Trespassing inside a dragon in Vietnam’s most impressive abandoned waterpark

by Connor Newson 

Hue is a city probably best experienced in high season when the sun is bouncing off the glorious roofs of the luxurious palaces and Imperial City, that reside within the walls of its 19th Century Citadel. But when you find yourself trapped under the sheltered balcony of a hostel during monsoon season, with the rain relentlessly blanketing the city, what better thing to do than explore an abandoned waterpark eight kilometres from the city centre.

Ho Thuy Tien cost its investors about three million US dollars to construct and was only partially complete when it opened to the public in 2004. Soon after the project was abandoned, characterising a failed attempt to capitalise on Vietnam’s recent influx of tourism. Now, as nature rightfully reclaims its space, the park has become a hidden gem for avid urban explorers eager to experience the seemingly post-apocalyptic paradise.

Over the past few years I have obtained the firm belief that the most effective method to discover a place, whether that rural or urban, is to get lost in it. To wander almost aimlessly rather that being herded by a tour guide who pre-emptively assumes the sites she or he thinks you want to see – so long as you have your wits about you. With this in mind, I head out.

A quick Google search suggests the location can be found only by word of mouth, by the subtle exchange of a scrunched up piece of paper passed from one traveller to the next. When I ask some locals how to get to Ho Thuy Tien they appear as oblivious as I am. I begin to question whether this place really exists, or that maybe its whereabouts is being desperately suppressed to preserve its non-commodified beauty. Possibly neither, because when I mention the words “abandoned waterpark”, something clicks.”Ah yes! Waterpark”.

Eight kilometres later, my taxi tentatively approaches a large algae-covered decaying archway Paint peels from its walls, raised letters read ‘Ho Thuy Tien’ in a bold blue font. Below there is no gate, no makeshift barrier obstructing my entry, and no gatekeeper pretending to be an official guard ready to exploit the curious explorer by asking for a fee – something I was  warned about. Only a long straight road lay in front, disappearing into the foggy woodland. I continue, knowing the taxi would wait only an hour at the entrance and begin to follow the mysterious path, hesitantly remembering that crocodiles once roamed these lands soon after its downfall. (They have since been removed, apparently).

ho thuy tien - entrance.jpg

Soon enough I stumbled upon a clearing where unusual shapes, sculptures crafted from stone, had been scattered across the grass. They stood isolated from one another, mimicking the parks isolated geographical location. Untouched and unobserved for over a decade, I find myself feeling selfishly fortunate of being able to admire a stranger’s artwork with no other human distraction, in the eerie tranquillity of a foggy gallery.

A little further and the terrain alters. The grass becomes swamped with water as I trudge to the edge of a lake sprawling into the distance. Dirty, green, and unmaintained, I think of whether it would look more beautiful if instead it had been maintained, if instead there were hundreds of people sat around or rushing to the now deteriorating attractions. Then I become content with the idea that nature being able to flourish without intervention is much more beautiful.

I wander further down a narrow broken path with tree roots clawing at the unused waterlogged path that winds around the lake. My pace comes to a steadying stop as a large and pervasive dragon emerges from the heavy fog. It towers high, looming over me with its gaping jaw guarding its territory from one end of the lake. Its tail coils around a dome-shaped smaller structure, the metallic skin rusting where the algae has not yet claimed. A darkened doorway  lays ahead with shattered glass glistening in the water at its base. Not the most welcoming of entrances, but then those in abandoned complex’s rarely are. I guess that’s part of the thrill in urban exploration: heading into the unknown and discovering without someone to guide your hand.

I step through, observing the graffiti that plasters the walls, and begin climbing a spiral staircase into the darkness above. After a few flights of watching my footing intently, feeling daylight struggle through the clouds to illuminate my path, I stand in awe staring at the teeth of the beast. I am standing in the mouth of the dragon I had gazed at only moments before. I feel suddenly superior, suspended high above the trees observing the desolate vastness of the park. The lake stretches out in front, three dilapidated waterslides that descend into the trees in the distance on my left, and an eerie-looking grandstand looms opposite.

dragon-mouth-ho-thuy-tien

From this slight altitude I feel a real sense of how isolated and beautiful such a place can be, especially without the interference of excessive human presence. It makes me think, as it usually does in these situations, would I really  have found this place if I was being led on a leash by an overpriced guide showing you places that they think you would want to see? Maybe, but  I prefer going solo. There is more risk that way.

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