Reclaimed by nature and time, Hue’s abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien, is a bleak yet fascinating homage to a failed act of commercialisation in Vietnam’s former capital city. Opened in a half-finished state in 2004, the complex inexplicably shut shortly after – left in a state of desolation ever since. Intrigued, I decide to pay it a visit.
It takes me a little while to explain to my driver where I want to go, he needs to make a few frantic calls in Vietnamese for directions, but after a few wrong turns I roll up unsurely to its faded gate. The driver decides to stay in the car and tells me he’ll wait for an hour. He looks either creeped out by the place or perhaps just bemused by why I possibly want to see it.
What was intended to be a modern entrance to a hub of activity is now faded and sad. The letters on its sign are crooked and look like they could drop off any second. It’s eerily silent. As the light rain pours down it seems as if every light drop is testing the structures resolve, urging it to give up and collapse.
The path I head up is more grass than stone now, as a lack of maintenance has allowed weeds to set in, cracking the walkway. It’s hard to imagine kids running down this lane ready for a day of activity – unless they had particularly sadistic parents. Two cows grazing in the grass along the route are the first signs of life I see, both munching away nonchalantly, unaware of how out of place they look.
A stone carving of a head, about eight-feet tall, sits at the top of a staircase in front of me. I can’t contemplate this fitting in with the vibe of the park at any time really. Now the constantly staring eyes come across as sinister, perusing the trespassers that invade their dilapidated home. I shift myself out of its gaze and head to look over the lake which acts as Ho Thuy Tien’s centrepiece. In the near distance some greying structures linger between the trees and I continue exploring.
Within a few hundred metres I get a clear view of the most impressive structure I see in my visit. A roughly twenty-metre tall dragon looms over me, positioned majestically in the centre of a mass of water. Even in its wretched state, it’s undeniably impressive. It dominates the landscape completely. The rust and peeling paint merely makes it look battle worn, as if its scales have been chipped from a few too many close scrapes. Heading into the guts of the beast I find a smashed up aquarium. Shards of glass on the floor resemble a hoard of diamonds, as they reflect the light from my torch.
As I exit I find a staircase and decide to make the ascent, thankful that the concrete steps have remained mostly intact. After spiralling for a few minutes I finally see sunlight – through the silhouette of a gigantic set of jaws. It dawns on me I’ve made my way into the dragon’s mouth, possibly the best vantage point available for a few kilometres. I perch on a canine tooth, gazing out across the panoramic scene before me. In the hills to the right is a quaint pagoda, ahead the park sprawls out, there’s an arena once used for performances, a selection of water slides, then countless pools of stagnant water – some man made and other crafted by rain and decay.
One of the slides is winding and not too steep, so I decide to climb it. At the top I try to envisage excited queues waiting to plunge into the blue mass at the bottom. Rain continues to fall, the delicate droplets trickling down the slope in the absence of any revellers.
To get into the arena I clamber over a makeshift wooden gate, which looks as half-hearted as everything else in the place. Barbed wire is haphazardly wrapped around it, as if there’s anything inside which might need protecting. It’s fascinating to see how something opened just twelve years ago is already a complete wreck. I wonder if it’s purely due to bad workmanship that it’s declined so rapidly, or whether we all just underestimate the force of the elements when they’re actually left alone.
I stroll up to the top row of seats and decide to rest for a few moments, looking down at the colosseum I’ve found myself in. I try to imagine how it must feel being one of the owners of the place. I imagine how they foresaw it, seeing as they appear to have never publicly spoken about what went wrong. Was it purely meant to be a money-making scheme which didn’t come to fruition? Or could it be more depressing than that? Perhaps they sat in the same spot as me, the night before their grand opening, looking out on their finished project, picturing swarms of people enjoying what they’d built.
Whichever answer, I figure the place is beyond repair now. Selfishly I’m glad to have been able to visit somewhere so unique, instead of there just being another overpriced entertainment complex to add to the others. I walk back to my taxi and cruise away, leaving the place to crumble behind me.
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tmrw club is open for 2017.
Words by Jacob Jarvis