Set in the mountains of south-central Vietnam, Dalat is a beautiful city surrounded by waterfalls, lakes, flowers, wineries, and coffee plantations. While Ho Chi Minh City was interesting and helped introduce us to Vientam, we were happy to get away from the city and see more of the country. We took a few day stop in the tourist town Mui Ne before heading into the highlands to check out Dalat.
A sleeper bus brought us from Mui Ne to Dalat for $6 each and took about four hours to wind through the foggy mountainside into the city. Getting off of the bus we immediately noticed the cold weather in the 1,500 meter high city and headed to our guest house in a hurry, eager to change out of our shorts and flip flops. Arriving at Thien Kim Guesthouse we were greeted by the owners and brought up to a big room with a balcony, which was surprising as the room cost $8 per night. Thien offered us free coffee at reception when we were ready and eagerly marked the best places to eat and best sights to see on a map for us. A canyoning advertisement caught my eye and despite the cold weather, we booked our spots for $40 each for the next day.
The Crazy House
Thien had told us to visit a place that we had read a bit about, The Crazy House, so we thought we’d walk that way. The Crazy House was built in the late 80’s by an architect who used paintings and drawings as the concept and had laborers build from those instead of blueprints. When the costs got out of hand he decided to open a guesthouse that he built in to repay his debt. After gaining a lot of attention he also opened The Crazy House to tourism, charging a small fee to walk around the place. We showed up expecting an odd looking building that was more than likely a tourist trap, but what we found was something completely different.
We paid our 40,000 VND ($1.80USD) and walked inside the gate to find something that Dr. Seuss would’ve been hard pressed to have imagined. Staircases climbed upward in every direction as we walked into the odd corridor and the stairs themselves looked like small tree stumps or sometimes were almost as steep as ladders, climbing straight up. Huge fake spiderwebs spread out over a pond, and people climbed around on narrow walkways high above us. The staircases seemed like they were out of an Escher drawing, where in one building we went up a staircase, walked through a hall, and back down another staircase to end up in the same place we started.
The whole place consists of multiple different buildings, some of which appear to still be under construction and some rooms seem to be high above the ground with no means of accessing them. The rooms that were available to rent ranged from odd – The Kangaroo Room featured a massive kangaroo with glowing red eyes – to the amazing Pheasant Room, where a spiral staircase in the shape of a tree brought you from the lounge up to the bedroom. We are incredibly cheap when it comes to accommodation, typically spending $7-11 dollars throughout Indonesia and Vietnam, however The Crazy House impressed us so much we tried to book a room. The price was $70 for a night in the Pheasant Room, but unfortunately it and the Honeymoon Room (another two story stand alone house near the pond) had been booked for the duration of our time in town.
Our visit to The Crazy House was nothing like we had anticipated and we felt the hype was well deserved. Staying here without understanding what the place is would be a bit rough since tourists come and go throughout the day from 7am to 7pm, but for the twelve hours it’s closed to the public, the craziest house we’ve seen would be all yours. After almost two hours exploring the place, we reluctantly left The Crazy House and headed back to the real world.
If you aren’t familiar with canyoning, it’s a mix of rappelling (abseiling), cliff jumping, and sliding down rocks along a canyon. Sissy had bought me a canyoning trip in Austria for my birthday a year and a half prior and I loved it, and we were excited to see how Dalat compared. We were picked up at our guesthouse by Highland Holidays in a minibus that drove us 15 minutes out of town to a parking lot full of tourists. While the place was packed, most people were buying tickets to go see the waterfall while we put on our wet suits and prepared to rappel down it.
A short introduction to rappelling taught the basics to any first timers, then we headed to our first drop, a 15 meter high cliff on the side of a beautiful waterfall. Descending down with some of the tourists observing, we dropped into the pool at the base of the falls and were plenty grateful for our wet suits since the water was cold and the mountain air was too. Further down the canyon we found ourselves dropping down another 15 meter high cliff and swimming along the river for some time. When we it came time to jump off the cliffs we had the option to jump from 7, 9, or 11 meters, with the 11 meter jump requiring a good running start to clear the rocks below.
The instructor required us to jump from 7 meters first, and after we had done that the majority of us took the running leap from 11 into the river below. Jumping from 11 meters isn’t a problem, but the rocks that you have to clear on this jump looked pretty dicey at best. From above it would appear that you’d need to make a 3 meter long jump or so, however in reality it’s not nearly that far and easy to clear. A questionable looking rock slide down a small waterfall was our next obstacle, and as I shot down it feet first I felt my body slamming against the rocks at each turn. Remarkably after being shot deep underwater at the end of the rock slide I resurfaced and noticed I didn’t have a single bump or bruise, the wet suit and helmet had protected me from any harm!
Another turn on the rock slide and it was finally time for the famous final rappel down “The Washing Machine”. The rappel is named The Washing Machine because you drop a few meters until you’re hanging free over the river. Once you have no more rock to touch you descend into a large waterfall that’s shooting out of the rock from your left. The waterfall hits you hard and you need to remember to continue to descend while your face and body are getting pummeled by water. At the bottom of the rappel you fall into the river and just shoved down deep for five seconds before resurfacing and swimming to safety. If you listen to what the guide tells you then you can avoid getting hurt, but a few people forgot to pull their arms in and sit upright and paid for it with some small bruises. Overall the canyoning was a blast and a great way to spend the majority of a day.
Countryside and Waterfalls
If you’ve spent much time with us or on our Instagram then you may be familiar with our affection for waterfalls. Dalat is a nice city, but the countryside and nature nearby are the main reason to visit. Getting an English speaking local guide to take you to some of the nearby rice fields, farms, and silk factories is easy to organize, and we made sure we’d also visit Pongour Waterfall, which is considered one of the most beautiful falls in Vietnam. Our trip started out at a nearby temple before heading into the hills toward Prenn Waterfall. The hillsides were terraced and covered in coffee plants and resembled a European countryside more than what we had seen of Vietnam. The old colonial French architecture made the resemblance even more striking.
Parking at Prenn Waterfall was a bit busy, and heading through the gate we found a large tourist park surrounded the falls. As in Mui Ne, we saw Russian signs and menus as the clientele seemed to be almost exclusively Russian, and near the nice falls was an area set up for elephant riding. Sissy and I are strongly opposed to elephant riding after having learned about the process of elephant crushing long ago. Unfortunately a number of heavyset tourists were riding the elephants as they were bull hooked along, and one particularly thoughtless vacationer was laughing as he held a banana in front of an elephant and pulled it away whenever the poor creature tried to grab it with its trunk. Having already admired the falls and feeling unable to watch the spectacle with the elephants for more than a minute, we headed onward into the countryside.
Our next stop was a K’ho village, which we were told was the home to an ethnic minority group by the same name. The K’ho were a nomadic people that roamed the countryside until the end of the Second Indochina War when they set up a village centered around a giant chicken statue with nine nails on its legs. A local told us that for a time, if a man wanted to marry a woman he had to present a chicken with nine nails, however that’s no longer the custom. We visited some shops where locals made crafts to sell the odd tourist and saw fields growing tons of different crops that were tended by the locals.
Heading further out of town, we made our way toward Pongour Waterfall, which the locals told us was the most impressive in the area, if not all of Vietnam. Pongour is far from town, almost an hour by car, and thus not nearly as busy as the other waterfalls near Dalat. We were pleasantly surprised by the size and beauty of the falls upon arrival.
There are barbed wire fences and signs up to keep visitors from swimming in the water, which unfortunately detracts from the beauty of the site, but the falls are incredibly impressive nonetheless. It had been raining in Dalat prior to our visit, which also helped the water flow as Pongour can dry up considerably. The massive falls are 100 meters wide and 40 meters tall, and were something to be seen in full flow.
Our final waterfall for the day, Elephant Falls, was a bit different of an experience than the previous two had been. The falls themselves are beautiful, with huge stone pillars fallen around the pool at the bottom. The interesting part of the falls is more of the path than the waterfall.
The start of the path toward the bottom of the falls seemed easy enough, just some steps and a small bridge. Things got a bit tougher just after that, becoming very steep and parts of the path went missing completely, with holes dropping away where the path should have been. A wild metal rail is all that kept us upright at times as we descended toward the base of the falls. A viewing platform on the left have us a break before continuing down the slippery path to the bottom.
Jumping from slick rock to rock, we finally got to the base of the falls, or just down river from it. Standing on a huge fallen pillar was as far as I dared to go in the wet and slippery conditions, however no signs or fences seemed to forbid further exploration. Our trip back up was a bit less treacherous and we returned from Elephant Waterfall wet and muddy, with grins on our faces.
Our final stop before heading back to town was the one we were the least interested in initially, a silk factory. Heading into the factory, we saw beautiful silk tapestries on the walls and an open box on a table. Our driver excitedly pointed into the box and showed us the live silkworms that wiggled around inside!
In the factory they don’t just produce silk that has been discarded by the worms, they have to wait for them to build a cocoon and then use that to product the silk. To get the silk from the cocoon they put it into boiling hot water, meaning certain doom for the worm inside. We watched the women working down the lines of the factory, pulling raw silk from the water and putting the boiled worms aside. Seeing dead worms and wet silk balls turning into beautiful spooled silk was very different than I would have guessed.
A silk coloring station was next followed by the looms used to weave the silk into clothing. Finally the clothing and tapestries that had been made in the factory were up for sale in a shop just before the exit. Our driver had a surprise for us before we left, he wanted to show us what happened with the discarded silk worms after they were boiled. He grabbed a jar from the checkout counter and opened it, revealing seasoned, boiled worms! We both refused to taste them, so he grabbed one and ate it with a grin on his face. “I don’t eat cat or dog like those people up north do,” he told us, “but worms and crickets are okay!”
100 Roofs Cafe (Bar)
Thien told us we should grab a drink at 100 Roofs Cafe, which is a bar in town, but he didn’t specify why, so we didn’t think much of it. Having been told about a crazy maze bar in town by another traveler, we looked it up and found out he was also talking about 100 Roofs Cafe. From the outside the bar looked a bit crazy, but stepping inside took us into another world.
The entry fee is the cost of one drink, which is about twice the price of other low priced bars, so $1.80 for a beer. There were two sets of stairs that greeted us once inside, one upward and one down. We headed down into what felt like a colorful dungeon, complete with very Crazy House-esque architecture. Alice wondering down the rabbit hole is the best analogy I could use to describe the odd descent into the long labyrinth that is 100 Roofs. Tiny, steep stairways lead upward through narrow passageways in the dark corridors, which wound back and forth onto themselves. We climbed up multiple times to be met with new, confusing hallways that snaked around the floors. Multiple times we thought we knew what would be around the next turn, having definitely just come from there, just to find something new.
After an hour or so, we emerged onto the roof of the bar to find a pond and a cave, which we walked upward through. Emerging from the cave brought us to the highest point (that we know of) in 100 Roofs, which looked out over Dalat and a garden. We had reached the top of the maze, but now we had to get back out. On our way down we stumbled outside onto a balcony where we met a couple we had gone canyoning with. They admitted this was their third visit to 100 Roofs since they kept finding something new each time. A half hour and a few wrong turns later, we finally emerged from the craziest bar we have ever been to.
Our short stay in Dalat was a great time, from canyoning to the most crazy buildings we’ve ever seen to seeing the beautiful countryside. If you visit, make sure to drink some of the famous Dalat wine and visit a few bakeries as well since we found them to be among the best in Vietnam. Next we would head down to an island near the border of Vietnam and Cambodia to celebrate Christmas with Sissy’s family before going on to the ancient city of Hoi An!