HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Da Lat Days: A Crazy House and Two Rides

After resting for a bit once our trek had finished we headed over to the Crazy House (formally called the Hang Nga guest house), a Da Lat icon. Designed by Dang Viet Nga, a Vietnamese woman who earned an architecture PhD in Moscow, this 'house' (actually three or four structures, with more on the way) is a wacky burst of creativity that has been compared to the work of Salvador Dali, and matches anything even the most deranged Disney animator could come up with. You can actually rent one of the rooms in the house for a night, and each one features some sort of animal (or two or three). The buildings look different from every angle, and the twisting walkways and staircases between them go in no distinct direction. It is clear that wandering at random and getting lost, having to double back, is part of the experience.

this one looks like a head

one of the many passageways

Donnie Darko: the kangaroo years
view from the top - looks like rain is on the way
This orgy of architectural styles and looks was a thoroughly entertaining way to spend 90 minutes, and we walked through part of town after that. Somehow the rain stayed away and it was a beautiful afternoon, and the town was buzzing with tourists and holiday-makers. The temperature felt great, and I was able to amble around for two or three hours without sweating at all, whereas in Saigon if I walk two blocks I look like a wet dog. Da Lat is a really cute town, and the area around the market was raucous.

After getting dinner we headed back to the hotel and I was asleep by the absurdly early hour of 9pm thanks to a week of late nights leading up the trip, the overnight bus ride, and the morning trek.

The following morning (Monday) three more friends arrived from Saigon, and we all rented motorbikes to drive out to a mountain pass I had read about that afforded views all the way to the ocean on a clear day. The owner of the hotel was so nice he even let us take the moto his wife uses to go to the market, since they normally only have four to rent out. As we headed out of town we passed a landscape covered in greenhouses where flowers were being grown - most of the fresh flowers sold in Saigon are trucked in from Da Lat every night. The road was in decent condition and covered by a canopy of pine trees that largely obscured the awesome views we knew were there.

Small towns were perched precariously on hillsides, and a number of tight switchbacks made for exciting driving. Finally the views opened up, and we stopped at a point that overlooked a broad valley and a large reservoir.

 We decided to turn around at that point and forget about the pass because the road was becoming increasingly bumpy and full of potholes. So we headed back to town, passing more produce being grown on lush hillsides.

We made it back into town after a 60km round trip and decided to ride the cable car, which runs from a station just outside of Da Lat to a hilltop pagoda. This was worth the 70,000 dong it cost, although once again it looked like it was about to pour.

Amazingly the rain held off again, and after some down time at the hotel we had a great dinner at an Italian place. We then walked down the packed street leading to the market and sat down at a stainless-steel table & plastic chair place for a few beers. Suddenly I heard from behind me a Vietnamese woman shout "HELLO! HELLO! HELLO! OK! OK! OK!" We thought she was just another vendor of garbage so we just ignored her. Then she pulled up a chair and sat between Sydney and Lindsay. Um, alright. We quickly realized that she was in a horribly twisted state of mind. She drank part of Sydney's water and then threw the rest on the ground, and then proceeded to drink her beer. She kept pointing to pictures in a magazine that was on the table and then herself without speaking any more words. Her mind was racing with the ferocity of a cornered weasel, grasping for something, anything, and missing every time. Frantically rearranging the table in the throes of a vicious bout of OCD, she set a handbag down and began pulling out packets and bottles of pills, dozens of them, before hurriedly stuffing them back in. Then she began taking out keys, carefully placing one in front of each of us and then dropping one inside a glass of beer, before gathering them up and putting them back in the bag. She had a plastic bag as well, and every few seconds she would untie and retie the knot in its handle. All in complete silence, while we looked at each other wondering What in the name of Christ is wrong with this woman?! Had she taken one of each of all those pills she's carrying? I had never come across a Vietnamese person so jacked on something, and she seemed more like an animal than a person. No one working at the stall seemed to notice though, and after she pulled out a knife we quickly downed our beers and scurried away, hoping she wouldn't follow us. She belted one more "HELLO. OK." as we left and remained in her seat. (Sorry if I got a little carried away there, but I've been reading some Hunter S. Thompson recently.)

Confused by that epically bizarre encounter, we headed over to the tame backpacker area, grabbed a table outside of a bar that had a bunch of board games on offer, and played some Clue over a couple of beers. After that it was time for bed, and the end of my trip to Da Lat. Lindsay and I had a 9am bus back to Saigon, a ride that, though only about 300km (190 miles) long, took over 8 hours thanks to small roads, hilly terrain, and horrific holiday traffic on the outskirts of the city.

This was a really enjoyable trip that provided me with exactly the break from pollution, noise, and traffic that I had hoped it would be. There is some great food in Da Lat that isn't available anywhere else in Vietnam; like strawberry preserves and artichoke tea, which I wasn't expecting to like but is pretty delicious. They also say it's good for your liver...and my liver could really use some help. The town's climate and location make it a great escape from the big city, and I hope to return someday. I have a fair amount of traveling coming up - Singapore for three days this weekend, and then two weeks in India from May 20 - June 4, so my posting will be a little irregular during those periods. (Actually I won't be posting at all from India.)

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