The five limestone hills that make up Vietnam’s famed Marble Mountains are each named after one of the five elements: fire (Hoa), wood (Moc), metal (Kim), water (Thuy) and earth (Tho). And while their shadowy caves and hidden tunnels draw thousands of travelers to wander this destination each year, its proximity to beautiful and ancient Buddhist and Hindu grottoes and access to a stunning summit are other reasons to make the voyage.
Travelers can climb the more than 150 steps that lead to the summit of Thuy Son, where incredible views of natural landscapes as well as access to these grottoes. Visitors can explore Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, as well as the Tam Thai pagoda, which was built in 1825. These ancient religious monuments showcase the region’s age-old tradition of stone carving, thanks to relief work chipped away from the mountain’s marble façade.
Impossible to miss, Lady Buddha dominates the landscape of Da Nang. The marble statue, perched on the side of Monkey Mountain and visible from nearly anywhere in the city, stands 220 feet (67 meters) tall and measures 56 feet (17 meters) in diameter. Inside the statue, a flight of stairs leads up to 17 floors, each representing a different aspect of the Buddha.
The name Lady Buddha is a bit deceiving. The statue in fact depicts Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy can be found in coastal areas throughout Asia, as she is believed to bring calm to the sea. The giant statue stands in front of the beautiful Linh Ung Pagoda, with its gardens and small souvenir shop operated by monks.
One of Da Nang’s more unusual and unexpected attractions is a bridge in the likeness of a dragon spanning the River Han. If the golden dragon slithering across the water isn’t impressive enough, on weekend evenings its body is illuminated by 2,500 LED lights and its head spouts fire and water over the river’s eastern bank.
Opened in 2013, the Dragon Bridge carries a six-lane roadway and two sidewalks over the river. The bridge measures 2,000 feet (610 meters) long and 123 feet (37.5 meters) wide. As the shortest road link between the Da Nang International Airport and the bulk of Da Nang city, visitors arriving or departing by air often pass over this bridge.
My Khe Beach is situated in the northernmost part of the stunning 30-kilometer stretch of coast known as China Beach near Da Nang in Central Vietnam. Widely considered to be Vietnam's most picturesque beach, this lengthy stretch of spectacular coastline is famous for being visited by American troops during the Vietnam War.
My Khe is the ideal beach for holidaymakers visiting Central Vietnam, particularly between May and October, with its smooth white sand, gentle gradient, and abundance of coral and marine life. The beach’s low pollution, pleasant temperatures, and calm waters also add to the appeal here (although the waves become much more dramatic come September-time, making for some ideal surfing conditions).
There are an abundance of accommodation, food, and retail outlets in the area, as well as places to hire surf and snorkel equipment.
An open-air colonial building in Da Nang is home to the largest collection of Cham carvings in the world. The Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture opened its first gallery in 1919, and in the decades since, the collection has grown to include more than 300 pieces. Many of these terra cotta, sandstone and bronze sculptures and artifacts depict Hindu deities, as well as linga and yoni. Among the museum’s most important items are the sandstone pieces — statues of gods and animals, pedestals and other decorative items taken from Cham temples. The museum also has an exhibit on modern Cham culture, which includes photographs, clothing and film clips.
Located on the coast about halfway between Danang and Hoi An sits Non Nuoc Beach, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam if not the world. With the Son Tra Peninsula to the north and the Marble Mountains to the west, this white sand expanse has transformed from a former fishing beach to a resort area lined by five star hotels and resorts.
While Non Nuoc Beach itself measures about 3 miles (5 kilometers) in length, the sand stretches for miles in either direction. That means the beach is rarely crowded, and with a short walk, it’s possible to have a stretch of sand all to yourself.
Winding high through the Annamite Range above the South China Sea, the drive along Hai Van Pass between Danang and Hue is all jungle-clad mountains and glittering views out to sea. Known as one of the best coastal roads in the world for driving, thanks to a stint on BBC’s Top Gear, the 21-km-long Hai Van Pass rises up to 1,600 feet high in places. But what’s in the name? Hai Van is Vietnamese for Ocean Cloud, referring to the great mists which often rise from the sea below.
Once a natural boundary between Vietnam and the kingdom of Champa, the top of the pass has a number of lookout points with panoramic views looking out to the mountains and sea beyond. Look out for cyclists celebrating their hard-won arrival at the summit while you’re here.
Famous for its giant statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Linh Ung Pagoda occupies 30 acres (12 hectares) on a hill on the Son Tra Peninsula. Opened in 2010, the relatively new pagoda complex features a mix of modern and traditional Vietnamese temple architecture, including a typical three-entrance gate.
According to local legend, a smaller pagoda was built on the same site during the nineteenth century, when a local villager living on the peninsula found a statue of the Buddha drifting near the beach.
As visitors pass through the main gate of the pagoda, they are met by 18 stone statues of the 18 Arhats, believed to be the original followers of the Buddha, whose expressions run the gamut from joy and love to anger and sadness. Towering above the grounds is the 220-foot (67-meter) Guanyin statue. Within the giant monument, visitors can ascend 17 floors, each displaying Buddha statues depicting his various aspects.