by Bianca Ohannessian
Deep in the jungles of Vietnam, hidden away behind layers of tropical leaves and graffiti, lies a curiously abandoned theme park.
Now claimed by nature, intrepid adventurers that seek out Ho Thuy Tien park can roam free and explore the atmospheric grounds and crumbling structures as if walking into a real-life version of Jurassic Park.
Guarded by a decaying dragon, it’s the stuff backpacker legends are made of.
How to get there
The aquatic theme park turned ghost town sits just outside the centre of Hue, a city rich in culture and historical attractions, with the Thien Mu Pagoda and Imperial Enclosure all centrally located.
If you want to make it to Ho Thuy Tien though, you’ll have to dig a little deeper. Travelling tales and the all-important coordinates are passed on from friend to friend in clandestine style.
If you’re confident on a motorbike, and comfortable with chaotic driving conditions, you can rent a scooter and brave the infamous Hue traffic – try the very friendly Easy Rider bike shop.
Or, hire a taxi for half a day and relax while your driver takes you there. Make sure you have a map saved on your phone, or even an X-marks-the-spot style paper map which might be more fitting for your adventure. But chances are your driver will know exactly where you mean. They should be able to wait for you in the deserted carpark until you’re ready to join the real world again.
The $3 million centre was built in 2004, before being closed down a few years later. We did a little asking around town before setting off on our expedition. We met a 20-something year old Vietnamese woman who told us about her trips there as a teen with a sense of wistful fondness, its former glory just a memory now.
Of course, since it has become an underground attraction among backpackers, locals have cottoned on to the potential to make a few extra Dong. So you might find someone sitting in the empty ticket booth at the entrance charging a small fee to pass through the gate. More of a pay-off to let you pass than a set ticket fare, it’s all very unofficial.
The dragon aquarium
From a distance, as you approach the strangely still and silent lake, the water park appears picture-perfect. The centrepiece is a spectacular dragon structure sitting in the middle of Lake Thuy Tien. The beast sits proudly, guarding the former aquarium area.
You can wander around the eerily quiet building, silent aside from the odd curious traveller or scurrying gecko. Smashed fish tanks, overgrown creeper plants and graffiti now decorate the interior.
If you climb the stairs all the way to the top (take care though, it’s not the safest staircase) you’ll reach the dragon’s mouth where you’ll get fantastic panoramic views of the park through its open jaw.
Slip ’n’ slide
Follow the old path around the far side of the lake and it’ll lead you to spiralling water slides and algae-cloaked swimming pools.
The colourful plastic chutes are coated in green moss which glows in the sunlight, giving the place a surreal beauty. With no health and safety guidelines to follow, visitors can climb up the slides (warning: they are slippery) and admire the views from the top.
Oddly familiar, but at the same time giving you a sense of finding something new, pushing back the leaves and discovering the slides feels a bit like you’re uncovering a long-lost archaeological treasures.
Rumour has it that until recently the swimming pools were home to stray crocodiles that had broken out of the aquarium. After travellers alerted PETA of the crocodile-infested waters, the organisation moved them to a new, happier home in a nature reserve.
Among other attractions is a post-apocalyptic looking outdoor theatre and some abstract modern sculptures with stray cows grazing around them, which only add to the surreal atmosphere of the place.
Travel tip: It can be very hot in the Vietnamese jungle and, obviously, there are no facilities here. So remember to bring plenty of water with you!
Follow @therockskippers on Twitter for more adventure ideas