One of my favourite places of my visit to Da Lat was the Crazy House, Hằng Nga guesthouse, built by Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga. Listed as one of the world’s ten most “bizarre” buildings, many people have even made comparisons to Walt Disney when it comes to the design she created.
Built in the shape of a tree, it’s intertwined into images of the deep forest, spider web windows, caves, animals, the oddest shapes used in unconventional ways making it the crazy it is, a massive form of pop art if you ask me! If you feel like staying you could even book a room here!
Hằng Nga has a PhD in architecture from Moscow and has designed a number of other buildings around Da Lat. Her reasons for building this was to entice people back to nature. Her father, Truong Chinh, was Ho Chi Minh’s successor, serving as Vietnam’s second president from 1981 until his death in 1988.
The guesthouse has ten themed guest rooms, each one having an animal as its theme, with decorations matching the theme. Many of the rooms incorporate an added level of symbolism, with the animal theme connected to a particular nationality. For example, the tiger room representing “the strength of the Chinese” or the eagle room as being “big and strong” like Americans; and the ant room as representing the “hard working Vietnamese”. (Hang Nga Guesthouse)
It was here that I met English siblings Zakiya and Shakeel. I’m from Africa and a brown person and whenever I travel I get overly excited to see other brown people! I randomly sparked up a conversation leaving Crazy House which led to us taking a taxi to our different destinations and making plans to meet that evening at the Maze Bar, a place I had on my list to go to so double whammy – yay!
I was dropped off at Bao Dai’s summer palace. Bao Dai was the last emperor/king of Vietnam and ascended to the throne in 1926. He was only 12 years old at that time. He spent a lot of time in Da Lat where he had a reputation of loving parties and the good life. This was his third palace in Da Lat with 25 rooms to see. The garden and the layout of the outside was beautifully laden with roses and an open dry forest with a view of the city. I enjoyed a peaceful walk around this historic site.
100 Roof Bar
That evening along with Norway friends Morten, Anje and Jens we headed off to the 100 Roof Bar which was aptly designed by a student of the Crazy House school of architecture. It is in fact a maze bar. You buy your drinks at the entrance and take it in with you in the maze, finding random corners to chill in, while making and figuring your way to the roof (or getting lost in dark paths)! This is beyond fun and a blast while enjoying a few drinks with friends. Of course it calls out for crazy behaviour too.
It was here that I met Zakiya and those staying at the same hostel as her along with fellow February Birthday girls Jemini and Jaineka, also from England and of course when we realised we are all birthday girls we did the natural girly thing and became friends! In fact these three girls even came to Saigon (where I live in Vietnam) and spent time with me there within the upcoming weeks and months – so the connection of friends made while traveling never fails to surprise and connect me to the world!
Da Lat is a small city and that is felt in the evening when you’re looking for other places to see but in fact there isn’t much night life offered compared to big cities like Saigon. After walking for a bit in the cold of Da Lat we stumbled upon a random club that was in fact that – random. Although I feel Asia’s slogan should be – “the random continent of anything goes.” Without going in to too much detail let’s just say the name of the club was “V” which in fact says a lot about the kind of place it was – but we made it fun as a big group of misfits for the time we had and then as is customary after a night out, it’s time to find food. However in Asia it’s not always junk food you crave or find but local food that satisfies the appetite and to our luck there were local blue chair street restaurants open at 3am!
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
Dragon Pagoda / The Pagoda of broken glass
By far the most beautiful temple I have come across in Vietnam, the craftsmanship given to each detail of this pagoda was simply exquisite. Built between 1949 and 1952 by monks, nuns and followers of the Mahayana Buddhist sect – Every wall, ceiling, pillar, Buddha, dragon and mythical creature in the pagoda are intricately inlaid with thousands of small pieces of broken glass, porcelain, terracotta and beer bottles. These special mosaic tiles gave the pagoda the nickname, Ve Chai, which literally means “pieces of broken glass bottles”.
It’s almost overwhelming the amount of beauty you’re faced with walking around to each sentiment of beauty within.
Among the many wonders of this pagoda is the 7 storey bell tower, which is considered to be the highest tower in Da Lat. I walked up each storey, with each level containing a different buddhist statue allowing you to light incense and pray while viewing different parts of the pagoda and city. The Great Bell is considered to be the largest bell in Vietnam today.
Tourists can write their wishes on a piece of yellow paper, stick the piece of paper onto the bell and then chime the bell three times to send their prayers to Buddha.
Outside of this bell tower on the right I was suddenly in awe of of a statue made of flowers, from my research they are the helichrysum bracteatum (“bat tu” in Vietnamese) flowers, also known as straw flowers and everlasting flowers. The 18 meter high statue of Bodhisattva Guan Yin is made from more than 600,000 of these flowers.
A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who helps show ordinary people the path to understanding.
Upon walking towards the next section I absolutely fell in love with the Quan Am Bodhisattva statue, the bodhisattva of compassion. You see her in many pagodas, temples, shops and altars of homes around Vietnam. She is looked upon for guidance, fertility and protection. There is no doubt in my mind the essence of peace and love that is felt while taking in the majestic masterpiece in front of me. All in all this was my favourite pagoda visited in my time in Vietnam and one that I will never forget.
That evening I had a wonderful dinner with these lovelies! Spoiling ourselves at an Italian restaurant before saying our goodbyes to one another.
Elephant Water Falls
Da Lat is also very well known for its scenic outdoors, waterfalls and extreme activities. I would love to go back in the future to see more of the forests and waterfalls, but the one waterfall I did make a trip for was the Elephant Water Falls. I hired a motorbike driver and a good hour and half drive into the mountains and country took me to this beautiful hidden piece of magic.
Free entrance going in, with an interesting path going down. By interesting I mean, there is a path to begin with but after that you tend to make your own and make sure you do what’s safe for you, but if you’re not one for heights or obstacles then enjoy the view from above the waterfall. The starting bridge to begin with is a bit rocky. The right shoes to make sure you don’t slip is highly important. The water makes the rocks slippery. I of course wanted to be right up the big rocks above to have the perfect picture with the waterfalls and also just to be a dare devil by rock climbing paths not chosen. All in all it was totally worth all the paths, scenes and obstacle maneuvering. A perfect end to my trip of Da Lat which gave me only happy memories and a bunch of new friends!