Our next stop as we traveled south through Vietnam was Dalat. This highland town was a French resort area, and is known for its many French villas and the nice climate (not too hot and humid). They also grow many fruits and vegetables, with the agricultural areas on the outskirts covered with green-houses. It is also a base for many tours into the surrounding highlands, which are a mix of pine forests and productive agricultural lands (coffee, fruit, etc.). Here we did some adventurous canyon trekking.
We had heard good things about some ‘canyoning’ tours in the area, so we shopped around for a tour, and found one for the next morning that two other people had already signed up for. It seemed more entertaining to do with some other people, so the next morning we headed out with two nice young guys from the Czech Republic. The tour included hiking in the riverbed, jumping off rocks, rappelling (absieling) down cliffs, and then down waterfalls. We walked down to a river and then along the banks through the jungle. We had a little rappel training, then our first try down a decently sized (65 feet?) dry cliff. Next we jumped off a 10 foot drop into the river with our life jackets on. We crossed the river and kept walking along. More rappelling down another cliff, this time into the creek.
The next stop was a huge pour-over waterfall. The guides explained that the upper part was not steep, but really slick. After the slick part, we were supposed to rappel the rest of it, but then the rope would run out and were would just fall into the water below! They seemed confident and they had set up the ropes and conducted the tour safely so far, so we trusted that we would be alright. The upper portion was very slick, and by the time we got to where the rope ran out, it seemed like letting go was the best way out of the situation. We leaned back, let go, and fell into the water below. After that excitement, we jumped off another 20 foot cliff, then hiked to the final abseil, into the “Washing Machine”. This involved us dangling down into another waterfall and plunging (or being flushed) into the water below. That concluded the exciting tour and we headed back up the hill to head back to Dalat. We ate and slept well after our day of adrenaline adventures.
A common site to see in Dalat is the Hang Nga Guesthouse (also known as the Crazy House). The thing was built by a prominent local architect, Dang Viet Nga (daughter of Truong Chinh, former president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam). This well-connected woman studied architecture for fourteen years in the USSR, eventually earning a PhD in the early 1970s. She also changed her name to Hang Nga (Sister of the Moon). Her father was born Dang Xuan Khu, but changed his name to Truong Chinh (Translation: the Long March) in honor of his hero, Chairman Mao. Troung Chinh was a hardcore Marxist and assumed power after Ho Chi Minh’s death in 1969. Local authorities clearly helped bend any planning or building rules that that the neighbors had to follow when building houses thanks to her powerful father, so the structure stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the more attractive (yet conventional) French villas that surround it.
Many guidebooks and articles refer to it as a visionary and unconventional structure since it used rounded walls and mimics (poorly) a tree. But it is a bizarre, downright tacky (bordering on really bad) house in the shape of a tree stump that reminded us of a mix between a fake treehouse at Disneyland and something you would see at a miniature golf course, but with lower quality construction. Ms. Hang Na learned a clearly Soviet style of architecture in the USSR. The entire thing is built of painted concrete, while rebar, concrete and brick provide the architectural ‘character’ for unfinished sections of the complex. Some portions the concrete ‘decoration’ is crumbling, exposing rusted iron beneath it. It is supposed to be a testament to nature and a way of reconnecting people with nature. It even boasts a ‘honeymoon cottage’ that looks like a traditional bamboo and thatch cottage, but is made entirely of painted concrete. This is a pretty Soviet way of ‘reconnecting’ with nature, especially when compared to many of the truly beautiful traditional thatched bamboo houses we have seen in Vietnam that are made of natural, local materials that are more appropriate to the climate in Vietnam, when compared to a humid cement box made to look like the real thing.
Like the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, each room has a theme, one includes a kangaroo (with glowing red lightbulbs for eyes), another has a tiger (also with glowing red eyes), another an eagle, and so on. One portion of the house has a shrine to her father, and seems to be where they lived. For such a dedicated Marxist, the decoration was amazingly ostentatious, even decadent and colonial, and more so than the royal family houses we later toured. (Like the pigs went crazy with the decoration when they moved into the farmer’s house. Hint: Animal Farm reference).
In one room, there is an impassioned letter by a Russian visitor who said it was so wonderful, it brought her to tears, and was one of the most moving emotional experience of her life, and embodied liberty and human desire. It was bizarre. She should go to Disneyland, it would blow her mind.
***click to enlarge photos***