddhist sanctuary.

a closeup of the detail on top of the pagoda
another thoughtful detail near the pagoda
We also climbed into this small cave sanctuary that held a buddhist statue.
…and we went through this cool gate that looked like it was straight out of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones.

As we got closer to the top of the mountain, there were a few places that required some scrambling.  Even though there was no rain and the rocks were completely dry, there were lots of slippery spots in the marble from people using the same footholds over time.  It wasn’t really a difficult climb; it just required concentration – and the views at the top were well worth the trouble.

This was the area where going became a little bit precarious. We had to climb carefully. You can’t tell from the photo, but it was really slippery!
The views from the top of Marble Mountain were spectacular!
The crew takes a much deserved break at the top.
another view from the top

On our way down, we also passed through another sanctuary in Huyen Khong Cave.  We all thought this was the most impressive – especially Kyle, who made mental notes on a lot of the fixtures and statues for use later in his creative projects.

Of all the sanctuaries, this was the most impressive one.
the main statue of the Buddha in the sanctuary
one of the statues on either side of the entrance to the sanctuary – this one on the left as you enter from the stairs
This is the statue on the right as you enter
The lighting inside the cave was really gorgeous at the time of day that we were there.

We were tired and had worked up an appetite after our hike, so we asked Tâm to take us to get some local food.  The kids and I wanted to get Phở, so Tâm took us to a restaurant in Hoi An.  When we walked in, they were making spring rolls, so we had to get some of those, too.  It was the best Phở I’ve ever eaten.  The kids and I all agreed on the spot that Phở is now one of our favorite foods and we have promised to make it at least once a week when we get back to CA.

heading to the restaurant in Hoi An
This is the name of the place that we had the local Vietnamese food.
These local women are making delicious spring rolls.
Fred guards his mangoes…seriously, don’t touch his mangos.
The hungry wait patiently for pho and spring rolls, which subsequently did not disappoint.
While waiting, we tried a lychee that we had bought on the street. It was really tasty, but not as sweet as I thought it would be.
We finally got Fred to share his mangos.  It took a lot of doing, but we prevailed…mainly because it was three against one 😉
I got a chance to peek inside the kitchen to see the magic in progress.
The pho was the best I’ve ever had – absolutely delicious!

Hoi An, while a bit touristy, turned out to be a really great area for strolling and people watching.  It reminded me of an upscale area like downtown Pasadena where you’d find boutiques, coffee houses, etc, but with a Vietnamese flair.  It’s a great place if you’re looking for silk dresses & scarves or tailored suits and leather goods.

Blue Eye, a tailor in Hoi An
made to order shoes and leather bags in Hoi An

We saw juice shops and places with vegan food.  Needless to say, we all felt quite at home.  The only annoyance was constantly having to pay attention to all of the bicycles.  Tâm, while just walking down the street, actually got hit by one bicyclist from behind!  It was another tourist, who promptly apologized several times in English – all the while turning beet red.  Tâm seemed to take it in stride.

a spa in Hoi An

After we walked around a bit, Tâm brought us to Central Market in Hoi An.  It was full of fruits, vegetables, spices, local crafts and other great finds.  I was already searching for pho ingredients 🙂

The only things I was certain I recognized in this display case are the dates and the strawberries.  I think it’s dragonfruit in the back row, but I’m not quite sure.
more unrecognizable food items for sale in the market
a vegetable and legume merchant at the market

We also walked through the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, a small museum with Cham artifacts and tidbits about the trading history that thrived here between the 16th and 18th centuries.

At the museum, we learned about the process of creating silk fabrics. This machine is used to extract the silk from silkworms, which are in the large container near the bottom of the photo.
Fred poses with one of the figures in the museum.

We also had the opportunity to see a very old bridge in Hoi An known as the Japanese Covered Bridge, which was originally constructed in 1590 (although the one now is not the original).  It was really packed with people, so we didn’t walk across it.  I did, however, get a couple of photos in the area.

Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An
Bicyclists were hard to avoid on the streets in Hoi An.
a view of the Thu Bon River, which can be seen from the Japanese Covered Bridge

After our walk around Hoi An, it was getting close to the time we needed to head back to the ship.  Fred, however, wanted to make a quick stop at one of the local beaches to get an idea of what they’re like, so we made a brief detour to My Khe Beach.  With the white sand, warm water (I stuck my foot in), and the buildings along the street opposite, it reminded me of Cocoa Beach in Florida.

We took a very brief walk along My Khe Beach on our way back to the ship.
Me and the kids standing on My Khe Beach, all very tired from the long day
If you look very closely, you can see the large white statue from the Buddhist Temple, Chua Linh Ung, in the hills in the distance (just a little right of center).

We got another look at the Dragon Bridge on our way back through Da Nang, but my phone was put away & it was getting dark, so I didn’t even attempt to get it out. Instead, I watched the insanity going on around us as we drove through the city.  It seems that there are at least ten scooters and motorcycles for every car on the road (Tâm, in fact, said I was correct in this observation).  It is really difficult to keep track of all of them!  I took these shots earlier in the day on our first trip through the city.

This is only a few of the scooters that were on *one* side of the van – just imagine this situation on all four sides.This gives a little better indication…it’s seriously crazy here!  There are actually streets that are designated for scooters only.

I can’t imagine driving in traffic with so many scooters around!  Some of them even had large packages, baskets, or trailers attached to their sides & backs – items that stuck out several feet.  I saw one guy with more than five extra-large garbage bags that had been carefully balanced on a single scooter!  Many of them had more than one person.  It was loosely-ordered chaos, but it seems to work for the people there.  Tâm explained that it’s much less expensive to drive a motorcycle or scooter than a car, since cars are taxed heavily here.  Imported autos can be taxed as much as 300%, so it’s no wonder there are so many scooters and motorcycles.

Lanterns at the Hoi An Central Market

We really packed a lot in today and everyone was really tired.  The kids both slept the entire way back (I took pics, but they would likely kill me if I shared them).  We took the tunnel back through the mountains, rather than taking the mountain pass again.  The tunnel is about 6km long and traffic was very slow due to it being rush hour in the city, but we still got back with plenty of time to spare.  It was a truly wonderful day and I highly recommend the tour that we did.  This is one place I’d really love to return one day and spend more time.  I hope that I’m fortunate enough that my path leads me back here in the future.

2 Replies to “Chân Mây – Da Nang City, Marble Mountain & Hoi An”

  1. Thank much for sharing this comprehensive cultural experience of a lifetime for your family and to your friends. A great worldwide documentary, well done, and thanks again, very enjoyable.

    1. Thanks, Mr. Don! I’m really glad you’re enjoying it. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to travel to so many incredible places with the three people I love most in the world. It’s truly an amazing experience for all of us and I just hope that I can capture the spirit of it here 🙂 I hope you and Mary are doing well.

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