Welcome to the place where fun came to die. Ho Tuy Thien opened in 2004 to the tune of US$3 million, but it never got off the ground as a destination for tourists in Hue. More of a damp squib than a big splash, the project was shelved before construction was even completed.
Over 10 years of decay have given the park a surreal, creepy ambience and intrigued tourists have started to come back to the park to explore its quirky delights. Hue is of course most famous for its Imperial Citadel, itself a crumbling relic, but now there’s a new (old) kid on the block.
It is not known why the park closed, but it’s not difficult to hazard a guess. Perhaps it was the sheer ambition of the project that was its biggest undoing: it’s a vast arena, full of nooks and crannies and hidden gems that mean you’ll probably need a motorbike to explore all of it.
Crocodiles and Dragons
Located 8km outside of Hue, you arrive after a trip on a winding and serpentine path. With every corner you hope to catch a glimpse of the famed dragon that is on all the pictures of the place. The entrance still stands intact as a man asks for a VND10,000 entrance fee. It’s one of the many mysteries of this place. Where does the money go? It can’t be for upkeep, as Mother Nature has long taken on the role of gardener.
The story goes that since the park closed, crocodiles took it over and made the place home. Since then, the government has in the last year or two transported them to a wildlife park in the north of the country. Visions of killer crocodiles outrunning a Honda Wave would be the stuff of backpacking nightmares, though it might add a bit of spice to the trip.
The lake that was once here is now bone dry, local farmers have moved their cattle in and they wander about grazing on the grass that has grown. Over the bridge of the empty lake you reach the aquarium which is shaped in the form of a giant egg and is set inside the huge, imposing dragon. The aquarium is ill-lit and all the tanks are smashed out. Did whatever beasties that were in there escape? This is a place to let your imagination run wild with B-movie fantasies.
Once inside the belly of the beast, you walk up a staircase that is shaped like the dragon’s carcass. You follow its ribcage up high to the dragon’s head, and once up, it offers a superb view of the park from inside its giant jaws. The dragon’s jagged teeth are painted with graffiti, with messages from young couples and adventurers imprinted onto them like a receipt.
Slime, Sludge and Ampitheatres
The water slides are overgrown with giant leaves, moss and foliage blocking the entry to a thick green pit of slime with sludge below. The water is still, and a model elephant feigns to take a drink to refresh itself.
A wooden bridge leads to a smaller pool for young children to play in, with little play houses now marooned in the slime. It looks more like a dangerous assault course than a place to leave your kids.
On the other side of the park there is an amphitheatre which was built to house a couple of thousand spectators. It now stands empty with the machinery that once facilitated some sort of water display lying dormant. It’s another clue to the ambition of the place, and there is something post-apocalyptic about the deserted stand as a gentle breeze blows an empty packet of crisps across the seats.
Enterprising vendors have set up shops selling food and drink in the makeshift motorbike parking lot. Scores of young Vietnamese are dotted outside the park having a picnic or playing with their kids, and a steady stream of excited backpackers roll in to find out what the fuss is about. An expensive disaster 10 years ago, this place could yet become the unlikely word-of-mouth success story for tourism in Hue.
It takes about 30 minutes to reach Ho Tuy Thien from the centre of Hue via motorbike. Travel 8km southwards down Dien Bien Phu. Turn right onto Ngu Binh then take a quick left onto Minh Mang. Follow this road until you see Boi Tran Gallery on your right. Then turn right down the smaller road which takes you to the park’s entrance.