Danang, Hai Van Pass, and Marble Mountain, Vietnam

Danang, Hai Van Pass, Marble Mountain And China Beach

It is still drizzling so I opt for a private tour in a car rather than a motorcycle. The price is highway robbery at $40 for a half day, but it affords me the luxury of customizing the tour to my liking and being able to stop wherever I want for as long as I want, so I splurge. My driver speaks only a little English, so the hotel clerk tells him where I want to go; we’ll figure out the rest with sign language as we go.

View of the coastline from atop Hai Van Pass

View of the coastline from atop Hai Van Pass

We head for Danang, which is 30 kilometers north. I will be going this way again tomorrow but the bus takes the new tunnel through the mountain that separates Danang and Hue and I want to go to Hai Van Pass at the top of the mountain. Although patches of fog linger, as we ascend I am treated to glimpses of pristine beaches in hidden coves all along the rugged coast. In the sunshine these waters must sparkle like emeralds, but today they are hiding their jewels under their skirts. Even so it is beautiful – the swirling mists giving everything an ethereal feel. From the moment I step out of the car at the summit I am accosted by a shopkeeper who follows me around, determined to sell me one of her cheap bracelets or a set of postcards. I say no repeatedly and finally have to climb a mountain path to get away from her. At the top I find American gun battlements left over from the war; Danang and China Beach were major base for us during the war.

A temple atop Marble Mountain

A temple atop Marble Mountain

On the road again we head back south through the center of Danang to Marble Mountain. The site of a major quarry that produces some of the finest marble in the world, Marble Mountain is also the site of a major Buddhist monastery. The hotel clerk had encouraged me to “just look around for a few minutes at the bottom” rather than going up into the site. “It OK for men to go but maybe dangerous for woman; many steps, you slip, maybe fall.” The bottom is full of shops selling marble statuary and stonemasons chipping away at hunks of rock – really of no interest to me. However the steep marble steps leading up the mountain beckon, so I pay the 20,000 Dong entrance fee and start climbing. The steps are extremely steep and I groan as I heft my body, backpack and all, up and over each one. I worry that it will be even more difficult coming back down with my bad knee but I remember to stay in the moment and dismiss that thought.

Built over several levels around the mountain, this monastery is impressive in its beauty as well as its engineering. Pagodas, temples, burial tombs, and bridges over serene fish ponds alternate with caves holding altars and painted statuary. I spend two hours exploring every nook and cranny and descend via a different stairway that is much less steep than the one I ascended.

At the top of Marble Mountain, an ancient Buddhist temple is located inside a cave

At the top of Marble Mountain, an ancient Buddhist temple is located inside a cave

Another temple atop Marble Mountain near Danang

Another temple atop Marble Mountain near Danang

Giant Buddha perches on a hillside on top of Marble Mountain

Giant Buddha perches on a hillside on top of Marble Mountain

When I get back, my driver is obviously upset. At first he won’t tell me what is wrong but I persist and he eventually admits that the hotel clerk told him I would only stay 10 minutes at the bottom of Marble Mountain. Not my problem. I paid for a half-day tour and I’ll spend it any way I wish. I do feel sorry for the driver, however, since he had to leave a family celebration to work. I suspect he thought it would be a quick two-hour affair, after which he could return to the family.

Continuing south, we make a brief stop at China Beach, another famous site from the Vietnam War (although my driver refers to it as the American War). Then on to Cu Dai beach in Hoi An. The beaches here are nice but certainly not the most beautiful I have ever seen. They cannot compare with the Caribbean and I am sure the beaches of the South Pacific are stunning, but they are decent beaches with nice resorts and you certainly can’t beat the prices; my hotel here is $25 per night. Back at the hotel I give my driver a 50,000 Dong tip, which will double the amount of money he is paid by his company for the afternoon. I may be a sucker. The whole anger thing may have been an act to make me feel guilty, but it is, after all, only three dollars and change. And it was worth it; Marble Mountain, especially, is not to be missed.

12 Comments on “Danang, Hai Van Pass, Marble Mountain And China Beach

  1. I never visited to Danang. But from your post I know what I found when I will be there. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  2. hi. barbra i was in vietnam in 69-70 all over nom . Hue the emperors palace ,a tile is missing from the floor where he use to give his speeches.I have a picture of myself sitting by his gold and jeweled chair.I was also in marble mountain and i took home two marble statues. thanks for some memories gary.

    • Hi Gary: So glad my story brought back memories – hope they were all good ones, given the circumstances.

  3. the road through the pass was built in 1968 by the core of engineers, u.s. army combat engineers,18 brg. 45 div. i was in c company and we put te road in from the base of the pass ‘south side’ to the top to a place we called the [villa] the mid way point of the pass.found the web site and boy did the memories come bac. going down the south side of the mountain on the 2nd cure or as we called it [switch back] my company wasambushed by the n.v.a. and 7 of us substained wounds bad enough that we were given purple heart.

    • Hi Bob: Thank you so much for sharing your Vietnam experience and I’m glad my post and photos brought back memories. Vietnam was the first country I visited on my initial round-the-world trip. As a child of the Vietnam era, it was particularly cathartic for me; it was something I just had to do. I came away astonished that the Vietnamese could be so warm and welcoming to Americans.

    • hey bob sorrrry about your wounds thanks for your service. I used your hai van pass many times from danang to phu bai,and hue.Once i tossed a can of unwanted scrambled eggs to a vietnamese bunker guard ,he might be hungry, i guess he thought it was a hand gernade and he took a shot at me, bad shot…. I just got hit with in the back during a rocket attack. Hope all is well with you now.

  4. Barbara :
    Pictures and thoughts were beautiful ! The pics of Vietnam were most interesting . I traveled the Hai Van
    pass to Hue during the 68 Tet offensive and even in those days , you could still see the beauty . The country has recovered from the insults that were inflicted on her and the scenery is outstanding .
    Thanks
    Larry

    • Hi Larry: How right you are about the stunning scenery. I stood atop Marble
      Mountain in Da Nang and looked down on China Beach, a name most of us from
      that era are quite familiar with, and wondered at the tragedy of that war,
      which the Vietnamese call “The American War.” That made me stop and think
      for a moment!

  5. Your pictures are spectacular — I enjoy them along with your narrative.

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