Fifteen kilometres northeast of Tay Ninh, Nui Ba Den rises 850m above the rice paddies, corn, cassava (manioc) and rubber plantations of the surrounding countryside. Over the centuries it has served as a shrine for various peoples of the area, including the Khmer, Cham, Vietnamese and Chinese, and there are several interesting cave temples here.
The summits of Nui Ba Den are much cooler than the rest of Tay Ninh province, most of which is only a few dozen metres above sea level.
Nui Ba Den was used as a staging area by both the Viet Minh and the VC, and was the scene of fierce fighting during the French and American Wars, when it was defoliated and heavily bombed by US aircraft.
Several stories surround the name 'Black Lady Mountain'. One is derived from the legend of Huong, a young woman who married her true love despite the advances of a wealthy Mandarin. While her husband was away doing military service, she would visit a magical statue of Buddha at the mountain’s summit. One day Huong was attacked by kidnappers but, preferring death to dishonour, she threw herself off a cliff. She then reappeared in the visions of a monk who lived on the mountain, and he told her story.
The hike from the base of the mountain to the main temple complex and back takes about 1½ hours. (around 5km). Although steep in parts, it’s not a difficult walk – plenty of older pilgrims in sandals make the journey to worship at the temple. Around the temple complex are a few stands selling snacks and drinks.
If you need more exercise, a walk to the summit and back takes about six hours (around 20km). The fastest, easiest way is via the gondola system that shuttles pilgrims up and down the hill. For a more exhilarating descent, try the ‘slideway’, a sort of winding track that drops 1700m around the mountain.
Because of crowds, visiting on Sunday or during a holiday or festival is a bad idea.
Nui Ba Den appears prominently in a memoir published by former American soldier Larry Heinemann, Black Virgin Mountain: A Return to Vietnam.