When we first got to Vietnam we fell into a pattern of early rising and early bedtimes. The longer we have been in Southeast Asia, the more we slipped back into similar sleeping habits as home; late nights and late rising. Plus, the beer is great; its hard ok? We are trying to force ourselves back into that natural rhythm and in Da Nang, we were on our “A” game; we beat the rush of the crowds to two sites, Marble Mountains and the Ba Na Hills. In both cases we arrived generally before the crowds of tourists started pouring in, and in return for our early rise, we were rewarded.
Just outside of Da Nang, the Marble Mountains shoot up out of the edge of the city. On our motorbike by 6:30am, we arrived just as the attraction opened, literally the first to start on the big stairs up into the Marble Mountains. Our welcoming party of 3-4 small dogs fought over each step as we walked up the 150 or so stairs to the first of many caves. We explored our first cave until we hit a dead end with a small ceiling of natural light. Feeling accomplished for having tackled our first cave, we circled back out of the cave, around, and up to our first peak; soaking in the view of the budding skyline of Da Nang. As we went down the other side of the path, we found a tight cave entrance leading down that we could slide into; and what do you know, we found the dead end we thought we ran into. Our 2nd peak, the pinnacle labeled “stairway to heaven”, was a good solid set of vertical stairs that walked more like a ladder. At the top, an even better view point and a lot more sweat out of the pores. After a final underground Buddhist temple with ceilings filled with natural light, we headed down the mountain as hordes of tourists crowded the views. We enjoyed “free” parking with purchase of some coffees after the visit. Caves are deceiving. It’s no wonder the Vietcong established one of its most fragile establishments, a hospital, in this cave system, while an American held airport was a 15-minute drive away.
Another day, another sunrise. We again took off for our adventure to the Golden Bridge by motorbike. Google maps said it was 2 hours away which seemed extreme, even for us, but we prepared mentally and took off around 6:10am, aiming to arrive around 8am at the bridge. This new set of architecture is only a couple of years old yet the wonder of Instagram had quickly brought this location to tops on our list for things to see in Vietnam. What they don’t tell you in the picturesque visions of hands holding a bridge in the sky is the bridge is actually part of an amusement park called SunLand in Ba Na Hills. Google Maps has you mapped to the literal bridge, so it doesn’t take 2 hours from Da Nang. We cut it loose on the empty highway and got there in 45 minutes, but a conservative driver (if they exist in Vietnam) would be there in an hour. Ready for a Sandy like tip? When you get to the Y where Google Maps tells you to go left to a golf course? Don’t do that. Go right.
At arrival, around 7am, we bought our admission tickets and took our cable car ride up into the Ba Na Hills. Queue Jurassic Park music guys because this was nuts, like to me, borderline more fun then the bridge. For 15-20 minutes you coast along a cable car system that happens to be one of the top ten in the world. Winding your way through the Ba Na hills you are taking are taken 5,000 feet up into Sun Land. Sometimes, you traveled 1,000 feet above the ground with sweeping views of the countryside; others breathtakingly engulfed you in cloud cover, which completely throws the senses. After hopping off your cable car the first attraction is the Golden Bridge. Hands cut out of stone, hold a bridge laden in gold, set in the clouds, looking out in the valley. The photos don’t do it justice. Even at 7:30am, some 30 minutes after opening, there were people all along the bridge. According to one solo traveler needing someone to take his picture, he was on the first car to the top; “folks were literally running to the bridge, peeling off clothes as they went,” to “do it for the gram.”
Tourist locations demand a gumption for avoidance to find the soft warm welcome of the heart of the attraction. The soul of both attractions required us to re-tune into the natural rhythm of life. Awaken early and chase wide open nature. Find mountains, find hills, find life, find peace.