Sunday, 13 March 2016


Because the abandoned waterpark is so cryptic, backpackers pass directions around on scrunched-up napkins, drop pins on Google Maps and show each other photos to get to the right place. 

When looking for an abandoned water park, I can tell you those dropped pins are really fucking useful. For example, you can type Hồ Thuỷ Tiên Abandoned Waterpark, and by some weird alchemical process something like this will appear on the screen of your smarthphone:

It's no great mystery to find: it's popular with local people as well as tourists, and there's even an attendant at the gate who'll request a nominal entry-fee, although not everyone bothers tipping him. The crocodiles have been removed from the aquarium, and once a month a new travel blog will pop-up, featuring the inane musings of a self-styled "traveller" (you are a TOURIST on HOLIDAY), usually accompanied by photographs very similar to the ones included here.

To lesser or greater degrees, strangers in strange lands are seekers of novelty. It is unsurprising that Hồ Thuỷ Tiên has attracted so much western attention: the accessibility and scale of this site is unparallelled in Europe or the the US. In both hemispheres, opportunities to explore the rotting interior of a dragon-shaped aquarium are rare, and should be taken. 

Aside from the self-appointed guard at the gate, access across the site is unrestricted. Visitors peek at the ruined aquarium within the belly of the aforementioned dragon's belly. They clamber the spiral staircase to take in the view from his mouth. They enjoy a walk around the vast, constructed lake. In short, it's hard to discern any notable difference in behaviour between these visitors and the ones occupying the parallel world where Hồ Thuỷ Tiên enjoyed a full complement of staff and a well-stocked aquarium.

Admittedly, the demographic is probably much narrower than the original investors envisaged, and the number of visitors may be lower than they hoped, but there's no absolute index of success. The site is a tourist attraction with incredibly low overheads. I spent ten minutes looking at empty fish tanks, with no sense of irony.

A great deal has been written about the triumph of nature over artifice at this site, yet it is curious how it has managed to maintain a landscaped appearance after nearly twelve years of neglect. Perhaps it is the regularity with which visitors continue to visit the site that has kept the undergrowth in check. Maybe local cattle herders have been grazing their livestock here (a possibility, given that the adjoining land is a nature reserve and thus prohibited), keeping the vegetation at a manageable level. Whatever the reason, the negotiation of Hồ Thuỷ Tiên presents no challenges to an able-bodied individual.

Exploring the site engendered a curious sense of regret. There was no real reason for this to fail: most local people state that the park was never given a chance to succeed, that it never actually opened. This in contrast to what has been stated on every other blog concerning Hồ Thuỷ Tiên, but holds some water (pun intended): the site's construction is incomplete. Had it been completed, had it opened, I know of many local people who would have visited. Perhaps western bloggers, travelling through Southeast Asia for three months of spiritual discovery/ cheap alcohol, would not have visited had it been a fully functioning park. Perhaps they were not the park's target demographic. Conjecture aside, it can be stated that the park- well designed and laid out- had the potential to provide jobs for local people.

Weird to get sentimental, sat in a theme park in Vietnam. I'd always looked upon these follies of the post industrial age through the same picturesque prism as the 18th Century landscape gardener, naively romantic, revelling in the decadence. Canvey's occidental jetty, the abandoned works at Greenhithe, innumerable sites in the Lea Valley, prior to the Olympic Project: all of my previous expeditions were to sites of far greater economic tragedy.

Perhaps it was the fact that here was something that was designed, in the first place, to be magical. It was intended as an escape. Though that target demographic was most likely wide, the people it really wanted to impress were children. Of course, the intention was still to part people from their money, and even if they had not been as corrupt as some people have claimed, the original investors were out to turn a profit above all else. Yet listening to the wistful reflections of my local friends, as they recount the anticipation they had felt as a child, waiting for the water park to open...

If I were a resident of that parallel world where the water park was opened, I would probably have put off visiting for as long as possible. I would have gone eventually, though, and I would have complained about the queues, and the welfare of the aquarium's specimens. Not a word would have been written here, on the Huffington Post, or on any of those insightful travel blogs to which I've made vague references. So, although the water park of this reality is much more to my tastes, I can't help but feel this world would be a tiny bit better if Hồ Thuỷ Tiên had been completed.

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