Lisa and Ruben's grand day out
Sometimes you find adventure, and sometimes adventure finds you. Often it is a combination of the two. Such was the day we had recently.
When I read in Atlas Obscura, an amazing resource to find weird places to visit, about an abandoned water park just outside of Hue, Vietnam, I thought, "we have to see this."
So we made a plan to rent a scooter and head out to find Hồ Thuỷ Tiên.
Our first stop however was the temple and mausoleum of Nguyen Emperor Khai Dinh. The last of the Nguyen emperors, Khai Dinh was laid to rest in his lavish tomb, complete with a golden effigy of himself in the inner chamber. Like his ancestors before him, he planned out his final resting place before his death in 1925. By the end of his reign, he was considered to be nothing more than "a salaried employee of the French government." Due to this close collaboration, he was very unpopular amongst the people of Vietnam. A second reason might have been the Emperor increasing taxes by 30 percent to fund the lavish mausoleum.
Our next stop was supposed to be the water park, but as happens in so many adventures, we got sidetracked. "What's that big statue over there?" Lisa asked. After some quick inquiries we found out it was a giant statue of Buddha only a kilometer away. We hopped on the scooter and headed in that general direction. We passed a woman on a scooter, who then passed us. I waved and pulled over to get our bearings, when the woman abruptly turned around and approached us. "Where are you going?' she inquired. People in Vietnam are occasionally trying to rip you off, but mostly they are just trying to eke out a living. And sometimes they just want to help you, because you are obviously lost. We are from New England, so we are bred to be suspicious of strangers. That being said, I had recently decided to stop saying no to people. To just say yes and see what happens. So when this stranger offered to show us the shortcut to the temple, I looked at Lisa and said OKAY! We went to the temple and Deng (not her real name) showed us around. We talked about our families, her kids in school, and what she hoped for them. Then she offered to show us how to get to another local attraction. "You like to go tomb of Minh Mang?" We said "sure", and headed off. When we got there, Deng said something that alerted me to her side hustle. "I will wait for you, and then I would like to show you my house." Guides wait. People just showing you how to get somewhere don't.
Most people in Vietnam have a side hustle. Most are fairly innocuous. The hotel that helps you book trips, the person on the street who knows where the "best" whatever is. Life in Vietnam isn't easy, and these folks are just trying to make their way through it. She was a great guide, and I didn't mind that she wasn't totally up front about it.
In stark contrast to to the mausoleum of Emperor Khai Dinh, is that of Minh Mang. Simple and elegant. A place designed for reflection and contemplation. It lacked the ostentation and artifice of Khai Dinh's shrine. We wandered the grounds, imagining what it must have been like to sit and ponder life's wonder and complexity.
When we walked out, Deng was waiting for us. We cruised along scenic dirt roads to her house. She made us tea, and offered us ginger candy. She then told us about her troubles with not being able to pay for her children's schooling and how she wasn't sure where the money would come from. I know this sort of hustle offends many people. I have learned to take this sort of interaction in stride. To the majority of people in Vietnam, I am rich. When they see me, they see an opportunity. I told her I would like to give her a gift for her children. She smiled, "oh thank you."
Then we gave her an amount that was commensurate with her guiding service. She balked, and asked if we could give more. I said, "this is all the money we have with us." She graciously accepted our gift, and we left. Did I have more money? Yes. Is this a moral dilemma you will face if you travel to Vietnam? Definitely. In the end we all will do what we think is right.
We now decided to head off in search of the day's main objective: Hồ Thuỷ Tiên, the abandoned waterpark. Lisa looked at her phone (thank you, Google maps) and we were off. "This looks like the turn" she said. I swerved and we found ourselves on what seemed to be an abandoned road. We drove, saw a half open gate and snuck through. Then a problem. A man in the middle of the road was signaling us to turn around. In the U.S. I would ignore such warnings. In Vietnam however we decided to turn around. Feeling defeated we drove back through the gate and saw a young man. I decided to ask him where the waterpark was. In a mutually acceptable rudimentary style of communication, we were told that it was the next street a few hundred meters up the road. I looked up and asked him, "what is this place?" "Benedictine Monks." WHAT?! I inquired, "can we look around?" He showed us in to the chapel, and handed us a bible.
After a few minutes we were on our way again. We headed out of the monastery, and down the road. We hadn't gone 100 meters when we happened on a gaggle of people. "Excuse me would you mind taking a picture of us?" an anonymous voice inquired. "Sure," we replied. We had stumbled on a thirty-five year high school reunion. Not everyone could make it, so we filled in.
We said our goodbyes, and started down the road again. A left at the end of the road, and another left a few hundred meters further down and we were finally on what we hoped was the the road to the waterpark. "I don't think this is it," Lisa said. I was having my doubts as well. Then the dirt turned to tarmac, and TADA a gate. Then just as the web site had stated, a random looking gentleman asked us for an entrance fee (10,000vnd each, $0.88 total). We made our way in, slowly driving up the abandoned walkway. Deserted places are such a dichotomy. They straddle the line between creepy and supremely interesting. Hồ Thuỷ Tiên did not disappoint. A few people wandered the grounds, some on bicycle, some on foot. Cows roamed the park as well. There were also men working!!!??? Repairing walkways and planting trees. "Why do you think they are planting trees in an abandoned park?" Lisa inquired. I had no idea. I was just intrigued by roaming and exploring. We checked out the amphitheater where, until recently, formerly captive crocodiles wandered freely. Then off in the distance we saw it: the giant dragon. We scootered over and within minutes, we were crawling inside the concrete beastie. A little background on the park: It was reported to have cost Three million U.S. dollars to build, but was only open for a scant six months. Rumors abounded, but now the park exists as a quasi-attraction for those adventurous enough to seek it out. After having our fill at the waterpark, we headed back to Hue, the starting point of our trip.
Maybe a little late lunch? No problem.
So ended a grand day out. Hopefully there are many more to come. Spoiler alert, there are.