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  • Writer's picturevsigston

Urban Explorers

A few years ago our eldest son showed me an article he had come across online called something like “10 Creepiest Tourist Destinations” and on that list was an abandoned waterpark in Vietnam. This month (September 2023), as we continue our full time travels, we had the chance to go and check it out for ourselves.

Tucked in the jungle covered hills rising above the city of Hue in central Vietnam a much celebrated waterpark was built. Hồ Thủy Tiên (also known as Thuy Tien Lake). Opening in 2004 after 3 years of construction and at a cost of US$3 million, it only survived a few short months before safety concerns had it closed again.

A couple of failed attempts at reopening happened in the years that followed but continuing problems led to locals declaring the site cursed and the government taking back the land from private investors and banning entry due to the deteriorated and dangerous state of the buildings and grounds.

Stories of huge crocodiles left behind from the aquarium and now roaming free, creepy dark buildings, strange noises and vicious dogs have turned a place built for family fun into a dark tourism hot spot.

So, after an overnight stay in the middle of Hue city, our son Jake and I, plus another travelling mum, Judy and her son Lucas set off on our adventure. We arrived at around 8:30 am, determined to beat the midday heat. On arrival there were signs and barriers telling us not to enter. In fact our taxi driver was quite adamant that it wasn’t safe and that we go somewhere else, but with adventure in mind we set off into the unknown.

After leaving the car at the main entrance we started along a long tree lined avenue. We were joking around and teasing each other about strange sounds and how scared we were. A few minutes into the walk and we heard engine noises. A couple of motorbikes, two riders apiece and stacked with what looked like camping gear approached us. They gave us a wave and a smile as they headed past us on their way out from an obvious overnight stay, and we felt a little better knowing we were not the only people who had come to take a look around.

As we ventured further into the park (past the unnecessarily unsettling large concrete head that greets you at the top of the driveway) we started to get a sense of just why this place attracts people seeking out the weird and creepy. Waterslides, aquariums and open air stadiums all left to degrade, the jungle slowly closing in and taking the land back over.

As we explored our sense of adventure grew. We no longer stayed on the paths looking from afar but began to climb rickety staircases, pick our way over broken glass and look over unguarded edges. We saw half a dozen or so other urban explorers in our few hours there, all of who shared a conspiratorial smile or wink with us. It was fun to be part of the little group of people who venture here and we swapped information with a few others about things we’d seen and where to find the coolest spots.

We had read online that there are often guards at the entrance who, depending on their mood, could turn you away or be persuaded to let you pass by for a few pounds. We had not seen anyone on arrival but about half way round our walk a man in a white shirt on a motorbike parked himself pointedly in our way on the path ahead and gestured to us to go back towards the entrance/exit. A handwritten note in English was thrust towards us explaining that the park was closed and unsafe and that we should leave. A couple of thousand Vietnamese Dong (less than US$1) passed hands along with a promise that we’d only be 10 more minutes as we just wanted a few more photos.

Our son, 16, was the one in our group who felt most confident to pass some cheeky “look the other way” money over and I felt a strange sense of pride watching him at work. Yes he was technically breaking a few rules, but it reassured me that he has some streetwise knowledge alongside his book smarts and that he’ll be OK out in the “real world” away from us in the future.

The teens were filming as we wandered around, trying to take enough footage to create a short horror movie later on. In the super eerie, but utterly photographic abandoned dragon aquarium we did lots of off camera screaming and calling to each other in an attempt to film a scene where people had started to disappear. A couple of other visitors actually checked that the boys were OK at one point as they had been a little alarmed by our shouting. Sorry to them but I hope it added to the spookiness of their visit.

There is something special about walking around a place with such a strange history. It was easy to look at the slides, splash pools and rides and imagine sunny days with children playing and caregivers anxiously applying sun cream and complaining about the price of ice creams. It was weird to look at a place created to bring happiness but now sitting unused and unloved. We commented a couple of times that it would be like someone exploring a now abandoned DisneyLand park in 100 years and trying to imagine a time when mouse ears, hotdogs and princesses reigned supreme.

I feel very grateful that I got to share this experience with our boy. As he gets older and starts to find his own way in the world I’m sure that opportunities for adventures with him will become less easy to organise. So to have this unique time together was pretty special and one that we definitely won’t forget in a hurry. As my travelling friend Judy and I promised each other, we’re going to be starting many a conversation in the future with the sentence “do you remember that time we explored an abandoned waterpark in the middle of the Vietnam jungle”. I doubt there are too many people who can say the same.

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