According to ancient folklore, a dragon emerged from the water on Non Nuoc beach and laid an egg. A thousand days and a thousand nights followed before the egg hatched, and out stepped a beautiful girl. The fragments of the shell were left on the beach and eventually grew into the five mystical Marble Mountains which represent the elements.
Located about 9km of Da Nang are a cluster of five mountains made out of marble and limestone and they are known as the Marble Mountains. Famous for its stone carvings, Non Nuoc village lies at the base of the mountain and here you can visit the workshops and check out the finely crafted sculptures. These sculptures are for sale but they are huge in size and I can't even begin to imagine how much freight would cost to ship overseas! There are shops though that sell small sized marble souvenirs and are the perfect size to fit inside your backpack and they are super cute and beautiful too!
Out of the five Marble Mountains, Thuy Son (the water mountain) is the most commonly visited mountain and for very good reason too, not only is it the largest and most famous, here you can experience both worlds of heaven and hell. Thuy Son is home to the notorious Am Phu cave which is Vietnamese for the word hell. Before entering the cave you cross over a stone bridge which is built above a pond and in this pond you will find hand sculptures breaking through the surface of the water, almost as if they are begging for help and rescue from the demons lurking below.
Once inside the depths of Am Phu you will notice a strong scent of incense being burned from shrines scattered all throughout the cave. You will often find people praying and offering gifts to these shrines. Also inside this dark cave you will find sculptures inside the nook and crannies of the cave's walls of sheer terror, fear, torture and punishment.
As you wander further into the cave you will find a steep and narrow staircase ascending to a sunlit opening, this part of the cave symbolises the journey to heaven and enlightenment, but you must be warned, this is no easy climb! The stairs leading up to the top are very steep, uneven and only wide enough to barely fit two files. On the way up you will see more shrines, carvings and sculptures of a more pleasant kind.
Once we reached the top we were welcomed to a beautiful view of Da Nang, but the smiles were only short lived when we realised that there was no other way out but to make the journey back down the stairs! If you are afraid of heights and have an uneasy balance I don't recommend you attempting this climb but for those who are physically fit and willing, it is definitely an experience worth giving a shot!
After leaving Am Phu cave, it's time to explore the other part of the mountain which also symbolises heaven. There is a stone stairway that leads to the top of Thuy Son Mountain or if you don't feel like the extra walking you can also take a glass elevator. At the top you will see incredible marble sculptures, beautiful gardens, intricate pagodas and pathways leading to view points, it's easy to see why this is heaven! There's such a sense or calmness and tranquility in this area that you almost lose track of time, we easily spent a few hours walking around this place so it was a good thing we started the day off early.
With the amount of walking to be had it's advisable to wear suitable footwear however, I wear thongs everywhere so my feet are use to it and I found it comfortable enough. It's also ideal to take a couple of drink bottles to hydrate, especially if it's going to be a warm day although if you do forget there is the odd little shop selling water, small snacks and freshly prepared coconuts.
Location: Non Nuoc Village, south of Da Nang, Vietnam.
Opening hours: Daily from 7am to 5:30pm.
Price: Entry to Am Phu cave - 15,000 VND (roughly $1 Australian)
Entry to Thuy Son Mountain - 15,000 VND
Glass elevator - 15,000 VND one way
Map of the area - 20,000 VND