remember just how I ended up going to Marble Mt. with James Dayton, the memory
is a bit foggy on that. I think they teamed me up with Dayton (gun
ships) to go to Da Nang to pick up a part for
one of the gunships. In any case it was not ready and wouldn't be
until late in the day. The person at the desk that we were dealing
with suggested taking a jeep and visiting Marble Mountain which was the main
local attraction in the area. Marble Mountain was famous for its stone
cutters and a Buddhist monestary located at the very top of the mountian.
He let us take his jeep and gave us a pack of emery cloth to use as trading
material. We were told that the stone cutters really inflated their
prices when the Americans came in. The emery cloth was our bargaining
The mountain was not very far away and off the two of us went. As we drove through the village that was at the foot of the mountain the normal pack of kids began to follow us. At the foot of the mountain we found a place to park and were quickly surrounded by a pack of about 10 kids. With pretty good English we were told that for so much mpc (military money) they would watch the jeep for us while at the mountain. They asked an outrageous price and we said no. The leader of the pack said that the Marines had been through the week before and that is what they paid. We said we know better and gave them the price the guy at the desk told us to pay. With that most of the kids left. Two kids remained and, though they were kind of the runts of the group, they said one would watch the jeep and the other would give us the tour for the amount we offered. We said OK and began the long walk up the stairs.
As you can see from the picture the stairs were very steep and you had to watch every step. There were several small rest areas along the trail and there were several caves along the way. Some of the caves had been converted into temples honoring Buddha and one in particular was deemed most important by our guide.
Our guide said that this was the cave of the famous "Sleeping Buddha". Just to be on the safe side we pulled our shirts back so that our pistols were at the ready. If we were jumped, that kid was going to get the first round as far as I was concerned.
With the kid in the lead, we very cautiously made our way inside and to our amazement found a very elaborate temple. There were candles all over the cave and inside was a very large statue of Buddha that apparently had fallen over and was now permanently resting on it's left side facing the cave opening. I'd have to say the statue was probable 15' tall. I was going to take a picture but was quickly told by the kid that that was not allowed because it might wake the Buddha and that might make him mad. Not to mess with local custom I put the camera away. That made the kid happy though it sure would have made for a nice picture.
It was quite a walk to the top and when we finally got there we were really tuckered out. I thought that there would be a very simple overlook of some kind. Instead, we found ourselves in what I would describe as being inside the sunken crater of a volcano. In that crater was a full size Buddhist temple with munks and the whole thing. You couldn't see it from the outside and nobody told us it was there but there it was in all it's spender.
As we neared the entrance to the temple we found ourselves in a rather large central courtyard but there was no one around. The kid pointed to the main entrance to the temple and told us to go in. Dayton and I peeked inside from the edge of the door and saw a munk in prayer facing a very elaborate shrine. I whispered to Dayton that, no matter what was happening outside, the munk would not stop his prayers until he was finished. About that time the kid yelled something in Vietnamese to the effect that American tourist were here and he better get moving. Before the kid was finished that munk jumped to his feet and, without even a nod to Buddha, came scurrying out of the temple. So much for "true" meditation.
With very broken English the munk gave us the full tour of the place. It was impressive and I wondered if the NVA ever took time out to visit this place. It surprised me though that we did not see another munk the entire time and that kept me on edge a little. We apparently had full freedom of movement in the place and the kid gave us his version of things as we went along. We were even given a drink of water which sure helped after the climb up there. The only place that one could see out of the temple area was a very small opening in the mountain that overlooked the ocean.
We finished our tour and began the long walk down the other side of the mountain. We were about half way down when we rounded a small corner and caught a Vietnamese couple necking away in the shadow of one of the crannies along the way. I felt sorry for the young lady because it really embarrassed her. I wonder if she was saying to herself, "I hope they don't know my parents". The guy took it in stride and with an embarrassing smile said something to us in Vietnamese and politely nodded his head as they passed up now on their way up the mountain. I don't remember if the kid interpreted that, he didn't have to. It kind of made me feel good inside to see that with war all around life still goes on for the local folk.
As we neared the bottom of the mountain we came across a group of kids that were swinging out over a cliff while hanging from ropes tied to a tree. Those were pretty brave kids because that cliff had to be about 80' high. Besides that, the tree they were swinging from was anchored in a layer of beach sand that had somehow found it's way on the mountainside. Sure didn't look too stable to me.
When we got to the bottom of the mountain and got our first sight of the jeep we couldn't believe our eyes. There, on top of the front seat of the jeep was the other little kid we had hired and he was swinging a pole that had to be all of 8' long. He looked like a little helicopter swinging that stick around like that. Several bigger kids were apparently trying to get at the jeep to steal stuff and that was how he was stopping them. That kid sure looked tired but the look on his face was sure one of determination. I do believe he would have whacked one of those kids a good one if he could have in order to protect the jeep and apparently his honor.
It only took one yell from us to send the little thieves running. Within seconds that kid was slumped down in that seat and had about the most tiresome look on his little face that I'd ever seen. I sure felt sorry for him and wondered just how long he was doing that. His buddy was talking away to him in Vietnamese but all the one in the jeep could muster was a grunt or two. A quick survey of the jeep showed that nothing was missing. Dayton and I decided to pay both of them double for their trouble and boy did that ever lift their spirits. With that we parted ways.
We next stopped at the line of stone cutting shops. I was really impressed with the quality of work those people did. They were not just good, they were very good. Besides the various marble statues of just about everything imaginable was something that really caught my eye. These people had taken pieces of white marble and sanded them flat. They then would somehow chip out the inside to match any given picture that they were given to duplicate into the marble. There were several samples of their work on display. Almost all of them were of stateside girl friends. I envied the local GI's for being able to wait for the finished product. Because we were to be out of there that afternoon we could not wait for the overnight completion time.
So ended our tour of Marble Mountain. Dayton and I swapped the emery cloth for small statues. I got a small 8" tiger. I don't remember what Dayton got. We both felt very fortunate to have been able to see what we had seen. I don't believe may GI's got to see things like that. For a short while the war stopped for both of us and a little piece of what Vietnam was really like seeped in.