Thursday, December 30, 2010

Country #85: My night with a demonic kangaroo.

It was not my intent to sleep in a room with a Hades-sent marsupial, but when I wrote to Dalat's Hang Nga hotel and requested the Termite Room, I was told it was unavailable. Instead, they offered to put me in the Kangaroo Room. Desperate as I was to stay in this hotel, I accepted. The truth is they could have offered to put me in the Rabid Dingo room and my reply would have been the same.

The hotel, named after its architect, Dang Viet Nha, is more commonly known by a perfectly understandable moniker, The Crazy House. I had seen it on a number of Weirdest Hotels lists and now that I was spending 24 days touring Vietnam, I knew that at least one of those nights would have to be spend in this hallucinogenic fun house.

Dalat is located about seven hours from Ho Chi Minh City (more on that later). According to Lonely Planet, it was also the site of Nha's earlier work, the House of a Thousand Roofs, which was destroyed by the local government for being just too weird and non-conformist. After that unpleasant episode, her father became Vietnam's second president (after Ho Chi Minh himself) and city officials suddenly discovered a new-found appreciation for her creative vision.

The hotel is still a work in progress and I suspect will continue to be so as long as Nha is living and in possession of colored pencils with which to sketch her latest visions. At present, there are nine rooms, each with its own unique theme and symbolism.  Standing in for Russia, for example, there is the Bear Room.

I'm not really clear on what the termite room represents, but no matter because, as previously mentioned, I didn't get that room. I got the Australian representative, complete with its own outdoor sitting area and breakfast nook.

But the best part was the room itself...

Particularly once the lights went out....

Yes, that's right, Matilda's eyes glowed a particularly evil shade of red.  I eventually found a light switch that would turn off the eyes but thought that to fully appreciate the experience I would let her glow throughout the night.

It is possible to visit the Crazy House for a small fee without actually staying there, but that seems to be such a fraction of the experience, a mere tease, that I felt truly lucky to have scored a room, even months in advance. After dropping off my bags and closing off my room to public scrutiny (via an actual door as opposed to the saloon half-doors all the rooms have when unoccupied), I set off to explore this magical world.

It was teeming with visitors speaking every language imaginable.  The common factors we all had were big smiles and wide-eyed looks of wonder. Wandering around this overgrown tree-house reverts people to the innocence of childhood, when anything is possible. There is no telling where steps or paths or alleys will lead to. The alcove near the check-in desks displays letters from visitors from around the globe echoing this sentiment and thanking Nha for creating this whimsical joy-filled space.

One thing that struck me as odd (if such a thing is possible in a place like this) was that all the other rooms were still very much open to the visiting public.  My room was the only one that was closed off. I also noticed that when I went into town and mentioned that I was staying there, locals seemed genuinely surprised, like it was an odd thing that I was doing. Was it possible that I was the only overnight guest in the entire Crazy House?

I spent a very restful night under the gaze of Satan's bouncy pal.  I had been worried about mosquitoes since they were so plentiful outside, but thankfully, none made it inside the room.  Or maybe they did and the kangaroo ate them. Also, the small nook with its custom-made mattress that constituted the sleeping area was so warm and cozy that I briefly contemplated whether I could live in such a  place.

It was in the morning that I got the answer as to the hotel's guest population.  I grabbed my camera and went outside to take advantage of the early light.  I expected others to be out enjoying the lack of visitors in this pre-opening to the general public hour but I found that it was only me and the workmen laboring on the newest addition to the building.  All the other rooms which had been closed by the staff for the evening were now open, meaning that unless everyone else very quietly checked out sometime before 8:00am, I had had the place to myself.  Well, almost, I later found out that Nha herself lives on the property in an area not open to guests or visitors.

I am completely baffled as to why I was the only guest.  I've stayed in an ice hotel, a prison and a few floating hotels and can honestly say that this is the coolest hotel I've ever been in. Why aren't more people flocking here?  It is a bit pricier than the average hotel in the area, but at $25-$60 ($30 for mine), not prohibitively so.  It is not in the center of town, but a motorbike can get you there in minutes for about 50 cents.  The only thing I can chalk it up to is that this was a fluke and I just had incredible timing.  I mean, after all, whether or not they showed up, someone had beaten me to the termite room.


  1. Looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland, or for that matter, Welcome to the Hotel California, but way cool. Weird that you were the only one there.

  2. It was very Tim Burton-esque, which is one of the reasons I loved it so. When I mentioned my stay to other backpackers, a lot of them were unaware that it was also a hotel, so perhaps part of the problem is simple PR. Hopefully, I am doing my part by spreading the word.

  3. SO cool, Berti! I would love to stay there too! (But, when did you stay in a prison, exactly?) Your pictures are utterly amazing and wonderful. Also, "Satan's Bouncy Pal" is the name of my new band.

  4. Thanks, Julie. I should have pointed out that my stay in a prison was a voluntary one. It was an old military prison in Ljubljana that had been converted into a hostel. Each cell was done up by a different artist. Very fun and I am sure Satan's Bouncy Pal would be.