I had arrived into the Vietnamese city of Dalat by bus just as the sun was setting. By the time I walked from the bus station to the middle of the city, it was dark.
People were starting to fill out the streetside restaurants, young couples were walking around the lake, the headlights of the throngs of motorbikes on the streets looked like clusters of stars.
It was all quite a pretty sight – appropriate for this pleasant mountain retreat. The only problem was that I couldn’t enjoy it yet – I had nowhere to stay.
As usual, I had made no reservations in advance. This hadn’t been a major problem for me so far (travelling in an off-peak time of year) but I hadn’t known that Dalat was hosting its annual flower festival this week and people were coming from across the region for it.
In the end, I found a guesthouse that was surprisingly comfortable and had built beds like capsules so, although you had to share a room, you had privacy. All for just US$5 a night. (If you are interested – and I would recommend staying here – you can find out more here.)
But then I found the Crazy House and, boy, did I wish I had been able to stay here!
Hang Nga Guesthouse, Dalat, Vietnam
The Crazy House, as it’s called by locals and tourists alike, does actually have a real name – the Hang Nga Guesthouse. It has rooms that people can sleep in but it’s also open during the day for visitors to wander through and explore (for an admission charge).
It is the work of a Vietnamese architect called Dang Viet Nga, who is perhaps better described as an artist. The way she often works is to paint the shapes and designs she wants built in the house and then asks local craftsmen to make them.
It explains why walking through the Crazy House feels like a being trapped in an artwork by Escher or Salvador Dali.
It could be one of Antoni Gaudí’s churches or a Walt Disney castle. It could be a psychedelic trip or a colourful dream.
It’s a bit of everything – in the manner of construction and the mood it evokes. And that’s all part of the plan.
It’s part fairytale, part organic. There are very few right angles or horizontal lines.
I walk up one spiral staircase to find myself at a bridge. Crossing over, I’m in a large bright room. Through another small set of stairs, I’m at a viewpoint that looks out over the city of Dalat.
The architect, Dang Viet Nga, describes the house in her own words like this:
“Since the end of the last century till now, nature and the environment have been too much destroyed; and human beings have taken the consequences of what they have done.”
“For this reason, as a Vietnamese architect, I would like to bring people back to nature to be more friendly with it, to love it; not just to make full use of it, then destroy it as people in many places of the world including Vietnam have been doing.”
Construction started on the Crazy House in 1990 and it’s still not finished. Much like nature, it continues to evolve and change, grow and improve. The architect says she hopes to have it completed by 2020. You do notice as you wander through that some rooms look like they’re being renovated and extensions are still being constructed.
If you’re brave enough, try to stay a night at the Hang Nga Guesthouse and see what it’s like at night when the tourists are gone, when you can feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland.
Otherwise it’s worth stopping in for half an hour to see everything up close and get lost in the maze of pathways through the different levels and sections of the compound.
I’ll leave you with a few more photos to inspire you in the meantime.