Yes, That is a Swastika | The Marble Mountains and Train to Hue, Vietnam

The Marble Mountains

While we were in Danang a friend recommended that we visit the the Marble Mountains, and since mountains are made to be climbed, etc, we went for it. Each of the five pagoda-topped mountains is named after the element it’s supposed to represent, and although they are genuinely made from marble, most of the marble souvenirs available are actually imported from China because the alternative would be mining the mountain all the tourists have paid to see.

view from Marble Moutains, Vietnam
She’ll be coming down the mountain when she coooommmeeeesssss (not sorry I hate that song and now you can hate it too)

Only one mountain is accessible to visitors, and I completely wimped out climbing most of it. Maxim disappeared into a cave and came back half an hour later from a completely different direction; I sat on a bench, wheezed a bit and judged other tourists’ walking boots. After Angkor Wat I’d had enough of intrepid exploring for a bit, although in retrospect it would have helped me sweat off all those M&Ms.

Marble Mountains, Danang, Vietnam
Oh, that? No, your eyes aren’t kidding you. Long before the Nazis seeped through Europe, the Swastika was an religious symbol across Asia and India.

In fact, swastikas were everywhere. Trump had only been in office a few weeks at the time and was stretching his tiny, bigoted Muslim-banning fingers, so seeing beautifully-engraved swastikas in a calm, intricate place of worship was like that feeling you get when you eat bad food and know when you’re going to puke but you’re not sure when. I take solace that few of the bone bags taking over America can actually find Vietnam on a map and will never visit these places for active worship.

I don’t spook easily, but some of the caves were a little bit too ancient-religious-shrine for me. This particular buddha, for example, was nearly invisible until you were right on top of him.

Buddha at Marble Mountains, Hue, Vietnam
Er, yes, hello, I’m going to look at your face and not the politically charged symbol engraved on your chest…

The Marble Mountains were probably the only place in the whole of South East Asia where I could really believe in god(s) and spirituality, probably because it’s so old and, unlike Angkor Wat, there aren’t 8,000 tourists taking selfies every five steps.

entrance to a cave, Marble Mountains, Hue, Vietnam
The steps in this photo look decidedly crooked, but I think for once that’s not down to my photography.

If you’re in the area, definitely make the trip up the mountain – and if you’ve got luggage space, bring me back a marble statue. There’s a spot on my mum’s patio crying out for a large-ish marble effigy of, well, anything.

The Train to Hue

Nowdays, I commute to London once a week on a train and there is little to recommend it as a form of travel. In February, I was completely fed up with buses and insisted we took the train from Danang to Hue, as everyone who had done the trip absolutely raved about the view. We stopped at a chicken restaurant before we left Danang and it is my eternal shame that I mistook a guy picking up a takeaway for a waiter. I also accidentally ordered a dish of what appeared to be very spicy chicken bones.

Chicken restaurant, Danang, Vietnam

I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but if anyone does – I seem to remember it was really well known locally – let me know, because bones aside it was ace.

Our train seats were ticketed and when we reached ours after a suitably long delay, we quietly asked if the elderly Vietnamese couple already in them would mind moving (they didn’t. I felt like a dick white tourist, but I also didn’t want to get turfed off the train).

train from Danang to Hue, Vietnam

I distinctly recall that a local man was boarding the train with a duck, and a tourist said something like, ‘Oh, that duck is so cute! Is it a pet?’ The man did not answer. I am not a busybody, so I did not tell the tourist that the duck was probably his dinner.

That elderly couple came off better in the end – our seats were next to a large white pillar, so we couldn’t really see out of the windows to the infamous beautiful views… and I fell asleep as soon as we left the station, so it didn’t matter anyway. I just checked and I don’t have a single piece of evidence that there was a view at all.

It put me in good stead for commuting, in that respect.

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