Off to Da Nang!

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We line up to march onto the tarmac at Da Lat Airport.

It’s time to head on to our next city, Da Nang. While a lot of backpackers attempt to bus or train around Vietnam, we’ve found it’s insanely cheap to fly. Our average flight per person flight cost is $100 USD, and this flight from Da Lat to Da Nang cost us $121 per person. Sure, the bus from Da Lat to Da Nang can be found through a travel agent at $11 per person, there are some horror stories out there and you have to go through Nha Trang, which we’ve heard from fellow travelers is one of the seediest, unpleasant places they’ve ever visited. So yeah, we’re not sad that we’re skipping the on-the-ground travel in this case.

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Walking the tarmac! Off to Da Nang, now.

Looking for flights? Your best bet is to check Jetstar, which had a ton of deals while we were there. Air Vietnam also sometimes has deals to compete with Jetstar.

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This advert was just so weird, so it’s here. You’re welcome!

Da Lat Bugs

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A jumping spider (perhaps of Plexippinae) crawls along a plant stem.

I’ve got more bugs for you! These ones come from all over Da Lat, whose temperate climate is surprisingly kind to insect and arachnid populations. There are butterflies, mosquito hawks, and of course your favorite, jumping spiders. I’ve tried to ID them where possible:

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A Catopsilia pomona perhces on a blade of grass.
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A jumping spider, perhaps a Hyllus spp. in Plexippinae according to abdomen patterning.
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A jumping spider, perhaps a Hyllus spp. in Plexippinae according to abdomen patterning.
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A haunting shadow of a crane fly, seen through opaque glass.
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A spider from the daddy long legs group (Pholcidae) crawls along a post edge.
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An unidentified salticid takes a ride with us on our swan boat.
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Some kind of weevil or borer. I’m a lot less patient with IDing beetles and beetle-related insects.
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Another unidentified jumping spider (UJS).
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An amazing jumping spider of the family Myrmarachne. They have evolved to look like and mimic ants!
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An amazing jumping spider of the family Myrmarachne. This one has lunch in its jaws.
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An unidentified inchworm.
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An unidentified fuzzy beetle.
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Two ants explore a nectar for flower.

Day trip out to Tuyen Lam Lake

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Incense sticks burn at Thien Vien Truc Lam Temple.

We’ve been longing to get out to nearby Tuyen Lam Lake to see some nature, but Stoytcho has staunchly vetoed the idea of renting a motorbike. “What, come on!” I say, “It’ll be fine.” But Vietnam does have some absurdly high motor vehicle death rates, so I’m not terribly convincing. We also promised our travel nurse we wouldn’t do this. As we were getting shots for yellow fever and Japanese Encephalitis and goodness-knows-what-else, we told her about our travel plans in Southeast Asia. “Just promise me you won’t rent a motorbike there. That is more likely to kill you than any of these diseases combined.”

But thanks to a cable car, there is one bit of Tuyen Lam Lake we can reach without a vehicle. So on our last day in Da Lat, we caught a cab up to the cable car entrance, bought tickets, and soared over pine tree forests and farms for fifteen minutes. We arrived at Thien Vien Truc Lam Temple, walked through its grounds, and had a lovely stroll by the lake. In one cluster of buildings by the shore, we found a restaurant and had lunch and I survived a near-concussive experience as a lumber beam perched over their bathroom door came crashing down an inch from me. The cook’s wife came running in horror, assuming she’d killed a foreigner, but I managed to communicate that I was ok. And to celebreate the near brush with death (even in absence of renting a motorbike), we took a swan boat out onto the lake. That’s as good a celebration of life as any, right?

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Men weld steel outside the cable care ticket office–probably not for the cable car.

 

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Riding the cable car.

 

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A man photographs his family at Thien Vient Truc Lam Temple.

 

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People enter and exit the prayer space in the temple.

 

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A Buddha statue gestures toward the sky.

 

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An inchworm raises up to find branch to crawl on.

 

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Visitors take photographs around Tuyen Lam Lake.

 

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A man walks through flowers planted in the arc of a rainbow.

 

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Tourist boats line lake shore, Vietnam flags waving proudly.

 

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We paddle our swan boat out onto the lake.

 

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A lamprey surfaces in our boat wake. I could see the ring of its jawless mouth.

 

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An abandoned swanboat in the middle of the lake.

 

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A tower at the end of a path on the lake.

Da Lat Flower Park

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The “city of a thousand flowers” has botanical displays and delights all over, but its biggest garden is the Da Lat Flower Park. Situated on the eastern corner of the city’s lake, it’s a display of hundreds of flower varieties in a theme-park atmosphere. Almost no one was around on the rainy day we visited, but we had fun exploring the mostly-kept grounds and marveling at the copyright-infringing Disney statues and other baffling lawn displays. I’d say it’s worth going for these alone.

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Hang Nga Crazy House

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A view of the guesthouse portion of the Hang Nga Crazy House. Yes, you can stay there, although it’s not the cheapest accommodation in Da Lat.

You know how some cities have an iconic ‘thing’, the likes of which you can’t find anywhere else? Something like the Hollywood Sign of Los Angeles, the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona, or the Opera House in Sydney. That’s what Hang Nga Crazy House is to Da Lat. An ever-growing, organic architectural feat, the twenty-seven year old structure is the child of Dang Viet Nga, an architect who found inspiration in the natural beauty surrounding the city. It opens its doors on weekdays, allowing visitors to explore the structure’s winding paths, snaking staircases, and baffling rooms. And it’s a one-of-a-kind place, in part because almost anywhere else in the world it would have accrued hundreds of building code violations. Watch your head while you take in the magic.

This was my favorite place in Vietnam because of its architectural whimsy, but also because it’s still under construction. Hang Nga Crazy House has already swallowed up two nearby lots that went on sale, and Dang Viet Nga shows no signs of stopping. As we wandered through the labyrinth of passages, we stumbled into sites under construction and some laying fallow, waiting for the artist’s hand. Several artists work on the house at any given time, and they’re excited to show you their art.

Below are our most amazing pictures of Hang Nga Crazy House. It stole my heart with its unapologetic quirkiness and unwavering commitment to the organic form. I’ll have to go back one day to get it. ❤

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The guesthouse, hidden amongst trees and bougainvillea.
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Narrow stairs with low railings snake around the structure like vines, leading you between different buildings.
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Two women pose for a selfie atop a stairwell.
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A maze of stairs leading between the different levels.
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Touirsts duck under another stairwell while climbing, as another tourist eyes the short railing warily. This place is definitely not childproofed or adultproofed.
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People wander the labyrinthe paths, which wind through gardens and over buildlings.
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The front garden, complete with concrete mushrooms and a koi pond.
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A live soursop tree grows among the buildings. The entire Hang Nga Crazy House is a mix of living plants and concrete structures shaped like living plants.
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A tourist finds his way into the under-construction region; you can see the normal apartments across the street in the background.
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The back portion of the Hang Nga Crazy House lies fallow, waiting for artists to continue work on its extension. The project has grown from its original size, and looks poised to grow more.
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Artists discuss a mural in an under-construction part of the house. I have a sneaking suspicion that the woman in the hat is Dang Viet Nga (the project mastermind), but chickened out out on asking her.
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Stoytcho stands in an under-construction ocean-themed part of the house, where coral and anemonae await paint in the background.
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I talk with artist Hoàng Đức Thành about his work on the house. They’ve been working for months on this part, using reference material to create undersea-inspired sculptures from concrete and plaster and painting murals on the room’s walls.
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Hoàng Đức Thành’s workspace and reference material.
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A Google Photosphere produced from one of the balconies, making the house no more or less strange than it already is.

Want more architectural wonderland? You can find it here, because I don’t know how to embed Flickr Galleries into WordPress yet: https://www.flickr.com/photos/146223950@N02/albums/72157687692351401

Delightful Da Lat

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If you want to visit Vietnam without the rote tourism, overcrowded cities, and tropical humidity, Da Lat is your city. Situated in the 1,500 m above sea level on the Langbian Plateau, Da Lat (or Dalat) is a year-round temperate getaway for people looking to relax, take in the mountain air, and drink coffee. The primary tourism market here is domestic and the foreign tourists that do make it here are primarily Russian, so don’t expect many English speakers. But several places offer English menus, and paper, a pen, and a smile are all you need to barter in the city’s markets. So pull up a chair and order a coffee, visit the city’s flower garden, or explore Da Lat’s bizarre architectural wonderland.

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A view of the city; red-roofed French villas from the colonial era sprawl across the countryside, a reminder that this was once a getaway for the French-colonial elite.

 

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A rain-kissed flower grows in a planter in Da Lat. The city is also known as “the city of a thousand flowers” and its temperate climate produces flowers for export.

 

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A man fishes in Xuan Huong Lake. I personally would not eat anything from this lake (see below).

 

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A woman uses a net and pole to fish waste out of Xuan Huong Lake after a storm. Heavy rainfall washes everything from plant debris to plastic bottles to dead fish down into the lake, so people like the above keep Da Lat beautiful.

 

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A military officer looks around at stalls in an indoor market.

 

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Plastic tables double as chairs, set out in preparation for an evening concert.

 

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Not someone’s home, but the interior of a local coffee shop. The city is filled with dozens of cozy cafes like this one.

 

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The branch of a bonsai tree on the shore of Xuan Huong Lake.

 

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A view over the night market in the city center.

 

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Vendors display wares to potential customers in the night market.

 

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Looking lost in the night market.

 

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Toys posed (by someone else) in a mall in Da Lat.

 

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A woman poses for a photo while riding as an advertisement for Yamaha motorbikes.

 

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A woman takes a selfie (left) while tourists wander by below (lower center) in the confusing architecture of the Hang Nga Crazy House.

 

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A bubbling cauldron of stew in the local market. IT WAS DELICIOUS.

 

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An offerings table for deceased ancestors in front of a local business.

 

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A truck-sized lotus lantern awaits deployment onto Xuan Huong Lake, part of a celebration of Buddha’s birthday.

 

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The night skyline of Da Lat, reflected into the lake.