Dalat, Vietnam: Shizz be ca-RAZY at Crazy House

Before the Misadventurists visited the Hang Nga Crazy House in Dalat, we suspected it might be just another overblown tourist trap not worth the entrance fee.

By way of explanation, some of subpar “attractions” exist throughout Vietnam, their reputations inflated by overzealous tour organizers who want to add another paid stop on the merry-go-round (personally I would add most of the Mekong “floating village” tours to this list. Others may disagree.)

These attractions, some little more exotic than your average Denny’s parking lot (and not even the David Lynch “Mulholland Drive” parking lot) must be weeded through if one is to avoid blowing all their cash.

But mainly because Crazy House is located only a few blocks from our guesthouse, we decide to give it a chance. And believe us…Crazy House is worth visiting, if only to feel like you’ve floated outside of your body into a bizarro alternate universe.

Or maybe you want to recapture the feeling of being a baby, when your neural paths were not yet set and your silly-putty brain couldn’t just take for granted what a “house” should look like. You know, door here, roof here; a giant eagle is not a normal occupant of someone’s bedroom.

Crazy House is a combination of the weirdest hotel you’ve ever stayed in – in fact, it is a functioning hotel – a Dali-esque architectural fever dream, and Injun Joe’s Cave on Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island.

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Just one of the many Crazy House “houses”. Image (c) Benjamin J Spencer

In fact, the whole complex is like one of Walt Disney’s peyote trips (of which several are well documented. Don’t bother Googling that, the Internet is secretly owned by Disney).

An interesting fact about Da Lat Crazy House: the architect is the daughter of Vietnamese aristocracy and she created several huge Soviet-block style Party buildings before hatching the idea (perhaps at a local bar after one too many) to build her own personal wonderland in Da Lat.

A big fan of Gaudi, (which will surprise no one who has seen Gaudi’s work in Barcelona) she says she built the house to honor the harmony of nature and architecture. In practice it looks like a gigantic mud creature with monstrous vine-arms is consuming a whole village.

Tourists climbing through, up, and around Crazy House. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
Tourists climbing through, up, and around Crazy House. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
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Melting Ogre Face house. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto

By the time we’ve hiked through all the caves and climbed to all the roofs, we’ve probably covered over a mile of distance. A few buildings are under construction, although guests are still allowed to explore these sites freely.

Beej crawls to the roof of one five story brick behemoth with narrow stairways and beams stretched over long drops which would undoubtedly end in death with one wrong step. Let’s just say that building safety codes are not the strictest here in central Vietnam.

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And up some more… (c) Stacy Libokmeto
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Beej, doing a bit of roofing at the main house. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto.
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Enchanted woods. Friend or foe? Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
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Long way down. (c) Stacy Libokmeto

Back down on the ground, we enter a maze of spider-web shaped lights in a mini-fairytale forest.  The forest is centered around a mosquito-infested pond containing giant living bullfrogs who croak deeply and incessantly. We can’t see them, as it’s almost totally dark in the spider-web forest, but we can hear their heavy slimy bodies splashing into the pond as we approach.

We peek into a few of the rooms, which are just as weird and cool inside as the house is outside.

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Path to one of the rooms. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
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The spiders protect your hotel room from invaders. (c) Stacy Libokmeto
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A typical room at Crazy House. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
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Bear protector in one of the hotel rooms. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto

It’s dark, and Crazy House is kind of creepy after dark, especially with the recorded Vietnamese orchestra music blaring from the somewhere in forest, so we decide to split. Before we leave though we stop by the wall of tribute to the architect, who apparently REALLY likes  1970s-style matte portraits where she is in fields of  flowers.

To read more about Crazy House visit the official website here, and if you’re up for a trip to south Vietnam, book yourself a room. It’s cheap and you’ll remember it much better than your run of the mill luxury Hyatt.

But stay away if you’re prone to psychotic breaks.

Dalat, Vietnam: K’Lang and Ho-Biang: Shining Bright Like Diamonds

Fellow Misadventurists: This entry was originally posted on Stax’ blog, gypsytrampthief.wordpress.com.

There were once two hill tribes that lived uncomfortably close at the foot of a mountain. They were called the Lach and the Chil and they hated each other. A lot. It seems that in general, they were pretty good at maintaining a safe distance from one another. That is, until Fate intervened.

I realize I'm mixing my mythologies, but you get the gist.  www.theoi.com

One day, K’Lang, a boy from the Lach tribe, happened upon Ho-Biang, a girl of the Chil tribe. Their eyes met, their hearts raced, and in an instant they were experiencing chemically induced euphoria, excitement, bonding… In short, they were falling fast into forbidden love.

Chemical_basis_of_love

They wanted to marry, but it had been decreed many, many years ago (so many years that no one knew when or by whom) that people from different tribes could not marry. This did not deter them. Defying their parents, elders, tribe members, and years of tradition and enmity, the two married anyway (in a private ceremony, I presume), then climbed to the top of the mountain, away from their respective tribes to live in peace. Things went pretty well until Ho-Biang became very ill and nothing in K’Lang’s experience could cure it.

Thinking that the Chil people might know what to do, K’Lang and Ho-Biang decided to make the long journey back down the mountain to Ho-Biang’s former village. Unbeknownst to them, the Chil tribe were anticipating the couple’s arrival and had specially prepared a poisoned arrow to pierce K’Lang’s heart.

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Look out K’Lang! That’s a poisoned arrow! Image courtesy exploringworldview.com

Upon entering Ho-Biang’s village, K’Lang plead with them to prepare a cure for his wife. But the villagers were too angry to listen. Blinded by vengeance toward this Lach tribesman for stealing their daughter from them, they aimed, shot and let the arrow fly. It looked like K’Lang was done for.

But despite her grave illness, Ho-Biang jumped in front of the arrow to save her beloved and died instantly. K’Lang died just afterward, devastated by his beloved’s death.

Realizing too late the error of hating one’s neighbors, Ho-Biang’s father decided it was time to unite the hill tribes of Lach, Chil, and a few others to become K’ho. Now that they were one shiny happy people, members also had the right to marry outside without having to move to the top of a mountain or worry about poisoned arrows.

Shiny happy people holding hands.

In the meantime, the tombs of K’Lang and Ho-Biang grew to be two mountains, which the hill tribe members named LangBiang. Hundreds of years later, the Misadventurists (Beej and myself) visit this natural monument to lost love.

———

We pass through the large yellow archway entrance and are greeted by a very old woman trying to sell us authentic purses, scarves and other trinkets. Atop a small hill, above the parking lot full of green Russian-style jeeps that take tourists up the mountain to the trailhead, a giant “LangBiang” rises, laid out in big white letters like the Hollywood sign.

Next to the sign there’s a statue of K’Lang and Ho-Biang. The doomed lovers stand on separate rocks facing each other, reaching out their hands in futility, angst etched into their faces.

Climbing the mountain by foot is free, but for a small fee ($2/pax), someone will drive us to the top in one of the green Russian jeeps. Cheap. But there’s a catch: they’ll only take us when the jeep is full.We’re the only tourists in the parking lot. We can wait for four other people to show up (which could be awhile here in the hot low season) or we can pay for all six seats ($12) and a guide will drive us up, no problem.

I don’t want to wait, though. Things in the parking lot have become…annoying. The sun is trying to kill me, beating my head with wrenches of of heat. The authentic old Lach tribal woman won’t accept that she’s struck out.  Her approach becomes more direct: she starts rubbing her belly with an exaggerated look of pain, holding out her hand and pointing to her mouth.

She won’t stop following us around the parking lot – from the motorbike parking, to the jeep ticket window, to the designated eating area, to the shade of one of the jeeps in the parking lot, and back to our motorbike, she seems to now be asking us to just feed her coins.

Then a boy of about 10 shows up out of nowhere. “Money” is his only greeting, and he holds out his hand in expectation.

So we begin our ascent. Soon we’re huffing and puffing up an almost vertical climb in the midday heat. This road is much steeper than we thought. Still, it is a tad cooler under the shade of the trees, the breeze constantly carries the odor of sweet pine to our nostrils, and the road is smoothly paved. Branches shimmy above me whenever the wind blows, and it’s quiet enough out here that I can hear them clearly.

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Pines on LangBiang mountain. Image (c) Benjamin J Spencer

Occasionally, a farmer roars past us on a motorbike, carrying huge loads balanced precariously to the back.  Farmers are the only motorbike riders allowed on this mountain, and summer seems to be the season of gathering branches.

We watch as a couple gathers summer-dried pine needles from the hillside and stuffs them into huge bags, which they then lift and tie carefully to the back of their waiting motorbike. Balancing the load and maneuvering through traffic would take a more experienced rider than I. It’s a good thing they start training early. In Vietnam, babies stand on the seats of motorbikes in front of their parents as soon as they can climb to their feet.

Thirty minutes into our climb, the first tourist jeep of many roars by, but it’s not the deafening engine noise that warns me of its approach. Instead, it’s Rhianna belting out, “Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond.”

Shine bright like a diamond! Do it!

The top-40 hit echoes unnaturally across the previously peaceful countryside. It sounds like a dance party should be rocking the jeep, except no one on board looks amused nor is anyone dancing. By the time the sixth jeep passes us overloaded with grim-faced tourists, sure I’m feeling a bit sore from the climb, but I’m not disappointed at all that we’ve chosen to walk.

Two plus hours later, after talking briefly on the way to a German hiker from an island we’ve never heard of (Borkum??) we reach an area set aside for hiking.

In case you were wondering, there's Borkum!

There’s a shack there where we are instructed to pay a small entrance fee, but the place is deserted and doesn’t look like it’s been in use for a long while.

So we ditch the shack and continue along the switchback trail through the pine trees until we finally reach an overlook of DaLat city and the countryside surrounding it. It’s absolutely beautiful. The climb, the woman stalking us below, and even Rhianna occasionally screaming in our ears were worth it.

a view

However, we can’t stay too long. We still need to head down before it gets dark. We’re not too keen on our last sight being a green jeep mowing us down with Rihanna telling us that we’re “beautiful, like diamonds in the sky”.

Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

“Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond…”

Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

“Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond…”

DALAT, VIETNAM: Weirdness at Datanla Falls, Part II

Scenes from the hike along the gorge below Datanla Falls, south of Dalat City, Vietnam.

Overlooking the lower falls. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spen
Overlooking the lower falls. Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
Butterfly at Datanla Falls. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Butterfly. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
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Platform shoes. Image (C) Stacy Libokmeto
“Knock. Knock. Who’s there? Nobody!” A fake “minority” house Walt Disney would be proud of! Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Restricted Area. (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
This is where I’m pretty sure the official told us to go. Maybe he was actually saying, “Only go there if you want to die.” We really need to work on our communication skills. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Beej, happy to be alive! (c) Stacy Libokmeto
Beej, happy to be alive! Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
Rapids at lower falls. (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer
Rapids at lower falls. Beej takes a moment from treehugging to take a phot.o Image (c) 2014 Benjamin J Spencer

 

They look plastic, but they're not! Really! (c) Stacy LIbokmeto
They look plastic, but they’re not! Really! Image (c) Stacy LIbokmeto

 

We got some swimmers! (c) Benjamin J Spencer
We got some swimmers! (c) Benjamin J Spencer
(c) Benjamin Spencer
Beej catches Stax secretly relaxing conveniently in front of his camera. (c) Benjamin Spencer

 

DALAT, VIETNAM: Weirdness at Datanla Falls

If you find yourself in DaLat and awash in cash, you can book a motorcycle trip with one of the “Easy Rider” tours that leave from the center of town and visit such places as a mountain lake populated by tribes of elephants, silkworm farms, and other far-flung locales around the highlands..

But if you are on a miniscule budget (like us) you’ll probably end up bicycling or motorbiking to less ambitious destinations.  Enter Datanla Falls, a mere 15 km south of Da Lat, but still a must-see in it’s own peculiar way.

We arrive at the falls just ahead of a giant, multi-bus Pegas tour – uniformed Vietnamese guides shouting orders into megaphones to overheated Russian tourists.  We hang around the entrance eating ice cream sandwiches until the hordes have passed. Then we buy our ticket.

The info about the falls mention some sort of hike. This is false advertising to say the least. If there is a trail, we certainly don’t see one (likely it exists, but became overgrown through disuse). The real “hike” consists of, hilariously, a” toboggan” ride down to the upper falls, then a short amble to a cable car that whizzes you through the gorge, and finally a very strenuous, air-conditioned elevator drop to the lower falls. This is Vietnam, after all, where people REALLY hate to walk.

(Though this is partially true, it’s not entirely fair. Vietnamese family outings almost always include the very aged – they would never leave revered parents or grandparents behind – and these oldies cannot practically hike around Vietnam’s incredibly rugged terrain.)

But if the country’s aversion to walking incites them to construct such glorious apparatus as toboggans, it can’t be all bad. The ride is thrilling. You basically fly down the open mountainside in your own personal roller coaster car around hairpin bends, the only catch being that there are no hydraulics or electronic controls, so you must brake for yourself around the corners to avoid hurtling off the rails and somersaulting the rest of the way down like Andy Samberg in that forest dancing scene in “Hot Rod”.

We want to do the toboggan again as soon as the guy has stopped our cars at the bottom. But we restrain ourselves. At any rate there are other diversions. Like the archery range just above the falls.

Yes, an archery range, complete with real, extremely sharp arrows (suck it, Disneyland!) and bows – and no safety net of any kind in case an arrow flies wild, say toward the Russian tourists milling around the falls a few meters away.

Never being one to resist a test of skills, Beej opts to pay the lady 2 bucks for a chance to hit a target shaped like a critically endangered Asian tiger (you can’t make this stuff up) and win a big bottle of Da Lat wine. Hey, at least they don’t give you the wine before you handle the extremely sharp arrows.

Stax helpfully captures my archery fail on her phone. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto
Stax helpfully captures Beej’s archery fail on her phone. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

It doesn’t go great – either Beej’s archery skills have declined since the last time he drew a bow at age 14, or he’s still jittery from the toboggan ride. The lady encourages him by laughing in unrestrained delight at every missed shot.

At one point she takes up her own bow and arrow to demonstrate to Beej how easy it is for her to hit the targets, which she proceeds to do effortlessly, several times in a row. This gesture doesn’t quite have the bolstering effect on his performance that she intends. Well, at least someone got joy out of it.

After the archery debacle we walk over to the upper falls.

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Upper Datanla Fall. Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto

A thing to do here is to have your wife or girlfriend dress up in traditional garb, smear on tons of make-up, and pose for highly unnatural portraits in front of natural wonders like waterfalls. There are at least two groups of people staging these bizarre shots in front of Datanla Falls – standing on rocks with arms raised like nature goddesses, etcetera. And it’s fascinating to watch.

A hulking figure in a full fur suit, previously camoflauged, suddenly arises from where he’s been lounging in a plastic chair near the cliff beside the falls. He springs toward us monkey-like.

In his frozen white mask, he bades us, with gestures alone, to take photos with him. We decline.

Whatever tourist outfit he works for hasn’t done enough research into Western horror movie tropes to know that having large mute furries in horrifying masks brandishing spears lurch out of the shadows in front of you might not be the best way to earn tourist dollars from Americans.

Fortunately for the monkey creature’s bottom line, others are not so shy:

Monkey warrior fight tourist! Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

 

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Monkey warrior make conquest. Image (c) 2014 Stacy Libokmeto

A guide has informed us there are three even better falls down the gorge. Ready for a proper walk, we excitedly set out along the trail, the first we’ve seen so far here. Some have boarded the cable car which soars overhead.
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But we are the only souls hiking on this peaceful trail.

TO BE CONTINUED…