It was dark and rainy outside when a voice came shouting down the aisles, “Da Lat! Da Lat!”.
Our sleeper bus from Ho Chi Minh City had arrived, two hours early and before sunrise. We stumbled off the bus and were hit with a wave of freezing cold mist. Gales of wind were howling through the terminal, and everyone was wearing thick parkas, scarves, and toques. Except for us, of course. We were still dressed in our light clothes, and I felt genuinely cold for the first time in months.
We ran through the misty rain into the bus station, and found a place to sit and gather our thoughts. We hadn’t booked a place to stay, and it was way too early to walk around and try to find one. We had planned to arrive at a reasonable 7:00 AM, instead, it was 5:00 AM and pitch black outside. At least the bus terminal was dry.
We talked to a nice French-Canadian couple, who were also waiting it out. They informed us that the bus offered a free hotel transfer – sweet! We took it to a spot we thought might be cheap, and found a place to stay.
The next two days were wet. It still wasn’t cold by our standards, being hardened Canadians and all (haha, just kidding), but the constant misty wind was super annoying!
On our second day, it had cleared up enough that we decided to go to the Crazy House. Hằng Nga Guesthouse, or the Crazy House, is a hotel turned tourist attraction built by a Vietnamese architect named Đặng Việt Nga. To me, her art looks reminiscent of Antonio Gaudi’s, the famous artist whose buildings and parks are found all over Barcelona, or Hundertwasser, whose architecture is on display in Vienna. There are lots of curves, unconventional furniture (a kangaroo fireplace with glowing red eyes in the kitchen? check), and winding staircases.
Apparently, she doesn’t make blueprints for the house, but instead paints her vision and gets non-professional local craftspeople to make it happen. As an engineer, this seems like a recipe for disaster (art is important, but so is structural integrity!!) but we both made it out alive so I can’t complain. Still, I’m glad I read that after climbing up high on those sketchy stairs..
All of the rooms are available as hotel rooms, although I’m not sure I’d want tourists walking right up to my window to peek their heads in!
You have to be somewhat nimble on your feet to explore the whole place. There are a lot of stairs, some of which climb over roofs and through tunnels. They’re definitely meant for single file, which makes it tricky when somebody comes the other way!
My favourite part is the unfinished underwater world. It was all open, so we were able to walk inside and see the painters and sculptors at work. It looks awesome, with the reception inside of a giant whale’s mouth, giant conch shell sculptures, and shipwrecks painted on the walls.
In addition to the underwater section, there was a ton of other construction. I guess they’re making enough money from tourists to keep building, which is great for them. I would have loved to see it all complete though!
Overall, the Crazy House was pretty cool. Seeing the real thing in Barcelona and Vienna may have ruined this for me; it felt like a copycat version of the crazy, colourful and creative buildings in those cities, without the cohesiveness and attention to detail. But I think you have to match your expectations to what is realistic for Vietnam, and for that it was a really cool way to spend an afternoon!