Hue’s Abandoned Water Park – Ho Thuy Tien
When typing in “abandoned water park” on a search engine, Ho Thuy Tien is guaranteed to be both the first and most compelling one you’ll find reported on around the world. It also happens to be within driving distance of Hoi An. Located about eight kilometres south of Hue in Central Vietnam’s Thua Thien Hue province, this semi-operational water park built in the early 2000s remains somewhat intact. However, Hue’s abandoned water park is not open to the public by any means, nor is it certifiably safe. You won’t be able to book a proper tour or guide to take you here.
We decided to pay a cheeky visit to Hue’s abandoned water park ourselves to report on how it stands today in 2019. In this piece, Hidden dissects the history of this off-the-beaten-path destination. We look at the best ways to get there and get in and debunk its most popular rumours.
History and Current State of Hue’s Abandoned Water Park
According to a Vietnamese news source dated in 2014, Ho Thuy Tien Water Park was opened in 2004 by an official Hue tourism company for over 70 billion VND (equivalent to about 3 million USD in 2019), despite being incomplete.
Overall, the intentions for the amusement area included a water park system, a virtual world game room, an aquarium, some sort of yacht above the lake, a “water music stage” at the amphitheatre, flight simulator, and restaurant for 200+ guests.
The area was open and operating for about two years before closing down due to inefficiency and a consistent slump in visitors. At which point the Hue Tourism Company sold the property to Hanoi-based HACO Investment and Trading Company. They promised publicly in 2012 to put another 30 billion VND into the project. Unfortunately, nothing ever came to fruition, much to the dismay of the surrounding community eager for the employment opportunities it would bring.
Ho Thuy Tien 2019
As of 2019, Ho Thuy Tien is easily searchable on Google Maps and appears as Thuy Tien Lake in English, though this wasn’t always the case. In many articles dating back before 2017, Hue’s abandoned water park was not traceable on online maps. Instead, the location was passed along by word of mouth and backpacker blogs via GPS coordinates.
The park’s most notable design element is a statuesque bearded dragon rearing its open-mouth. It stands above a man-made “lake” that’s fullness waxes and wanes depending on rainfall. The dragon’s body is curved around a globe-shaped, spaceship-Esque aquarium framed with stained glass windows. It is accessible by the three evenly spaced footbridges. They lead you to the centre from the walking path around the lake’s edges.
The dragon’s skeleton supports the inside of the aquarium. So it appears like you’re wandering inside its belly as you climb up the spiral stairs towards its gaping mouth. (If you can manage to step over all the broken glass and litter along the way).
Other structures still standing include three adult-sized water slides leading into an algae-ridden wave pool. There is a kiddie pool with a few mini slides and a 2,500-seat amphitheatre intended for water shows or musical performances. In addition, there is an incomplete brick villa intended for visitors staying on-site, and various sculptural objects and statues splayed about the park.
Ho Thuy Tien: A $3 Million Junkyard
Photos of Hue’s abandoned water park from between 2014-2016 show it in a much cleaner state than it is today. So frankly, we’d recommend visiting it yesterday. For example, this photo gallery written in early 2016 by the Time Travel Turtle shows the inside of the dragon’s mouth largely untagged, a life-sized baby elephant lifting its trunk above the kiddie pool, the tanks still in the aquarium intact and filled with water, and a mermaid inside a circular pool, raising her right hand toward the sky.
Looking at other dated photo galleries from 2016 to the present, there aren’t many surfaces within the park untouched by graffiti, including the elephant. The space is way more littered with broken glass, plastic bottles, snack wrappers and the odd turquoise face mask. In our visit to the park, we noticed that the elephant is totally missing. (Based on our Instagram stalking and photo comparison, the theft occurred at the beginning of April 2019). Also the mermaid’s right hand has been snapped off at the wrist, dangling down by a few threads. It appears a trespasser forgot their scissors.
Hidden Hint: Leave no trace. Just because other people have littered here or broken objects doesn’t mean you have permission to. Also, wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes.
Of course, a bit of added graffiti isn’t hurting anybody. If you’re an artist and want to leave your mark, check out the guest villa or amphitheatre for the freest space…discreetly.
Rumours of Ho Thuy Tien: Debunked
In our journey to Central Vietnam’s most popular Hue’s abandoned water park, we strove to confirm or debunk the many cryptic rumours surrounding it. Namely, crocodiles that live in the lake and guards who accept bribes for entry. Along with a woman who sells water bottles nearby the dragon sculpture, a “parking attendant” on the outskirts of the property directing you where to leave your motorbike in exchange for 5,000 VND, and grazing cows. (Though there’s plenty of photographic evidence of this). If all these rumours were true, Ho Thuy Tien would certainly amount to an unorthodox reptilian zoo.
Crocodiles at Hue’s Abandoned Water Park?
One of the earliest blog posts about the lake is a first-hand experience of feeding a live chicken to the crocodiles that once inhabited it during her visit in June 2015. The author, Courtney Lambert, updated the piece within six months from the date of publication. Writing that the Vietnamese Government has since removed the crocodiles after writing to PETA and WWF “about the state of the poor animals.” We, fortunately, didn’t come across any abandoned crocs during our June 2019 visit – but we did see some clear fish in the kiddie pool, three or four dogs, and a handful of brown, grazing cows.
Hue’s Abandoned Water Park ‘’Guards”
It’s also widely known that there are multiple “guards” (read: laymen wearing security guard costumes from the internet) surrounding and surveying the property. Flashing visitors handwritten slips of paper asking them to leave. While also accepting small bribes to “allow” them to pass.
Go early enough in the morning and there isn’t a single guard barring your entry into this decrepit, junk-splattered wonderland. Our photojournalist Sara Wass didn’t see a single guard during the 2.5 hours she spent in the park. But rather, a group of people exercising on the north end of the park amid a park decorated with mid-century-looking marble and stone sculptures. Along with a lone man riding a bicycle and practising bodyweight exercises near one of the three dragon footbridges.
We left the venue via the large pink gate on the lake’s east side. Pleasantly ushered out by a guard with a smile.
Despite not seeing any guards within the property, this doesn’t change the eeriness of illicitly wandering a space you’re not welcomed at. Or knowing the impending threat of being escorted out, also mentioned in online reviews. For this reason, we’d recommend keeping a low profile by walking rather than motorbiking once inside the water park. Plus, more walking = more photo opportunities.
Water Sellers and Parking Attendants?
Don’t bank on a “lady selling water” near the dragon, which was written about as recently as October 2018. Bring your own if you plan to stay more than five minutes in this high-temp environment. Additionally, there was no parking attendant between 5.a.m and 7.a.m on a Tuesday. So perhaps that’s the golden ticket to get into the park on the ultimate backpacker budget of a zero-cost entry fee?
Hidden Hint: Go to the water park before sunrise to avoid possible confrontations with official guards and local scammers trying to make a buck. Then leave before the mid-morning heatwave hits. A bonus for photographers: morning light creates unique shadows across the park’s many architectural elements.
Getting to Hue’s Abandoned Water Park (From Hoi An)
Pick your poison: bike, bus, or train. Considering the length of the trip, Hidden recommends crashing overnight in Hue. It’s a small-yet-buzzing city roughly 125km north of Hoi An. Then check out the park by sunrise and avoid having to visit in the midday heat.
There are a variety of options to travel to Hue and subsequently to and from Thuy Tien Lake. Depending on how much you want to spend and how nice you want your views to be, you can choose from the following options, listed from least expensive to most.
Motorbike from Hoi An to Hue
Drive your pre-rented motorbike directly from Hoi An to Hue. This way, you can get yourself to the water park without having to deal with transport getting to the water park from Hue. A daily motorbike rental in Hoi An runs as low as 100,000-125,000 VND (4.35 – 5.45 USD) per day, plus the minimal cost of fuel to drive upwards of a 260km round trip.
If choosing this route, be comfortable enough on a bike to drive over the notable Hai Van Pass – although once you’re over that, it’s mostly a highway en route to Hue, taking roughly four hours direct from Hoi An in total. Read our piece about renting a motorbike in Hoi An to learn more about how it works.
Bus from Hoi An to Hue
There are a few bus companies that serve direct transfers to Hue from Hoi An, and we’ve covered all the info about them here. Some companies offer rides on sleeper buses for as low as 120,000 VND (5.20 USD) depending on when you book. The journey to Hue from Hoi An’s centre takes approximately three hours and 45 minutes with restroom breaks. But it’s far less aesthetically pleasing than driving yourself over the Hai Van Pass.
Train from Danang to Hue
Vietnam Railways opens the door to a famously gorgeous view. Operating closer to sea level than the Hai Van Pass’ road for bikes. However, the train boards in Da Nang, which is almost an hour’s drive north of Hoi An. The train may cost anywhere from 160,000 to 250,000 VND (6.95 – 10.90 USD). Depending on when you book and what kind of seat/room you’d like. We’ve got you covered on how to reach Da Nang. So if you’re up for a two-part trip involving a scenic train ride with a lot of locals, look into it via our train guide here.
Getting to Ho Thuy Tien Water Park from Hue
Ho Thuy Tien is roughly eight km south of Hue’s city centre, and less than a 20-minute drive by motorbike. Once you arrive in Hue, you need to rent a motorbike or organise a taxi to drive you to the water park. Ideally, wait for you outside to take you back to the city.
Grab drivers and taxis don’t pass the Thuy Tien area of town. So avoid getting stranded, pay someone to sit tight while you explore. Most travellers say about an hour is long enough to explore Hue’s abandoned water park. But of course, that’s up to you and your goals. We’d read to write down “Công viên nước Hồ Thuỷ Tiên” onto a piece of paper and show it to a taxi driver from Hue. But with the prevalence of Grab and ease of renting a motorbike in 2019, it’s not worth the trouble.
Hidden Hint: Prioritise what sites you want to see and what photos you’d like to take inside the water park ahead of time. Making sure you make the most of your illicit stay. We recommend the dragon aquarium, water slide/kiddie pool area, and amphitheatre.
Rent a Motorbike
Since we took public transportation to get to Hue, we rented a well-maintained motorbike for a 24-hour period from Style Motorbikes at the price of 280,000 VND (12.15 USD). Fortunately, it had a grip for a cell phone on the handlebars. So locating the park by GPS was unbelievably easy.
Do your research before heading north about where and when you can rent your bike. Unless you want to chance using a taxi or Grab to take you to the water park and wait for you inside. Keep in mind that this approach is more expensive. It could cause you to have to rush through the water park in a set amount of time. It also opens the door to miscommunication that could leave you stranded. So use caution when using a driver.
Hidden Hint: Rent a motorbike with a cell phone grip on the handlebars. So you don’t have to pull over to check your GPS.
Accessing Hue’s Abandoned Water Park
As mentioned, the park is searchable on Google Maps. But backpackers swear by the Maps.me entry points, which denote certain “free admission” paths. The most popular way to enter is the northern side of the lake. But surely this is subject to change depending on who’s watching you. Along with what wrong turns you inevitably take on your adrenaline-fueled journey by dawn on the way in.
Hidden’s Suggested Route
Hidden took the route of plugging in these coordinates found on several different blog posts about the water park. We read on several blogs to “turn right at the gate,” which lead us down an extremely bumpy dirt road. The road comes to a clearing in a big field where it feels like it ends. But if you keep going straight, you see more driving paths uphill. If you manage to stay on your bike up that windy, unpaved hill, the road opens into a beautiful-yet-unkempt park filled with massive marble statues. Perhaps even a group of about a dozen people exercising while all wearing the same t-shirt! Drive straight toward the narrow bridge and over to the other side. You end up on the far north side of the lake, behind the former amphitheatre, adjacent to grazing cows.
All in all, there are various entry points into the park you can select from. Depending on whether you’re looking to surpass guards altogether or comfortable with paying a bribe to a self-proclaimed guard. The water park doesn’t have a proper barrier surrounding the entire thing unless you count the jungle.
We’d recommend coming prepared with some cash in case you run into someone and prefer to avoid confrontation. Though some travellers have said they simply sped past the guards on their motorbikes and try to hide from them within the park. Choose whichever way lends the most powerful and memorable experience for you. Because chances are it will only come once in a lifetime.
Ho Thuy Tien Water Park – Unanswered Questions
Despite the obvious unanswered questions regarding the elephant’s whereabouts and how the mermaid was left without a limb, Hidden’s left wondering what will become of Thuy Tien Lake. Can HACO afford to dismantle the park and turn it into a centre for “ecotourism” as promised?
Moreover, if the water park had been running all these years, would it be nearly as magical to some as it is today? Imagine the water slide area less overgrown with greenery, a rustless dragon who looks slightly less menacing. A lake filled with water instead of dried up thanks to non-negligent ownership. Would HACO even be able to maintain a man-made lake of that size?
The current state of the water park has left it with a completely different target audience than the one it originally intended for.
Thuy Tien Lake is a rare and sightly work of architectural prowess and tranquillity that you won’t find elsewhere – especially without the tourists. Hue’s abandoned water park is quickly decaying, considering the lack of upkeep. As well as the high volume of careless travellers passing through it – breaking structures, stealing objects, and leaving litter along the way. Soon, the interior of the aquarium is going to be too full of garbage to walk through. The slides so overgrown with palm leaves that you won’t be able to see them.
We’ve confirmed that Ho Thuy Tien has all the ingredients to feed wanderlust backpackers trekking through Central Vietnam: a picturesque appeal, requirement of trespassing, slight physical risk, a pinch of rumours, and a dusting of farm life…just sprinkle it with Instagram moments or a drone shot to make your friends and followers envious of your bravery.
A once family-friendly environment rapidly transformed into a decaying and unhygienic adult playground, Ho Thuy Tien is worth the journey. If you’re up for the aforementioned risks, pending you make it out unscathed.
All photos by Sara Wass