On Thursday the 13th August we took a Looking Glass Jeep Tour into the Hills of Đà Nẵng. Jeremy picked us up in his 1980’s restored US Army Jeep, set the iPod to play Good Morning Vietnam and we were off. It was very cool whipping along the highway with the wind blowing in our hair.
First stop was Marble Mountain. Marble Mountains (Vietnamese: Ngũ Hành Sơn; “Five elements mountains”) is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills located in Ngu Hanh Son ward, south of Đà Nẵng city in Vietnam. The five ‘mountains’ are named after the five elements; Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). Thuy Son (Mountain of Water) is the largest and most famous of the five marble mountains and contains a number of caves in which Hindu, Buddhist and Cham deities are worshipped. A stairway of 156 steps leads to the summit of Thuy Son, the only marble mountain accessible to visitors. It was only 8.45am but it was already about 30 degrees as we climbed these stairs. There is a lot to see once you get up the stairs – temples, shrines, caves and a great view over China Beach and Đà Nẵng. You also get a good view of the other Marble Mountains.
Despite sharing our experience with other tourists it is a very peaceful and serene place. I can see why people would come up here to worship and meditate. There are some monks that live on Marble Mountain as caretakers of the shrines and the faith. There are a number of grottoes, including Huyen Khong and Tang Chon (caves), and many Hindu and Buddhist sanctuaries, the pagoda Tam Thai, built in 1825, Tu Tam (place of worship for people buried at the Pho Dong tower) and Linh Ung, and the tower of Pho Dong (the place where homeless people were buried). The sanctuaries feature statuary and relief depictions of religious scenes carved out of the marble.
We then climbed up to one of the summits – not the highest one but it still had panaromic views of the area. Jeremy had given us the option of doing either summits, both or none. I choose to go up one of the summits and the others agreed although after the climb Steve was wishing he had chosen the ‘none’ option! We had to climb up through a cave and then through an opening near the top. The views were certainly worth it though.
After descending part way down we went into the Huyen Khong Cave. It is a very impressive Cathedral-like cave with natural light entering through a small skyward opening. This large cave houses a large Cham Buddha, Buddhist and Confucian shrines along with various inscriptions carved into the walls.
The mountains were very near the American Marble Mountain Air Facility during the Vietnam War. According to William Broyles, Jr.’s “Brothers in Arms”, the Marble Mountains contained a hospital for the Vietcong, probably within earshot of the American air field and China Beach (which bordered the air field on the side opposite the mountains). He describes the enemy as having been so “certain of our ignorance. . . . that he had hidden his hospital in plain sight”.
On the way out of the gates we passed a statue of a happy Buddha and Jeremy explained the basic prrinciples of Buddhism – ssee below for a more in depth explanation. There was also a flag flyng above the entrance gate which is the flag of Buddha. The six vertical bands of the flag represent the six colors of the aura which Buddhists believe emanated from the body of the Buddha when he attained Enlightenment:
Blue (Nīla): Loving kindness, peace and universal compassion
Yellow (Pīta): The Middle Path – avoiding extremes, emptiness
Red (Lohita): The blessings of practice – achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
White (Odāta): The purity of Dharma – leading to liberation, outside of time or space
Orange (Manjesta): The Buddha’s teachings – wisdom
The sixth vertical band, on the fly, is made up of a combination of rectangular bands of the five other colours, and represents a compound of the other five colours in the aura’s spectrum. This compound colour is referred to as Pabbhassara (‘essence of light’).
We then walked back through Non Nuoc Village at the foot of the Mountain where the locals are famous for stone sculptures and handicrafts. Here you can buy many things made of marble stone, from earrings, necklaces, vases to the huge sculptures of Buddha. In the past, rock was extracted directly from the Marble Mountains to make sculptures but now the direct extraction is illegal. Materials for sculpturing work are now transported from nearby provinces like Quang Nam and Thanh Hoa. Jeremy told us it also comes in from China.
It was back into the jeep and the natural air conditioining which was desperately needed – we were all melting in the heat. Next stop was to see a local boat builder who uses bamboo and cow manure to make fishing baskets. The bamboo is split and stripped down into a flax like form and then woven together into a square. The square is then shaped into a circle and a more solid form of bamboo is used to form the rim. The holes in the weaving are then plugged up with cow manure and left to dry. A cow manure slush is then used to effectively lacquer the boat before more drying and setting in the sun. The Vietnamese are very good at using everything for something.
We then headed for the next hill on our agenda – Sơn Trà Mountain (Vietnamese: Núi Sơn Trà), known to American soldiers during the Vietnam War as Monkey Mountain. The mountain is located on Sơn Trà Peninsula, in Sơn Trà district, Đà Nẵng, overlooking the Bay of Đà Nẵng and the East Sea. Đà Nẵng Port’s Tiên Sa Terminal is located at the base of the mountain’s western face, as is nearby Tiên Sa Beach. A military base (now little used) is also located on the mountain.
We went up one side of the mountain to a look out – the views were great. We then descended down the other side on a fairly narrow, windy, steep road which is not used as much as the road coming up. It was lots of fun but would have been interesting if we had met any vehicles of substance coming the other way. Unfortunately we didn’t get to any monkeys either.
By now it was lunchtime so we headed back down to Đà Nẵng for lunch. We went down an alley to a local restaurant that specialises in Banh Xeo or crispy pancakes which is a specialty of central Vietnam. The restaurant is located at the owner’s house and is very popular with the locals. Apparently at night the queues stretch down the alley and as a consequence a couple of the neighbours have created replica restaurants in their homes to cater for the overflow. As I said the Vietnamese are very enterprising. Banh Xeo have bcome a favorite of mine since I have been here so I indulged myself quite happily – they were good. They are one of those foods though that you coulld just keep eating as they are very moorish.
Đà Nẵng is one of the major port cities in Vietnam (in addition to Ho Chi Minh City and Haiphong) and the biggest city on the South Central Coast of Vietnam; the city is situated on the coast of the Eastern Sea, at the opening end of the Hàn River. Đà Nẵng is the commercial and educational center of Central Vietnam, with a well-sheltered, easily accessible port; its location on the path of National Route 1A and the North–South Railway makes it a hub for transportation. It is the third biggest economic center in Vietnam (after Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi). Đà Nẵng is the fifth most populated city in Vietnam, with a population of approximately one million people.
During the Vietnam War, the city was home to a major air base that was used by both the South Vietnamese and United States air forces. The base was considered one of the world’s busiest airports during the war, reaching an average of 2,595 air traffic operations daily, more than any airport in the world at that time. The final U.S. ground combat operations in Vietnam ceased on 13 August 1972, when a residual force of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade stood down in Đà Nẵng
With our tummies fill it was back into the jeep to conquer the Hai Van Pass. The Hải Vân Pass (Vietnamese: Đèo Hải Vân, “ocean cloud pass”), is an approximately 21 km long mountain pass on National Route 1A in Vietnam. It traverses a spur of the larger Annamite Range that juts into the South China Sea, on the border of Đà Nẵng and Thừa Thiên–Huế Province, near Bạch Mã National Park. Its name refers to the mists that rise from the sea, reducing visibility. Historically, the pass was a physical division between the kingdoms of Champa and Đại Việt. It also forms a boundary between the climates of northern and southern Vietnam, sheltering the city of Da Nang from the “Chinese winds” that blow in from the northwest. During the winter months (November–March), for instance, weather on the north side of the pass might be wet and cold, while the south side might be warm and dry.
The pass is renowned for its scenic beauty. Presenter Jeremy Clarkson, former host of the BBC motoring programme Top Gear, featured the pass during the show’s 2008 Vietnam Special, calling the road “a deserted ribbon of perfection—one of the best coast roads in the world.”
Hải Vân Pass has been of major strategic importance in this history of Vietnam, and for a long time represented a major barrier to any land army that attempted to move between the northern and central regions of the country. The pass is crossed by two main transport routes: Vietnam’s main north–south highway, National Route 1A, and the North–South Railway. The road crosses over the mountain more or less directly, climbing to an elevation of 496 m (1,627 ft) and passing south of the 1,172 m (3,845 ft) high Ai Van Son peak, while the railway hugs the coastline more closely, passing through a series of tunnels along the way. Since its opening in 2005, the Hải Vân Tunnel—the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia—offers an alternative road across the pass, reducing travel times by at least an hour.
As we came down the other side of the Hai Van Pass on the Hue side we had to wait for the train to cross. The crossing barrier is operated manually – see the picture below. We then looped around and entered the Hải Vân Tunnel which is approximatley 6km long. Not an ideal scenario to travel through a tunnel in an open top jeep – it got very hot and it felt like my ears were on fire. As the saying goes ‘there is always light at the end of the tunnel” and in this case we were pretty happy to see it that’s for sure.
We then headed inland to a local village that specialised in slate tiles. Jeremy explained that it is quite common for different villages to specialise in different industries. We stopped off at one of the stone works and watched the woman making slate tiles out of solid blocks. At the time the men were all sitting around watching and I made the comment to Jeremy re that being typical – the women doing all the work while the men watch! He said they were just taking a break – they normally operate the big saws and sledge hammers breaking the big rocks into more manageable pieces for the women. OK I believe you : ) We did see evidence of this as we drove further into the vilage.
Paul had a go at chipping the block into tiles and did pretty well. Apparently these tiles are bundled up and sold all over the world. The employees get paid USD2 per day which is apparently USD1 more per day than they would get in the rice paddy fields.
We then drove through the vilage sharing the love – Jeremy’s jeep is well known in the village and he always has a bag of lollipops on board to give to the kids. We all had fun handing out the lollipops and the kids were so happy. They all greeted us and thanked us in English.
It was then back to Đà Nẵng and the end of the tour. It had been a long day but we really felt we got to know the area as well as learning many things about the Vietnam culture. If you’re looking for an intimate way to see Central Vietnam check out http://www.lookingglassjeeptours.com
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from ‘budhi’, ‘to awaken’. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
Is Buddhism a Religion?
To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or ‘way of life’. It is a philosophy because philosophy ‘means love of wisdom’ and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.
Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world, and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.
Who Was the Buddha?
Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found ‘the middle path’ and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dhamma, or Truth — until his death at the age of 80. He was not a God, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience.
Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.
What did the Buddha Teach?
The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
What is the First Noble Truth?
The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. lnstead, Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.
What is the Second Noble Truth?
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we expect other people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not get something we want,etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. A lifetime of wanting and craving and especially the craving to continue to exist, creates a powerful energy which causes the individual to be born. So craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.
What is the Third Noble Truth?
The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. lf we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free. We then have more time and energy to help others. This is Nirvana.
What is the Fourth Noble Truth?
The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
What is the Noble 8-Fold Path?
In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral (through what we say, do and our livelihood), focussing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths and by developing compassion for others.
What are the 5 Precepts?
The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are: not to take the life of anything living, not to take anything not freely given, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.
What is Karma?
Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some gifted, why some live only a short life. Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? The answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) effects of the action on oneself, and (3) the effects on others.
What is Wisdom?
Buddhism teaches that wisdom should be developed with compassion. At one extreme, you could be a good hearted fool and at the other extreme, you could attain knowledge without any emotion. Buddhism uses the middle path to develop both. The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality, all phenomena are incomplete, impermanent and do not constitute a fixed entity. True wisdom is not simply believing what we are told but instead experiencing and understanding truth and reality. Wisdom requires an open, objective, unbigoted mind. The Buddhist path requires courage, patience, flexibility and intelligence.
What is Compassion?
Compassion includes qualities of sharing, readiness to give comfort, sympathy, concern, caring. In Buddhism, we can really understand others, when we can really understand ourselves, through wisdom.