"But where do you stay?" is one of the questions we're constantly asked about our journey. The truth is that we like to mix it up. And while an unpredictable, unbooked in advanced kind of a life has its downsides, surely one of the joys is that we can decide what's right for us as we go. After all, a family has different needs at different times. Sometimes we need a hotel with a swimming pool to jump into at the end of a hot day of sightseeing. Sometimes, we need a little apartment that we can make home and cook a vat of pasta in. Sometimes, we need to pull back the budget and just go cheap. But sometimes, and these are the fun ones, we make a concerted effort to stay somewhere spectacular that the kids will fall in love with. Somewhere they really will remember.
By the time we got to Vietnam, we'd done a couple of these. We'd stayed in a wall-less, monkey filled jungle lodge in the beautiful Banyan camp near Sri Lanka's Udawalawe National Park. We'd lived in our very own tea plantation up in the hill country near Kandy. And the night before we arrived in Da Lat, we'd sacrificed both our backs and our sanity by fulfilling Olivia's sadistic dream of a night bus.
We'd had naive visions of the South American style coaches, where seats recline, headspace and breathing space is available and meals are doled out regularly. It would be a challenge with two kids, we thought, but a doable one. The kind of thing that made us seem adventurous without making ourselves too uncomfortable. Ha. Hahahaha. From the pickup on the pitch black street corner swirling with mosquitoes, to the alarming speed through foggy mountains to the total lack of food, to the double booked seats that meant we spent the entire night balanced on a claustrophobic platform about ten inches from the ceiling, praying that the baby wouldn't crawl off it, that bus was the definition of hell.
Luckily, and somewhat uncharacteristically, we’d organised our room in Da Lat ahead of time. And we'd booked a fun one, way back when in London, possibly after bedtime and a few glasses of red. So as we crawled, dishevelled, from the sweaty sardine can masquerading as reasonable transport, we had no choice but to mainline a pot of coffee, down a bucket of pho and start afresh.
The crowds were already there, milling around outside and waiting for the gates to open. Staff circled in cloaks and hats, braced for the impending rush. Olivia, high on the thrills of her night bus adventure, had managed to forget where we were staying. So when she jumped out of the cab, she stopped short, gazed upwards and let out what can only be described as a gaspy kind of squeak.
The Crazy House may officially be named the Hằng Nga Guesthouse, but we're pretty sure nobody's ever called it that. The brainchild of Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga and the lovechild of Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, this towering figment of a wild imagination looms incongruously above the green and strawberry flecked central highlands of Da Lat. Built as a personal project, the costs piled up fast and the only answer to the financial woes was to open it up to the paying public in 1990.
Since then, huge crowds have swarmed the narrow walkways and acid-tinged caves from morning to night, dressed up to the nines for this Instagrammer’s dream. And therein lies the problem: the Crazy House is so popular that you can’t actually see it for the people. But there is, we found out, another way. You can book a room, as usual, on booking.com. But rather than choosing a double or twin as usual, you select a Termite or Kangaroo or Eagle. Because the Crazy House is also a guesthouse, a warren of strange little rooms without a straight wall between them.
We splash out and check into the Gourd room for two nights, a curved, womblike chamber with a show stopping skylight, a round bed and an undulating little balcony that looks out across the rooftops and spires of this surreal folly.
Idiosyncrasies abound. The buildings lie somewhere between architectural gem and theme park monstrosity. Health and safety is largely ignored, the lopsided bannisters the perfect height for a child but vertigo-inducing for an adult. During the visiting hours of 8.30am to 7pm, we get the hell out of there, exploring the landscapes Da Lat rather than staying in our room with the incessant knock of tourists trying to get in. We take alpine rollercoasters to rushing waterfalls and pick baskets of fresh berries in the farms, swooping through the hills on a motorbike to our tone deaf rendition of Bowie’s Moonage Daydream.
Back at the Crazy House, the sun has gone down and the shutterbugs are gone. We have the place to ourselves at last. So at night we run free, squeezing through giant seashells and playing hide and seek in underwater caves, clambering around ultraviolet mushroom gardens and heading up the highest walkways to see the city glittering in the distance. And after a sound sleep in what feels like Cinderella’s pumpkin, we head out first thing to do it all again in the sunlight, jumpers over our pyjamas, drinking in the weirdness before the crowds return and change it back into Disneyland.
As the floodgates open, we feast on fresh juice, yoghurt and pancakes up in our little room, ready for the next adventure and safe in the knowledge that we did crazy in the best way possible.
The Crazy House
Mon to Sun from 8:30am to 7:00pm