Xin Chao Hue
Hue is famous for its rich imperial history, the ancient palace and tombs and the picturesque setting along the Perfume River….. so an abandoned waterpark might not come to mind for most travellers as a place to visit during a stay in Hue, especially for families with kids. For me it was one of the places I eagerly looked forward to during the run-up of our stay in the imperial city!
Our Arrival at Pilgrimage Hotel
After a long overnight journey on the train from Hanoi we had arrived at the Pilgrimage Hotel, where we received a very warm welcome. The manager Miwa-san greeted us and would help us with our every request during the stay at this beautiful hotel set amidst lush tropical vegetation, she was even happy to let me practice some Japanese with her. Our room was not yet ready, but we were able to spend some time relaxing at the poolside and the boys enjoyed a refreshing swim. Before heading to the abandoned waterpark we had an early lunch in the hotel’s restaurant. Miwa-san had already reserved three bicycles for us, many of you will already know that we like to explore by pedal bike wherever we are and of course if the location permits (most of Hanoi definitely does not!).
Cycling through the Outskirts of Hue
Jerome selected a smaller bike for himself and they even had some bikes with children seats for younger kids. The staff thought we were crazy to cycle in the heat and humidity and were kind enough to prepare us for our ride with a free cooled bottle of water each. Once Jerome had his helmet on we were on our way. First hurdle of crossing the busy road outside was accomplished and we rode along a quieter street towards the waterpark using google maps as a guide.
Looking for the Entrance to Ho Thuy Tien
We were not quite sure where the entrance to the waterpark, Ho Thuy Tien, was located and followed the route on our phones. Along the way we passed a few cafes, shops and many residential houses, some of them resembling more shacks than actual residential buildings. Most of the houses were open towards the road, with a small shaded terrace out front. Kids were watching TV and some locals lazed in their hammocks or were busy with daily chores. There certainly were a few curious looks among them and a few greeted us with a friendly “Xin Chao”. I guess you do not get so many tourists on bikes.
The Entrance to the Abandoned Waterpark
The entrance gate at the abandoned waterpark was guarded by two guys, but they seemed to be more interested in their phones than us cycling past and I am not really sure if they worked there or just used it as a place to relax. The decaying plaster on the building gave us an idea of what awaited us inside the park. We reached a large parking lot, dotted with modern and abstract sculptures to our right, the lake that lays at the centre of the waterpark to our left. In the distance, at the far end of the lake we spotted a dragon shaped building looming over the murky water. We noticed another structure to our right nearby and decided to check this one out first.
Sadly the waterpark, Ho Thuy Tien, in Hue had a short life when it opened to the public in 2004. After only two years it was forced to close and soon after fell into disrepair ever since, despite several attempts to reopen it. There are spooky stories circulating online that the closure was forced upon the owners because the pool was infested with crocodiles. From my research it appears that it was more likely due to the half finished state the park was in when it was opened and the lack of money to further invest in the venture. The crocodiles were part of the aquarium and survived in the pool thanks to some locals who came to feed them. They were eventually rescued and now live in wildlife park in Northern Vietnam.
How to Find Your Way to the Water Park
This surely adds to the mystery and attraction of the ghost park with many independent travellers, especially among the younger crowd. At some point the waterpark had an aura of a dangerous place to visit but I can honestly say that no one was interested when we turned up and cycled around and there were plenty of other curious visitors around. Other than some glass on the ground and a few creaky stairways it seemed pretty safe. Long gone is the myth about how treacherous it is, and how difficult to find the exact location of the abandoned waterpark, no more whispering between travellers and self drawn maps on napkins, everyone just uses Google Maps these days. We even saw later on that guided tours were offered in Hue and places as far as Hoi An and even Hanoi, regretfully it is becoming no longer a secret spot for an off the beaten track adventure thanks to a few posts online.
The Derelict Water Puppet Theatre
The first building on our exploration of the abandoned waterpark turned out to be a water puppet theatre or at least we think it probably was, but it could have been a water show or something else. The outer walls were covered in colourful graffiti and are home to stray dogs and maybe even some homeless locals, that lie in the empty rooms, which must have functioned as box office, toilets and storage rooms in the past.
Inside the Water Puppet Theatre
Stepping through the make-shift barrier, we could see the water basin straight ahead and a platform with rows of plastic seats behind us. The seating area was another large canvas for street artists. The seats were still intact, however far too hot to sit down on. The water in the pool was dark and algae infested, the equipment damaged, although we could see a few pipes poking through the surface.
The Desolate Dragon Building
Cycling on through the parkland we met some cows and other tourists on the way. There were a group of locals that had set up a stall and sold drinks, they also took a small fee for parking motorbikes and scooters. Our next stop on our tour though the waterpark was the huge dragon sculpture guarding a futuristic dome and coiling its scaled tail across the platform. Its massive head and mouth gapes at the top, creating a spectacular viewing area.
Inside the Dragon
Entering the building, we first walked up the stairs, inside the dragon’s spine, which the architects had deliberately created to show the skeletal backbone. The first floor contained a large, empty room and peeking out through the round cubbyholes we noticed that nature had already started to take over the building. Climbing the staircase to the top floor we found ourselves at the gaping dragon’s mouth. At first we were somewhat anxious about stepping into the opening, not because of the scary, jagged incisors, but rather because we were unsure of the crumbling state of the building. The views over and beyond the lake were stunning and a great spot to take some photos…
The Forsaken Aquarium
The dragon’s tummy was once home to an aquarium, nowadays the large fish tanks are mere shells of metal and shattered glass shards cover the floors of the site. So please be careful where you step and do not touch anything! We could make out the plastered shapes of a ray and other fish along the wall, and we exited through the open mouth of a shark with its sharp, pointy fangs. This was probably where the legendary crocodiles were once to be found as there is large fetid pool in what was once an enclosed tank.
Taking our bikes we went across the little bridge to the other side of the lake. From there it was a short but bumpy ride to the old water slides and children’s pool area, where we climbed the stairs to the top of the slide tower. There were three slides running down into the green pool below. Pine needles, mould and other debris covered the slides, the spiral ones were hidden beneath trees and showing years of neglect. Jerome and I slid downhill, mostly on our feet, as the surface was too grubby and hot from the sun. It was an eerie and fascinating adventure in one. Standing at the bottom of the slide, we noticed vast amounts of litter floating in the greeny pool water. We could well imagine that groups of locals and tourists enjoy a spooky party on the premises.
The Murky Children’s Pool
Walking along the edge of the swimming pool the palms reflecting on the water’s surface we took a quick peek at the children’s pool, which gave the same sad dormant appearance as the rest of the park. We decided to give our little drone a ride and take some photos of the slides and pool from above. Jerome was slightly anxious with the palm trees around but we still managed to get some pictures of this interesting site. Ho Thuy Tien would surely provide the perfect set for a horror movie and therefore might not be the ideal holiday escapade with younger kids but older ones will love to explore.
An Unusual Kind of Sight
The visit to the waterpark gave us a different kind of local colour and insight into Vietnam and filled my craving for unusual places to visit. We were happy to return to Pilgrimage Hotel and bought a kem (possibly the first Vietnamese word that the boys learned meaning ice cream) at the little supermarket across the road. The hotel staff were glad to see us return unscratched from our exciting sojourn, although the country roads seemed pretty quiet and safe.
Back at the Hotel
Chris and Jerome quickly changed into their swimming costumes and headed to the pool. I enjoyed the daily piano concert from our room’s balcony and the lowering evening sun finding its path though the palm leaves.
Dinner at La Pines
Instead of taking the free shuttle bus into Hue that evening we went to a restaurant La Pines nearby and enjoyed a quiet but delicious dinner of local Vietnamese cuisine. We discussed plans for our next day in Hue while waiting for the food to arrive and decided to visit the Citadel and Imperial Enclosure, the main attraction for most visitors to Hue….but then we like to be different sometimes.
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