Exploring the Marble Mountains: A Fun Day Trip from Hoi An, Vietnam
When I hear the word “mountains” I instantly conjure images of hikers dressed in North Face Gear, lung shredding high altitude climbs and grand, panoramic views of soaring peaks. You won’t find any of that at the Marble Mountains, a small group of limestone hills located between Hoi An and Da Nang. There will be no awards won or respect gained from your mountaineering friends for scaling these peaks, but you will see some cool shrines, temples, pagodas and caves, as well as some beautiful views over beaches and countryside.
Thinking of tackling the short day trip from Hoi An to the Marble Mountains? Keep reading for all the information and inspiration you’ll need.
Starting the climb
“When you go to the mountains, you see them and you admire them. In a sense, they give you a challenge, and you try to express that challenge by climbing them” – Sir Edmund Hillary
Hmm, that quote isn’t all that relevant. I like it though, so it stays.
We hopped off the bus and were immediately confused about where we should head. We eventually found the path and began our hike below the Marble Mountains, passing a pagoda surrounded by a lush sea of trees. We arrived early (and at a different entry point to most people) so it was very quiet. The five Marble Mountains are named after natural elements (water, wood, fire, metal, earth). Our ascent of Thuy Son (water mountain), took us past shrines, statues and temples and through a couple of old looking gates. Once at the top, we were bombarded with signs for caves and viewpoints, so we spent the next hour or two exploring.
Caves and Shrines
Some of the most interesting things to see in the Marble Mountains are the caves. These caves are full of shrines and spiritual images. Most of them are Buddhist but apparently there are some Hindu remnants scattered around as well. We had finally run into the inevitable stampede of tour bus passengers by this point, but even they didn’t detract from the surreal nature of these caves. Most of the caves are easy to get in and out of but one of them does require a certain degree of climbing, which is tough in slippery conditions.
This is what we really came for. I had seen the Marble Mountains several times from the window of a bus and always thought the views from above would be cool. I wasn’t disappointed. There are several viewpoints overlooking the countryside and down the coast over China Beach and on towards the Hai Van Pass. It’s an easy enough walk and is well signed – the heat will be a challenge though!
More Caves, Shrines and Temples
After exploring the caves and viewpoints on Thuy Son, we headed down the hill towards the main entrance. We passed a lavish temple with pavilions and ponds as well as a couple of Buddha statues hiding in caves. By this point the path was packed full of tourists. I didn’t know this place would get so busy but it is one of the top attractions in the area and is included in most tours. Like most popular places, it’s better to get there early.
Upon reaching the bottom of Thuy Son we realised we hadn’t been asked to buy a ticket. We glanced at the ticket counter and the poor souls in the queue, smug in the knowledge that we’d beaten the system. But then, just as we were about to walk back towards the bus stop, we saw the entrance to another cave. We tried to walk straight in but were told to go and buy a ticket. It was worth it though (it only cost around a dollar) – the cave was massive and there was some cool (some may say kitschy) lighting effects. There are also some violent and disturbing Buddhist models on display, which reminded me a lot of the bizarre Haw Par Villa in Singapore.
FURTHER READING: Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Trying to climb the other mountains
I hadn’t seen anyone climbing the surrounding mountains, but that didn’t stop us from trying. We walked around a few streets and couldn’t find any other entrances. It turns out Thuy Son is the only one accessible to tourists — research has never been my strong point!
Getting to the Marble Mountains
It couldn’t be easier. Make your way to the bus station in Hoi An and hop on a bus headed to Da Nang. It takes around 20 minutes and you’ll see the mountains out the window. The entrance is a short distance from the road. You could do this day trip in a few hours if you were in a rush. We left at around 8 am and arrived back at about 1 pm, just in time for a delicious banh mi lunch. Also, don’t let the word “mountains” put you off from visiting if you’re not up for a walk — there’s actually a lift that you can take to the top.
FURTHER READING: 15 Must-try Foods in Hoi An: A DIY Food Tour
We really enjoyed our day trip (technically a half-day trip) to the Marble Mountains. The views alone were worth it, but the caves, shrines, pagodas and statues all combined to make this a unique place to visit. This is just one of many things to do in and around Hoi An and I recommend spending as much time as you can there. I rate it as the nicest town (or small city) in Southeast Asia – check out my post below for information.
Are you planning a trip to Hoi An? Have I convinced you to visit the Marble Mountains? Let me know in the comments below!