Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Crouching Crocodiles, Overgrown Dragons

I’m jumping ahead on all the blog posts that are piled up in my head waiting to be written, to tell you about an adventure we had just the other day.

Steve and I have been traveling by motorbike for the past few weeks here in Vietnam. We rented our motorbikes in the town of Danang, then headed down to Hoi An for a few days, before starting our long journey northbound. If you imagine the country of Vietnam as a giant ‘S,’ Hoi An/Da Nang are right on the top part of the belly on the S. Essentially, we are covering North Vietnam by bike.

After heading out of Hoi An and through Da Nang, we passed over the Hai Van pass, which is considered one of the more beautiful stretches to drive in Vietnam. Winding over the mountain, surrounded by cliffs, beach, and lush greenery on both sides, was a beautiful way to start our road trip. Not to mention the $2 lunch at a stop with a view just before the top of the pass.

Coming down off of Hai Van, we were on a highway for another two hours, passing and being passed by big semi-trucks, along stretches of green rice fields, rivers, and mountain backdrops. We arrived in the city of Hue and checked into a home stay owned by a young Vietnamese guy, for 2 nights. We had booked a 6-bed dorm room for $3 per person, but those rooms were not available when we arrived, so they put us into the 12-bed dorm room for a price of $2 per person, and then later upgraded us to our own private room for the same price (that’s a private bedroom for only $4, with aircon, and free breakfast and coffee). Not the mention the guy who owned it ran the homestay with his 2 best friends; they were in their young 20’s and took Steve and I out to a local restaurant where we ordered at least 7 different plates of food and an entire case of beer, and the total for the whole meal was about $4 per person. We are really enjoying having homestays with Vietnamese families here, rather than staying in hostels and just meeting other foreigners- it makes for a more unique experience of the country we are in.

So, a little about Hue’s history, because this is a town I knew nothing about, but one that has an important history. Hue sits pretty much in the center of the country. It was once the capital of Vietnam, during the Nguyen Dynasty, before Ha Noi became the capital in the North, and then later, Saigon became the capital in the South. Hue was part of the Republic of Vietnam (or South Vietnam), but sits right at the border between North and South Vietnam, making it an important zone during the “Vietnam War” (or, as it’s referred to in Vietnam, the “American War”). During the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the war where the Viet Cong/People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) led a series of surprise attacks on South Vietnam, the city of Hue took a serious beating. The Viet Cong and the PAVN captured and occupied Hue for four weeks, during which time the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War occurred- the Battle of Hue. While American forces bombed many of the historical buildings in Hue, the communist forces also committed a huge massacre of the civilians and POWs of Hue. Between 2,800-6,000 victims, or 5-10% of the total population of Hue, were butchered by the Viet Cong during this Hue Massacre.

Despite the destruction seen here 50 years ago, the city of Hue has a nice charm to it. In the center of the city, just north of the Perfume River, there is a massive citadel which hosts what was once the Imperial City, a forbidden city only for the emperors and other royalty. At night, the outer fortress walls are lit up, lined with spotlights shining on the waving Vietnamese flags. Also strewn throughout the city are a number of pagodas, temples, monuments, and tombs.

In the morning, Steve and I tried to beat the heat of the day by heading out to the Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, who was the 4th emperor during the Nguyen Dynasty. His is laid to rest in a beautiful walled-in park on the outskirts of the city; within the walls is a large grassy expanse with a koi pond in the center and various tombs and pagodas surrounding it, paying homage to Tu Duc and his many wives. 
After leaving the tombs, Steve and I headed a few kilometers up the road to an abandoned water park that we heard about, Ho Thuy Tien.
Ho Thuy Tien was built in 2004 and cost about 3 million USD to build. It stayed in operation for only two years- after talking to some locals, they said that the price to get into the park was way too expensive for the locals, as they were very poor at the time, and no one could afford to go. Therefore, the park went bankrupt and shut down; it has been left as-is ever since. Without any upkeep, nature has taken over and taken back it’s land. Additionally, many people have trespassed into the park and graffitied all the buildings, which actually makes it very visually pleasing. Not visually pleasing, however, were all the shattered windows, long broken by vandals, and the sludge-filled pools, which supposedly hosted many crocodiles in their waters up until recently when they were removed. Word on the street is that a massive company has now bought the land and is about to demolish it to build a resort- again, another thing that won’t be accessible by the local people, so the locals are fighting the government on this issue currently. Many of them want to leave it as is and have it opened as a place people can come to visit freely- there is a massive plot of land that this park is sprawled across that is a beautiful place to go have a picnic and gather with friends. However, since the land has now been purchased, security guards have been hired to chase out the tourists that come to the park.
When Steve and I first arrived, we went straight to the entrance shown above, as you do. There was a security officer there, who nodded to the “No Visitors” sign on the gate. We parked our bikes, walked up to him, and he pointed to a shelf for us to secretly slip him some money- 20,000 dong each (<$1). After that, we walked straight into the park, over a big dirt lot, around the edge of the lake that the water park sits on, and to a stadium that was previously used for water shows.

Outside, the old concession stand area was covered in colorful graffiti art. And some mold. And  broken glass.
Next to this arena, there was a small building that housed an old flight simulator ride.
Now, while this park doesn’t have very many attractions, it is spread out over a few kilometers around the edge of a lake. The property is huge. And it was really hot out. So Steve and I decided to head back to the entrance, grab our motorbikes, and go to a location on our google map marked “free entrance” (I don’t know why we didn’t go here first...). This entrance was a small path through a neighborhood that eventually led right back up to that dirt lot we had crossed after we entered the park the first time. Now, we had our bikes and we could ride around all throughout the park.

Heading along the lake up an old stone path, we next came to the water attractions. This consisted of a kids play area in a shallow pool, a wave pool, a lazy river, and 4 larger waterslides.
Want to play??
It was really cool how the jungle has taken over this decaying man-made structure.
Further up along the path, we came to a massive dragon sitting over the lake.
You could enter the dragon from any number of doorways under his tail or feet. The inside of the structure was built to resemble the inside of a dragon- the spine and ribs lined the stairs and walkway.
Inside the dome the dragon is sitting atop, there used to be an aquarium; while all of the tanks are still there, as I mentioned before, someone has gone through the entire park and smashed all of the glass, including the super thick pained glass of the aquarium tanks.
By climbing the stairs within the dragon, you can enter it’s head and actually climb out onto a ledge in its mouth to look out over the lake.
In the wooded area just behind one of the dragon bridges, there are two old cottages that were apparently built for guest accommodation. They look like they were never actually completed, however, even though the park was operational for two short years.
That was our day exploring Hue! The abandoned water park was so cool, and I loved getting to drive around it and explore without anyone cautioning us or restricting activity- I feel like this sort of thing would never be allowed in the States! I never knew I was into this sort of thing, but now I want to explore more abandoned places around the world!

1 comment:

  1. I feel like I was there with you! You are a great story teller, Miss Cake!