Today we visited the Marble Mountains, a cluster of five marble mountains south of Da Nang famous for their caves and views over the valley. Then we embarked on our first local train journey going to Hue, Vietnam’s last imperial capital which we started visiting in the evening.
We started the day at 7:45 AM, not too early by Yolomimo Standard Time. We quickly packed and checked out. We had another delicious breakfast at Hoi An Ngo Homestay with vegetarian Cao Lau – the very local specialty dish – as well as fresh fruits and passion fruit juices just like yesterday. We left the hotel around 9:30 AM, in a cab that drove us to the Da Nang railway station with a stop to visit the Marble Mountains.
We took the same country road we biked on yesterday and saw the same guy on his water buffalo luring tourists to come take pictures for tips. This made us wonder: when does this guy ever harvest rice from his field… Or is that even his field!?
After a short ride we arrived at the bottom of the Marble Mountains with two options to go up: stairs for 15,000 VND per person or elevator for double the price. Heck we are still young and fit so we went with the stairs. It wasn’t as bad as it may look at first.
We climbed up and saw the first marble statues including a large Buddha carved in a single marble stone. Good level of details, it must have taken a long time to get to this result!
We passed by a first temple, and a cute bridge in front of a smaller pagoda that looked very nice.
We kept walking up some more stairs. There were many statues on our left and right, all made of marble. And no, the Swastikas found attached to some of these statues are not the Nazi Germany’s ones.
We eventually arrived at the first cave that we could enter, named Van Thong Cave, and took a picture before entering it.
Inside the cave we had to climb up on marble stones directly. A little slippery and dark so it was not as easy as we anticipated. Definitely wear a good pair of sneakers with grip if you visit the Marble Mountains.
After climbing for a bit we arrived at an open area sunlit, but this was not the end of the cave, we had to keep going up through a narrow path to reach the top and were rewarded with a superb view over the valley and ocean.
We stayed for a bit up there, enjoying the view and the windy breeze. Then we came back down via an easier path and found another small cave with Buddhist statues. We kept walking and eventually arrived at the largest cave on the mountain. That one was very impressive, with light beams coming in from a handful of holes in the ceiling of the cave. The perfect spot for pictures and videos. There were a few small Buddhist temples inside that cave as well, though we were not sure if these are only set up for tourists or actually used by local worshippers.
It took us some time but we eventually managed to get a nice shot of both of us sitting in the stairs leading to the bottom of the cave without anyone else in the frame.
On the way back, we stopped by another view point to take more pictures of the surrounding landscape. We came back down using stairs as well and walked by many shops selling marble statues of all kinds and sizes. The sellers there were not too persistent except for one lady that followed us almost to our taxi before giving up. We finished the visit at 11:15 AM and our driver was waiting to get us to the Da Nang railway station.
After a short ride into Da Nang that made us cross the Han River, we got to the railway station around 11:30 AM, with a little over an hour to kill before our train. We were excited to finally experience traveling by train in Vietnam.
The station was very small with only a couple of tracks. Inside there were a few foreigners but mostly Vietnamese people traveling for business or leisure. Mimi used the extra time we had to make progress on our next Yolomimo post (and here I am, telling this story 30 days after it happened). The train arrived on time and we just had to cross over another track before boarding it.
As we boarded the train, our first reaction was that of spoiled and entitled Westerners: what, no air conditioning?! The train was full of passengers and we were concerned that the air conditioning was just not functioning in our car. But as soon as the train departed, it started blasting cool air. Phew. A train ride in the full heat of the day would have been miserable! We alternated napping and working on the blog for the first hour until we remembered to look out of the window to enjoy the beautiful coastline of Central Vietnam. We knew in advance that this would be a scenic train ride having researched it while in New York, and were not at all disappointed. The train tracks are overlooking the South China Sea for most of the way between Da Nang and Hue. We took countless photos and videos, very happy with our first experience with travel by train in Vietnam.
Inside our car, a little Vietnamese American boy was telling the cutest stories to an American lady seating in front of him. He was speaking very loud and without realizing he was entertaining half of the car (the other half being asleep) simply by telling her about his favorite beaches in the area and how he got new snorkeling gear that his dad managed to lose in the water on the first day. Every awake person was smiling and laughing listening to his stories which did not perturb him at all, he just kept going. Everyone but Mimi. She was too busy writing more Yolomimo to pay any attention to her surroundings. For today only, here’s a sneak peek into how the magic is done.
We enjoyed the ocean views for a little longer, including passing over some impressive cliffs.
Eventually, the train left the coast and went more inland where sand beaches were replaced by green rice paddies.
Later on, the train went through small towns for a while before arriving in Hue around 4 PM. We took a cab directly to the hotel. Gathered first impressions of the town while on the cab: it seemed very pretty and quite rich. We were dropped at our hotel, the Hue Serene Palace Hotel.
We were very pleased with the quality of the greetings we got there and felt at home right away. The staff there welcomed us with fruit juices and fresh fruits, a real palace!
We checked into room 703, our first hotel room with a (working) desktop computer. Certainly will be handy for making progress on the blog!
Of course we did not forget to take our signature hotel room discovery video.
After unpacking, we went right back out, got a city map from the front desk and asked some information regarding tours and prices. The staff members there were super helpful and very honest. They even told us it would be better for us to book our train tickets for our next leg of the trip directly at the railway station rather than go through them since they would take a fee.
We left the hotel and walked to the Pefume River which roughly separates the old part of town from the new one. We passed by the night market where a persistent boat driver tried to scam us in multiple ways – we managed to escape. The dragon boats were very colorful and almost looked too cheesy for us though I am sure the views of the city illuminated at night must be nice.
We walked past the two main bridges that link the old and new parts of town: Truong Tien Bridge first and then the Phu Xuan Bridge a bit more South. We decided not to cross either of them as it was getting dark already. We walked back on the main road alongside the river and saw many super bright neon lights advertising for the upcoming annual festival in Hue which we unfortunately missed by a few weeks.
On the way back to our hotel, we looked for the Google Hotel. Yes, that’s right, someone had the worst business idea ever to name their establishment after the most popular search engine in the world. Good luck finding it on Google web search, however you can manage to locate it thanks to Google Maps! So of course I had to have my picture taken in front of it. Note that the front entrance logo has an additional G for some reason (the other signs don’t).
We also passed by an old man that was shaving a Vietnamese guy in a barber shop and tried very hard to get my business. When we told him we were from America he said he was fighting with the US troops during the Vietnam war! We took a picture of his front sign as I wasn’t sure I wanted to get my haircut here without reading reviews online first, but after looking it up there was no mention of this place anywhere.
We arrived at the hotel and ordered dinner at their restaurant, the top restaurant in town on TripAdvisor. Service there was amazing, the waitresses (who all were very petite Asian girls even by Asia standards) were very nice and attentive. They constantly came to ask if we needed anything else. We ate quite a lot that night since we had skipped lunch once again. We finished dinner with crepes garnished with exotic fruits and the classic chocolate ice cream.
We went back to our room and spent a lot of time doing administrative stuff to prepare for the next few days: booked hotels, flights, researched into tour companies for Ha Long Bay, and other chores. We were very excited to soon meet up with our friends from Yoloamlo (aka AmandeLolo) again after our fun two days exploring Bangkok together!
Mimi finished the blog post she had started on the train and published it. It was great to have an extra computer provided by the hotel in the room on days like this when we have a lot of stuff to do online. We took turns taking a relaxing bath with bath salt (not provided here but we had taken some during our stay at the Park Hyatt in Saigon) before going to bed.