Buddha said, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” I don’t know if a five-hour bus journey with no suspension and no bathroom can be classified as “traveling well” but I do know that with stunningly moody views like this out our window, we thoroughly enjoyed the trip from Nha Trang to Dalat.
Dalat is Vietnam’s premier highland resort town, drawing domestic tourists who patronize the area’s many kitsch-filled attractions and international tourists drawn by the natural beauty, adventure activities, and yes, the kitsch.
The area is also a major agricultural and floral district, the evidence of which is found all over the quaint town’s cafes and markets.
We had very little time to spend in Dalat, so we spent our first evening renting a motorcycle for the following two days and going shopping for supplies. On our list was warm clothing to combat Dalat’s chilly mountain weather and a stop at one of Dalat’s famous bakeries. As you can see, both were a success.
The next day, joined by our new friend Andrew from English Bitcherature, we set off to once again risk our lives on the Vietnamese roadways and explore the attractions of Dalat.
The Crazy House, also known as the Hằng Nga guesthouse, was the sight I was most looking forward to seeing in Dalat. It is the personal project of a passionate artist, Mrs Dang Viet Nga, who has worked for decades to fight off local authorities and naysayers and sculpt this tribute to architectural madness. She was trained in Moscow and might have had a bit of help in her legal struggles, what with her father serving as one of Vietnam’s presidents.
The organically shaped building was originally intended as a private home but surmounting debt forced her to turn the house into both a daytime tourist attraction and a guesthouse for those that want a more up-close and personal view.
The house was still under construction during our visit and supposedly will still be so until 2015. I’m sure the neighbors can’t be too excited about that, but I personally look forward to seeing the finished result!
It was hard to navigate around the house; in fact I’m sure there are rooms and passageways we didn’t see as we meandered through the winding paths and hallways.
Some led to nowhere.
Some led to spectacular views of candy-colored rooftops.
Some led to the suites available to overnight guests. Each bedroom had a theme too it, such as this Kangaroo Room, where the giant kanga statue doubled as a hearth.
While I don’t think I’m up to wanting to spend a night sleeping in the Crazy House, I loved visiting this surrealist painting come to life. It reminded me of Treetanic Bar in Utila, Honduras, another place where an inspired artist let their passion run wild.
Valley of Love
I’ve been more or less obsessed with the Valley of Love since reading about it last year on Twenty Something Travel. It’s an otherwise run-of-the-mill park made extraordinary by an expectation-laden moniker and dozens of enormous romantically themed statues and photo-ops scattered across the valley. Vietnam honeymoon hotspot, here we come!
I am all about cheesiness and kitsch, so I was pretty much ready and willing to spend the entire day prancing from photo prop to photo prop. Unfortunately it was more or less freezing and oddly, the two boys I was traveling with were less willing than I to pose with giant love-injected green peppers.
It was so cold while we were in Dalat that even the locals were complaining about the unusual chill. It must have been keeping people holed up inside because we were some of the only patrons at the Valley of Love, crushing my dreams of observing the lovesick Vietnamese teenagers promised in my out-of-date Lonely Planet.
I can’t think of any other reason that would keep them away.
Tuyen Lam Lake Cable Car
After the Valley of Love debacle, we decided to head for a minor adrenaline-inducing (or at least gender neutral) activity, like riding a really high 2.3km cable car in a country with no safety standards.
Of course it wouldn’t be a day in Vietnam without something going comically wrong. When we missed the turn for the parking lot, a very angry parking attendant in a very official looking uniform shouted at us with a fervor usually reserved for those committing international bank heists. When we made our way into the lot he took out his pad of parking receipts, scribbled something on them, and handed us each one. When we looked down we saw that he had clearly changed the price from 2,000 to 4,000 currency. So, granted, around ten cents in US dollars. The story gets a little less flattering for everyone so I’ll just conclude by saying we couldn’t believe the gall and made it clear we would not be paying the Clueless Tax.
Things just got better when we went to buy tickets. A one-way ticket was 50,000 dong, and a round trip was 80,000 dong. Mark announced he wanted to buy the one way and asked how long the walk back would be. “About ten minutes” the counter agent smiled.
It quickly became clear to us that the only way this would be a ten minute journey would be via helicopter. When it came to extricating more money than we wanted to spend from our wallets, it was Vietnam: 4,934; Us: 0.
At least the views really were stunning. And happy couples waved at us from cars going in the opposite direction.
Best of all, we had stepped into a car that color-coordinated with my very fashionable new hoodie.
Mishaps and extortioners aside, these were some of the most beautiful views we saw in Vietnam. An incredibly beautiful stop.
And Everything In Between…
Some of the best parts of motorbiking around Vietnam are all the things you see in-between destinations.
A busy town center, a scenic farm terrace, a snippet of daily life among villagers. These are the things you don’t read about in guidebooks, but they make up the picture of what Vietnam is.
Stay tuned for Part II of our Dalat adventures!
. . . . . . . . .
This post was brought to you in collaboration with one of our sponsors.
Beautiful photos! I visited Vietnam back in 2003, but didn’t have the chance to visit Dalat. Curious to see where else you got to…
Thanks Grace! We were only there for about three weeks so we stuck to the South- Saigon, Nha Trang, Dalat, and Mui Ne. It was a great introduction and I can’t wait to go back and see the North!
Al, i think this is my favorite post of your’s yet! (until pending new years post arrives, duhhh)
Amazing! You two find the coolest things to do. And was it also the weather but it seemed like you guys were in a twilight-zone-empty-city. No people! That actually sounds nice, coming from Rockefeller center n all. PS: NYC expected to experience first snowfall of 2012 tonight. Drink a hot chocolate for me, kay? ….or maybe just eat a chocolate mousse from ‘home’ and pretend its hot 🙂
Ha, I found very few places in Vietnam where there were no people! So yes it was nice to have some breathing room in some of these places! I can’t believe there has still been no snow this year….
While in Hanoi last June a taxi driver didn’t know how to get to my hotel and he started yelling at me like I committed adultery with his wife. I stayed calm even as he tried forcing me out of his taxi on a rainy night in a part of Hanoi I wasn’t familiar with. I offered him 100,000 dong to just take me to the lake and I will know where I am then. The money talked and when I gave him an additional tip, he suddenly treated me like I was his best friend.
Yea, money talks in Vietnam, even if it’s barely a dollar.
Dalat looks nice but seems so make believe, lol. Would you really recommend this place?
It is so true! Later I wondered if we were being petty, considering it was only 10 cents. But I was just so sick of the “walking wallet” attitude. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I actually do recommend Dalat! You’ll see in my Part II that we explored more of the natural beauty side to things. Dalat had some of the most stunning scenery I saw in the country, and I did enjoy the novelty of being cold again!
I loved the house! What an amazing undertaking! You said she was trained in Moscow…as an architect? Does she practice elsewhere in her community? Just amazing!
I actually thought of you when I was writing this, with the whole women-in-architecture thing. Yes, from what I understand her training in Moscow was in architecture. There was an entire room full of press clippings, most in Vietnamese, but from the ones in English we learned she has projects all over Dalat. We drove all over and at one point I saw one small structure that had a definite “crazy house” look to it so I think that was her but her other projects must be much more subtle. Would loved to have done a tour of them but she did experience a lot of backlash from the community so I don’t think they were very supportive…. I don’t think Vietnam is really the place to fly your freak flag!
Great post!! The Hang Nga Guest House resembles the work of Paoli Soleri in Arizona and Antoni Gaudi in Spain.
You would have loved that house! I did read a lot of Gaudi comparisons before we got there but I will have to look up Soleri.
Great blog posting on Dalat. Really miss that place.
It is gorgeous isn’t it! A nice cool reprieve from the rest of sweaty Southeast Asia 🙂
I do not know you in Da Lat in the month but you said it was very cold so I guess it is the end of the year. Vietnamese people often do not travel at the end of the year, so you will see quite a few visitors at tourist destinations.
Exactly the ticket for only 2000VND, really sorry for this terrible thing.
Yes, I believe we visited in November!