The rain streamed down as we got of the taxi. It wasn’t the small misty type of drop either but the large, full of water, tropical rain drop. We ran to get into the cave and watched as large puddles became swollen and streams of water ran down the rocks.
“Get tickets!” Following instructions, I left the cave and tiptoed through the shallow parts of puddles to get the tickets. I went back and collected the team for the ascent up the stairs, which resembled more a creek than a stairwell.
The Marble Mountains got their name from being mostly marble. The wet marble was slippery and we cautiously climbed up, while getting drenched. The monastery on top has been active for centuries by practicing Mahayana Buddhists. In all there are a cluster of five mountains that represent the five elements (metal, water, wood, fire, earth). It was only appropriate that on this day we were visiting Water Mountain (Mt Thuy). We caught a few dry moments as a monk prayed, then we forged onward through the downpour.
We came across Van Thong cave. We climbed up and explored the inner sanctum. Rain dropped in from an opening in the high ceiling. I read that the National Liberation Front (or as referred to by the West and South Vietnam as the Vietcong), setup hospitals in these caves unbeknownst to the US Army, who had military bases all over Da Nang and the mountains.
We climbed to Heaven’s Gate and viewed all of Da Nang as rain fell on our heads. The stairs ended and we had to use both hands to navigate boulders and slippery stones.
Before finishing we entered a small grove full of quotes from Buddha. Small lessons to contemplate while on a pilgrimage to the temple or around the world.
“Though he should conquer a thousand, thousand men in the battlefield, yet he in deed, is the noblest victor who would conquer himself.”
“He whose mind is not steadfast he who knows not the noble doctrine. He whose faith waivers, the wisdom of such a one will never be perfect.”
(Perhaps women are already noble and have perfect wisdom, which is why men need to think about it more).
Ba Na Hills
It was time for the kids to have fun. We splurged and took them to Sun World’s Ba Na Hills. Ba Na Hills is Vietnam’s answer for Disneyland. Rides, games, shows, eating, and experiences, all put together in fabricated lands atop the mountains overlooking Da Nang. Located 1,485 meters up (5,872 feet), the hills used to be a French resort during colonial times. Now it resembles French architecture with hotels, medieval castles, multi-national cuisine, alpine-luge-style roller coasters, all on a narrow strip of land on the tiptop of a mountain range.
After an hour drive from the city center, we rode 20 minutes in a cable car to reach the top. The cable car breaks three Guinness Book of World Records. The cable car moved quickly over a dense mountain rainforest. The trees were tall and plentiful. From above it certainly looked healthy.
One of the scenic highlights was the hands of God supporting the Golden Bridge. A short 150 meter bridge supported by giant hands provided some amazing vistas of the landscape all the way to the ocean. This area of Vietnam has many micro climates. Fog and clouds would form within hours. This also made for a mystical walk along the bridge. It wasn’t quite the Golden Gate bridge, but it was still spectacular.
A highlight for the kids was Fantasy Park. Here they rode on rides, bumper cars, 4D, 5D, and 360 degree theaters, rock climbing, and free arcade games. Surprisingly both Alyssa and Kylie showed a strong aptitude for the shoot-em-up games. (We are certainly glad they are on our side). Kylie loved the driving games.
Even though the theme of the park was all things Europe, they did create monastery overlooking the park. There were beautiful pagodas, pavilions, and temples. There was even a large bonsho bell that was gonged regularly by a robot. This seemed a bit oxymoronic, but after seeing European castles atop a rainforests in the tropics, perhaps it was par for course.
Prices were high in the theme park. A hot dog cost 95,000 VMD, whereas on the street in Da Nang it cost 5000 VMD, a 1800% mark up! After 9 hours, we were done and rode down the mountain in the dark.
A bridge looking like a dragon linked Da Nang city with the tourist “golden zone” of Da Nang. At night the Dragon changes color every few minutes. At 9PM on the weekends, it shoots fire out its mouth and then water. We took a Grab to the “quan” area near the Tran Thi Ly bridge to watch the spectacle from a distance. (Not wanting to get sprayed with water, we opted not to see this spectacle from the Riverside Hotel). This turned out to be a great treat for us. The first treat was the food. A row of 10-15 local roadside eateries welcomed us before the bridge. They all had the same menu and the same prices. All of the prices were half the price of “local” restaurants in the golden zone. The food was so great, we ate there before the show and after!
A second treat was the pedestrian bridge. It was wide enough for two cars, but not a single bicycle or scooter crossed it while were there. All along the path were group after group of friends and families picnicking on the bridge. Couples walked together holding hands. Little children played with their parents. I even saw one riding a hover board. Some played guitar, sat in circles and sang, other joked and played. What a great way to spend time, together with friends outside on a nice evening instead of on the couch watching TV and playing video games. This pedestrian walkway was a hidden gem. I felt honored to be spending time with my family on this night, in this manner.
The dragon shooting fire and water was what I thought it would be. It wasn’t as spectacular as dining and walking together with my family.