My Night Inside Vietnam's Madhouse Hotel
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Move over, Airbnb.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
After escaping the sticky sauna of Ho Chi Minh City and landing in the cool, mountain paradise of Đà Lạt, in Vietnam’s central highlands, I belatedly realize I don’t have a place to stay. Don’t worry, Google tells me, the “Crazy House” has a vacancy. If Walt Disney and Antoni Gaudí took some bad shrooms together, they’d probably end up building what I was about to step into.
At the reception desk, I ignore the red flags: mismatched furniture, rope-woven cobwebs, the glowering red eyes of a kangaroo sculpture. The hotel’s warped walls sway and slump like melting wax, and my room sits snugly inside a hollowed-out banyan tree carved from iron, plaster and wood. “There’s Wi-Fi,” hotel staffer Vy Đỗ informs me before leaving me to my fate. I feel like I’ve wandered into an Alice in Wonderland fever dream.
Started in 1990, the Crazy House is still under construction (projected completion date: 2020). A short saunter around the half-completed hotel grounds means making your way through a labyrinth of screeching gates and peanut-shaped passageways, ducking into tiny tunnels and stumbling upon hidden crannies. A stay in one of the hotel’s 10 themed rooms costs from 540,000 đồng ($24) to 1.5 million đồng ($66) a night. Or you can pay a modest admission fee of 30,000 đồng ($1.30) to walk around the Crazy House during the day. You’re likely to find yourself in good company — the hotel has approximately 350 guests a month. “I didn’t expect to find something like this in Vietnam, much less in Đà Lạt,” says Miguel Saavedra, a mystified Spanish tourist who has likely lost his way. “This building is like a dream that’s out of place.”
The Crazy House is meant to “bring people back to nature,” to “love,” not “destroy” Vietnam’s lush landscapes.
The mastermind behind this architectural acid trip is not entirely off her rocker. In a country where chemicals flow freely through the Mekong Delta and city skies are clogged with dangerous pollutants, the Crazy House is meant to “bring people back to nature,” to “love,” not “destroy” Vietnam’s lush landscapes, says owner Đặng Việt Nga, a wiry, thin woman who studied architecture in Moscow. Walk through the hotel, and you’ll see curves, not straight lines. You climb tree stumps, not stairs, and you sit on giant concrete toadstools, not cushy armchairs. Skinny footbridges snake among low-hanging branches and leafy vines.
To bring the beauty out of the bizarre, Đặng chucked standard blueprints and relied on hand-painted drawings. She only received permission to begin building after 18 years of pleading with local officials, who frowned on her surrealist designs. “Through the Crazy House,” she says, “I want to realize my dreams of independence and freedom.” Today, Đặng lives in a gold-encrusted private residence smack-dab in the middle of the Crazy House complex, where she oversees the construction of her pièce de résistance. In the meantime, her hotel has been featured in a handful of travel guidebooks, including Lonely Planet and Frommer’s, and short-listed by China’s People’s Daily as of the 10 most bizarre buildings in the world.
Pro tips: If you value privacy, keep in mind you’re lodging in an attraction that sees 90,000-plus shutter-happy tourists each year — odds are that at least one will try to peek through your bedroom window. And anyone with a fear of heights might want to steer clear: In some areas without railings, there are 50-foot drops. More and more globe-trotters, though, are opting to travel off the beaten trail and stay in quirkier accommodations like the Crazy House.
After an odd night inside the Crazy House, I hand back my room key and step back out into the Real World. Already, I miss the strange sanctuary behind me.
Go There: Crazy House
- How to Say in Vietnamese: Biệt thự Hằng Nga
- Price: Rooms range from 540,000 VND ($24) to 1.5 million VND ($66) per night. Book early — rooms fill up fast.
- Directions: Flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Đà Lạt cost around $50. From the airport, you can take a bus for 40,000 VND ($1.80; approximately 45 minutes) or a taxi for 170,000 VND ($7.50) to Đà Lạt’s city center.
- Fun Fact: Architect Đặng Việt Nga is the daughter of former Vietnamese president Trường Chinh.