Asia

Our Visit to Ho Thuy Tien, Hue’s Abandoned Waterpark

© Emily Lush 2017

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info and other travel tips.

Back in November, we ventured to Hue (Huế), Vietnam’s Imperial Capital, for a long weekend. Ross and I had both visited Hue before (together in 2012, and Ross again in 2016 with friends)—and honestly, our impression of the city wasn’t that favourable.

Neither of us had taken the time to explore Hue properly. Now that we’re living only a short flight away in Hanoi, we decided we should try and fix that.

As well as he classics, we also wanted to include a few of Hue’s more unconventional sights in our itinerary—including An Bang ‘tomb city’ and Ho Thuy Tien, Vietnam’s famous abandoned waterpark.

Update [May 2018]: Some visitors have recently reported being denied entry to the waterpark on safety grounds. Despite this, there’s no official word that the waterpark has closed. If you plan on going, it might be wise to double check with someone in Hue (hotel or restaurant staff) to avoid disappointment. Check the comments section at the end of this post for updates from other travellers.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
The Royal Library inside Hue’s Imperial Citadel—beautiful, even when the rain is falling (I find myself saying that a lot lately).

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you). Affiliate links help me keep this website up and running. Thanks for your support! Learn more.

Welcome to Hue, Vietnam’s Imperial City

Hue was the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty up until 1945. The city itself was all but destroyed during the Vietnam-America war, but thankfully, many relics of the past survived. Great efforts have been made to restore some of Hue’s most prominent landmarks.

The Imperial Citadel is Hue’s most prestigious site—and for good reason. Its history-filled pagodas and halls are lavishly decorated and absolutely gorgeous.

We spent a whole morning exploring the furthest nooks and crannies of the massive Citadel complex. We could have stayed all day.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
Inside the Imperial Citadel. Since this is my only blog post about Hue, it’s also an excuse to share some of my favourite photos!
Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
The tomb of Minh Mang—one of three Imperial Tombs you can visit outside of Hue.

In the afternoon, we hired a car and visited three more imperial sites–the tombs of Tu Duc, Khai Dinh and Minh Mang–located south of the city.

We found them equally as majestic and intriguing. I can’t believe we missed out on seeing them back in 2012.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
One of the thousands of dragons that decorate the Imperial Citadel in Hue.

On the tail of the dragon in Hue

Hue is more ornate than any other city I’ve been to in Vietnam. Peering out the taxi window on the ride from the airport, I noticed many colourful temples and shrines tucked back off the main highway. There is a strong tradition of embellishing burial sites—someone told me that Hue is a place where the ‘mourning smile’.

My first visit failed to impress on me the exquisiteness of the mosaics that decorate the citadel and tombs. This time, I couldn’t take my eyes (or camera) off them.

Dragons (rồng) are one motif we saw again and again. Central to Vietnamese folklore and myth, dragons bring rain—and with it, prosperity and power to the nation. Dragons represent the emperor and by extension, the entire universe.

One of the first origin stories we were told when we arrived in Vietnam says that all Vietnamese people are descended from the eggs of a dragon.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
A dragon relief inside the Imperial Citadel complex, coloured with pieces of tile, glass, and moss.
Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
Stunning mosaics inside the Imperial Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh.

During the Nguyen Dynasty, dragons were typically portrayed with a spiral tail, a large head and eyes, scales, a lion’s nose, stag’s horns, and exposed canine teeth. You can see some examples of this style in the images above.

Towards the end of the period, images of dragons apparently ‘degenerated’ and became less refined, losing their majestic features and likeness. This corresponds symbolically to the gradual decline of Vietnam’s last royal dynasty.

That brings us to Ho Thuy Tien. Perhaps Hue’s most famous dragon, it too has degenerated over time. Once a popular leisure spot for local families, it now draws a very different crowd. We decided to go and see what all the fuss was about.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
Ho Thuy Tien.

What is Ho Thuy Tien?

Hồ Thủy Tiên (Thuy Tien Lake) is a smallish natural lake located about 8km south of Hue’s Imperial City. An entertainment complex of the same name sits on the lake’s edge. The famous dragon structure—a three-level aquarium—is perched out on the water.

Inside the dragon, there’s a ticket booth area and a few exhibits—the standard glass tunnel type thing you often see in aqua parks. Apparently these were used to show off fish and crocodiles (the latter still lurked in a pool until recently, before PETA was called in to intervene).

On the bottom level of the dragon aquarium, there’s also an outdoor exhibit (pictured below) and upstairs, a performance space. There are fun slides and grandstands elsewhere on the property.

For more unusual architecture in Vietnam, check out this post from Temples & Treehouses.

The park is currently open and unattended—we had no trouble moving around as we wished. You can even climb a staircase to the top of the dragon’s head.

The secret is definitely out about Ho Thuy Tien. We were surprised to find flocks of Vietnamese teenagers and a few other tourists at the park on the day we visited (it was a Saturday).

If you’re looking for a hardcore urbex experience, this is certainly not it. But if you are interested in doing something slightly offbeat in Hue, I highly recommend visiting Ho Thuy Tien.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
Inside the ground floor of the aquarium.
Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
Graffiti inside the old ticket booth area.
Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
View from the top, looking out through the dragon’s mouth.

Why was Ho Thuy Tien abandoned?

Based on what I’ve read online and the short conversation I had with staff at our hotel in Hue, no one really knows exactly why Ho Thuy Tien was abandoned. Opening in 2004, the park apparently cost millions to build and was only operational for a couple of years before it was shuttered.

Plans to revive the park have also been shelved. It’s unclear what Ho Thuy Tien’s future holds. Now that tourists and young people are visiting the site again, I’m sure the owners (or government) have recognised its renewed revenue potential.

Keep reading: Exploring Lideco, an abandoned housing estate in Hanoi.

If abandoned fun parks are your thing, I’ve heard there are a few similarly ramshackled waterparks in Hanoi. Maybe one day I’ll go check them out.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
Graffiti inside the top level of the aquarium.

How to get to the abandoned water park

Grab/Uber is yet to arrive in Hue, and since we don’t ride bikes, we organised a car and driver for the day through our hotel. Our driver was happy to add Ho Thuy Tien onto the usual Hue day trip itinerary at no extra cost.

The lake is located between the tombs of Tu Duc and Khai Dinh, and is accessible via a quick detour off the main road.

Everyone in Hue seems to know about the park’s newfound popularity, so you won’t have any trouble finding someone to either take you there or point you in the right direction.

If using your own transport, just follow the directions on Google Maps. The entrance point is clearly marked.

Your complete guide to visiting Ho Thuy Tien, the famous abandoned dragon waterpark in Hue, Vietnam. Includes photos, transport info & travel tips.
The nature walk.

Tips for visiting Ho Thuy Tien

Bring cash. Some enterprising men have revived the toll booth at the entrance to the park and are now charging a small fee to enter. A ticket cost 10,000 VND per person at the time of our visit.

Wear enclosed shoes. There is a lot of rubbish and debris inside the waterpark. Best to wear shoes that protect your feet.

Plan to spend 30-45 minutes. If you plan to go further afield than the main dragon, consider using your own transportation as the park is quite spread out.

Where to stay in Hue

My top choice of mid-range hotel in Hue is Alba Spa Hotel (doubles from $40). Boutique rooms are beautifully decorated, and the property has a nice undercover pool area – perfect for waiting out those inevitable rainy Hue days. Check prices & availability here.

Budget travellers will love Vietnam Backpacker Hostels – this chain has hostels all over the country, including a popular property in Hue. Check prices & availability here.

Both hotels have helpful concierge staff who can assist with organising motorbike rental or a driver to take you around in Hue.

Heading to Phong Nha next? Read my trip report about cycling the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail.

How to get to Hue

There are buses and trains between Hue and most other major cities in Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Phong Nha, Danang (for Hoi An), and even Dalat. Hue has an airport that is serviced by affordable VietJet flights – if you’re on a tight timeline, flying into Hue and then continuing on by train or bus might be a good option.

If you’re travelling during high season, I recommend reserving your tickets online in advance. Use the links below to start planning your route:

Before you go: Here are more things to do in Hue.


Ho Thuy Tien: Pin it!

12 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Bernadette says:

    Do you suggest getting a hotel near the city and driving out there to the park, or staying in a near by hotel if this is our main attraction for our visit?
    Also when exploring the park, you said it was spread out, is it safe to go by yourself exploring the area? is there wile animals?
    Do you suggest getting a translator when traveling over there, or is english somewhat common?

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Bernadette,

      I would definitely recommend staying in Hue. It’s very close by. There’s really only enough to keep you occupied at the park for a few hours, and you shouldn’t miss Hue’s other attractions.

      I don’t know what you would need a translator for, as there’s no one really at the park to talk to. Most people (esp. drivers) speak basic English and as I mentioned, everyone knows the location of the park. If you mean Vietnam in general, then no—English is widely spoken, especially in tourist-focused cities such as Hue.

      Exercise common sense and caution if you plan to explore on your own!

  2. Amanda says:

    Tried to go today and a man in uniform chased everyone off holding a sign saying “no entry for safety”. Quite the bummer. We’re going to try another side entry tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *