Why you should care
Because Disneyland is dullsville.
The Hồ Thuỷ Tiên Water Park has all the usual trappings of an oh-so-fun theme park: a lazy river to drift along, a sky-high waterslide with twists and turns, a large glass aquarium. But beware, as soon as you step through the rusted, rasping gates, you’ll find there’s one crucial element missing — the water.
Let’s just say, I didn’t bring boogie boards.
Against all common sense, I’m driving right past the royal palace and the perfectly blue Perfume River of Vietnam’s imperial city of Hue, and blindly following a pin dropped on Google Maps in search of something — quite literally — off the beaten path. Locals warned me that this water park no longer exists. But let me assure you, this barren and beguiling wonderland is real.
After more than a decade of neglect, the crumbling remains of Ho Thuy Tien sit abandoned, like the discarded skin of a snake.
Back in the early 2000s, developers from the Hue Tourism Company hoped to make a splash with the $3 million water park, but after four long years of construction, funding dribbled to a halt. The doors never opened, and today, this long-forgotten playground looks like a spine-tingling scene out of Jurassic Park. Every now and then, a sprinkling of brave backpackers and local tourists ventures into the sprawling jungles of Vietnam, following scribbled directions on scrunched-up napkins written down by the travelers who’ve gone before them. The park is now in the hands of the Hue Commercial Investment Group Company, which didn’t respond to requests for comment. So far, no new development plans have surfaced, and now, after more than a decade of neglect, the crumbling remains of Hồ Thuỷ Tiên sit abandoned, like the discarded skin of a snake.
If you push past all the tangled weeds and drooping branches, it’s not hard to imagine what Hồ Thuỷ Tiên could have been. Cobwebs cling to gift shops. Mounds of dirt fill ponds meant for lucky koi fish. A bed of moss covers a music theater large enough to seat a few thousand people. And the stench of dead crocodiles still lingers in the aquarium. “I spent 10 minutes looking at empty fish tanks with no sense of irony,” says Joey Donovan, a wayfaring British tourist who’s visited Hồ Thuỷ Tiên a handful of times. He sees the water park as emblematic of Hue’s “broader malaise,” a one-time imperial city now struggling with economic woes and brain drain: “Can there not be a more fitting symbol than an empty theme park?”
Needless to say, the trek to this desolate, half-built Disneyland seems unusual. But the thirst for adventure is on the rise in Asia, says Janice Lee Fang, TripAdvisor’s communications director for the Asia-Pacific. Today, travelers are hungry for more “interesting and out-of-the-ordinary experiences,” she says. Plus, “we are seeing travelers heading to places outside the usual tourist hubs in Southeast Asia.” Black tourism is also a burgeoning industry, with millions of yearly tourists flocking to sites of death and disaster, like Phnom Penh’s killing fields, Auschwitz’s gas chambers and Chernobyl’s nuclear meltdown zone.
Granted, the Hồ Thuỷ Tiên Water Park isn’t a place of suffering, but it’s certainly one of darkly alluring decay. And if you’re not sold yet, look on the bright side — at least there’s no piss in the swimming pool.
GO THERE: Ho Thuy Tien Water Park
- How to Say It in Vietnamese: Công viên nước Hồ Thuỷ Tiên (gong vee-en nook ho tuy thee-en)
- Price: A self-appointed custodian now sits at the once-deserted admission gate and demands 10,000 VND (44 cents) from all entrants.
- Directions: From Hue, hire a taxi or rent a motorbike for a day ($10). Drive about five miles south. The water park is located on Thuỷ Tiên Lake (Hồ Thuỷ Tiên). Follow the pin.
- Pro Tip: Take in the view through the jaws of the molding dragon statue that rises out of the lake and still stands guard over the park.