Dalat's Architectural Bulldada monument Hang Nga Villa/ "Crazy House"
On a two week tour of Vietnam, a lush green land known more for ancient temples, teeming cities, and lost battlefields we found an amazing monument of architectural bulldada in the hill station town of Dalat- the Hang Nga Villa, known locally as "Crazy House."
The villa shares a neighborhood with other homes of Vietnam's high and mighty, including the Summer Palace of the last Emperor Bao Dai (who abdicated in 1945) where the wife and I had our picture taken in the official reception room beneath a crossed pair of elephant tusks. Crazy House, on approach, resembles the entrance to an old-school Disneyland attraction, the Treehouse of the Swiss Family Robinson. Covered in tropical vines, a massive faux-wood stump lifts our of the slope, peppered with strange porthole windows and canopies, lined with snaking tunnel passageways, all functional as you can see the bobbing heads of sightseers walking through them. Inside the ticket booth was the grande dame herself, the designer and creator Dr. Dang Viet Nga, a real Madame X who reminded me immediately of the old woman bathhouse owner in the Japanese anime horror film Swept Away. I had hoped for an informal interview with her but here she was selling tickets (20000 Dong - $1)to a line of tourists, giving me no chance to explain my purpose.
Dalat was built by the French in the 1890s as a summer hill station retreat from the lowland heat and it remains home to hundreds of vacation villas of the rich and well-connected of Vietnam. Dr. Nga is no exception as she is the daughter of one of Vietnam's post 1975 red Presidents (Pres. Tranh, 1981-1988), which explains why she was able to construct Crazy House in the first place. In 1990, with her wealth and training as an architect she began to build a massive organic natural dreamscape hotel and villa with a Hogwarts-like main dining hall and over a dozen theme bedrooms.
Twenty years later the project is almost finished. We walked through the narrow passageways through the rooms decorated with honey-sucking bears, giant gourds, ants and kangaroos, all made of reinforced concrete, but made to look like they were carved from a giant hollowed out tree. At one juncture we walked over a thin arching pathway bridge that a chubby and tipsy foreigner might easily fall off of. And it ended in a still-under-construction drop off into mid air! It's something I appreciate about Asia, the low threshold of safety.
The rooms can be rented out for $25-35 a night and spending an evening here would probably feel like a slumber party in Hobbittown or Dr. Seuss's Solla Sollew. Back at the main office, lined with letters from amazed visitors and crinkled news clippings Dr. Nga was nowhere to be found, having surrendered the ticket booth to another minion. I settled for leaving some SubGenius material in the lobby and then retired to the garden for a picnic lunch of local baguettes, cheese, ham with a bottle the Dalat red wine beneath a giant concrete mushroom which I decorated with a Dobbshead sticker for the occasion.
Hang Nga Villa, 03 Huynh Thuc Khang St., Quarter 4, Dalat, Vietnam
As Dalat was full of wifi, we should not be surprised that Crazy House
has a dysfunctional website here
More pics below: