Visiting Dalat’s Crazy House on the Golden Buddha Ride
It all started in Ho Chi Minh City and now, after five days of cycling 740 km or so and climbing of 7,000 metres, the riders on the Golden Buddha Ride have arrived at our hotel in Nha Trang. Not having been to Nha Trang I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly didn’t think that every sign I passed in the city would also be in Russian. Yes, of course Vietnam is a socialist republic, but I grew up in another socialist utopia, and though here and there I recall some Cyrillic letters in public spaces, there were certainly no Russian signs in every restaurant, boutique or laundry.
My surprise didn’t end there. Walking into a restaurant to get an egg roll or two, there in front of me were menus with ‘eggrollski’, sea food, and everything else you can think of, including borscht in Vietnamese, English and Russian. If you haven’t guessed yet, Nha Trang is popular with a certain crowd who at the moment are not welcomed, even if they have the dough, in such other popular places as the Riviera, Costa Brava or even Crete. And so, to escape the Siberian fall and winter or maybe being drafted into the glorious Russian army, or just to take a holiday from a certain former KGB agent, who has visions of rebuilding the Soviet empire, they prefer hanging out here.
Not that I can blame them. Lonely Planet describes Nha Trang as, “The high-rise high energy beach resort enjoys a stunning setting. It’s ringed by a necklace of hills, with a turquoise bay dotted with tropical islands. A sweeping crescent beach of white sand defines the shoreline….” I could go on quoting Lonely Planet, but you get the point. In short, not a bad place for a rest day for tired cyclists. Beside the beach and its collateral attractions, the other fascinating thing that tourists from all over the world have gathered here for, is a visit to Po Nagar Charm Towers. This Buddhist temple was built between the 7th and 12th century and still in use today by Cham, Vietnamese and Chinese Buddhists. I was particularly interested in the Mandapa Architecture – a pillared hall for public rituals in Indian architecture.
When I entered university, my mother on several occasions suggested that I become an architect. Her oldest brother, who I apparently resembled, at least in height, was studying to become an architect but like the rest of my mother’s siblings, parents and even grandparents, died in the Holocaust. So not only did I not meet him but there is also not even a picture of him and the rest of the family where I could try to see if a resemblance did, in fact, exist. Probably to my mother’s disappointment – though she never expressed it – I became an engineer and not an architect. Perhaps because of this, I have developed an amateur interest in architecture, the more outrageous, the better. Our company’s tours all over the world allow me to see firsthand a whole spectrum of old and new building and design.
And so, on our fourth cycling day, we were due to arrive in the lovely mountain town of Dalat. Even if I had wanted to, I wasn’t in good enough shape to cycle the challenging day, so I started at lunch. But I also had another purpose. I wanted to get to town early so that I had time to visit a most unusual house, simply called the Crazy House. It is certainly the most unique house I have ever visited. If you had an opportunity to cycle (or are planning to) the Orient Express, you could have visited the playful homes and buildings in Vienna designed by an architect, Hundertwasser. If you participated in Trans-Europa Cycling Tour (or plan to) you had an opportunity to visit Antoni Gaudi’s creations in Barcelona. The Crazy House is on that spectrum, but much, much ‘crazier’.
The building was designed and constructed by a Vietnamese architect with a PhD from Moscow, who also happened to be the daughter of the 2nd President of Vietnam. I suppose she didn’t have problems getting building permits. The House is so unusual that if you Google it, you will even find stories on the house on CNN. I spent a couple of hours walking around, in and out of rooms, floors, gardens and I could have spent another hour or two, but a riders meeting prevented me from loitering there any longer.
I could write much more about the place, the history, the design, the creativity of this place but I will simply end with a quote from the Architect, Dang Viet Nga. “The Crazy House is the culmination of my life and creativity – it all came together in this structure. I wanted to create something original, pioneering – different from anything else in the world.” I would think that the bus loads of tourists I saw there would indicate that she succeeded. Walking around the nooks and crannies of this wonderful house, I was also thinking that while we humans have such a propensity for aggression and violence, it is so wonderful to see the other side of our nature – originality, imagination, optimism, beauty.
One last thing. Though my mother, who had a great curiosity and zest for travel, may have been disappointed that I didn’t become an architect, I am sure she would be happy to know that every time I see an interesting structure or a building, I think of her, her oldest brother and the rest of the family I never met.
Golden Buddha Ride
Join us on our cycling quest for the fabled Golden Buddha. Our journey begins in the bustling modern city of Saigon and continues up the country's...