Puff the Mangy Dragon
What a day! In the morning we visited the most important site of Hue, and possibly in Vietnam. Despite suffering much destruction, restoration has taken place with many Dragons adorning the buildings. In the afternoon, we were thrilled to meet our friends and go on a Mystery Tour to see another Dragon, a rather mangy one!
Hue’s Imperial City was listed as a World Cultural Heritage in 1993 by UNESCO, and this square fortress in the former capital of Vietnam was constructed during the Nguyen Dynasty in 1804.
The Emperor wanted to recreate a smaller version of Beijing's Forbidden City. Thousands upon thousands of labourers dug the 10 km moat and walls that formed the perimeter; later the wall was replaced by a 2 m thick stone.
There was a citadel within a citadel within a citadel, with the Purple Forbidden City in the centre for the Emperor, family, eunuchs and concubines who served the royal family. The next ring was for important dignitaries and ceremonies and the outer ring for commoners.
The location of the Imperial City was chosen based on eastern spiritual philosophy. It was thought that the natural landscape of the Perfume River and the Ngu Binh mountains surrounding the area would give protection.
Sadly, that didn’t work as once the Dynasty lost its power in 1945, the buildings suffered from neglect, plus cyclones and termites added to the destruction. Then in 1968, the citadel was attacked by the North Vietnamese Army. At first, the US soldiers were ordered not to bomb the city, but after much fighting, this was lifted, resulting in only ten main sites of the 160 buildings standing. We could still see bullet holes in several walls.
There is hardly anything left of the Purple Forbidden City now. Despite this, there's a charm about the place. As well as the many areas of overgrown grass where temples, offices and residential buildings once stood, there are some beautifully restored buildings in the traditional Vietnamese style mixed with French influence. Dragons seem to be everywhere, on the apex of roofs, at the ends of the tiers, stone carvings leading up to buildings, and mosaics on pillars.
It was very relaxing walking around, sometimes stopping to sit under a long pavilion, sheltering us from the heat of the sun. We decided to have a selfie in front of a golden dragon and just as Tim clicked the camera, another tourist (guess where from), walked behind us, oblivious to what we were doing. We waited and got another shot.
The original gardens have been beautifully re-established with ponds, orchids, bonsai trees and a small island in the middle of a lake where the Emperor used to enjoy resting under the moon.
If we had the day to ourselves, we might have stayed here longer. But we were meeting some very special people to spend with for a few days. Their train had been delayed, so we found a lovely restaurant called Madame Thu, ate delicious Banh Xeo, crispy Vietnamese pancakes, and as we finished, they arrived.
It was Hetty, our dear friend Carrie’s daughter and her boyfriend Max. I held Hetty when she was 3 hours old and she and her sister Emily are very special to our family. They are here for a holiday over the Christmas period, arrived in Ho Chi Minh, so they have been travelling north while we’ve been going south.
We caught up on our news, walked back to our Homestay and hopped on two motorcycles for our 8km journey to our mystery tour. Hetty’s friend had told her about this place, and we kept our fingers crossed that we would be allowed in.
After navigating through the hectic traffic, we finally were in the countryside and arrived at a blocked-off road. A man called us over to park the bikes, and we realised that this was another way into our weird destination. We paid our 10,000 dongs to the entrepreneurial park attendant as well as the guard who ordered us “No Climbing”. Luck was on our side; other visitors have been refused entry.
We quickly trekked through the woodland before he changed his mind and then came across a concrete blue car which looked remarkably like the one in Harry Potter, except for the Pagoda on its bonnet.
And as we turned around, there it was, a mighty dragon roaring up to the sky, wrapping itself around a derelict, crumbling and heavily graffiti-covered aquarium in the middle of an eerie black lake, which, until recently housed three crocodiles.
We had come to the abandoned Ho Thuy Tien waterpark. But why is this crazy complex closed? After digging around, I came across an article on https://www.doisongphapluat.com (In Vietnamese, I may add).
I discovered that the waterpark was built costing 70 billion dongs (US$30 million). However, after a short time in operation (but the article also says it was never completed) it was abandoned. Apparently due to “low efficiency plus constant sluggishness” the Hue Tourism Company transferred the waterpark to HACO Company. Since then, plans have been repeatedly adjusted to rebuild the area, but these plans are still theoretical, as the article states.
We walked across one of the long bridges to this mad monstrosity. Tiles had fallen off the ceilings, moss, mould and graffiti now cover the walls. Tim climbed a staircase through the Dragon’s rib-cage and poked his head out of a porthole. There were a gaping shark mouth, a whale and an octopus on the ground level, with stairs also leading to the depths of the Aquarium. The broken glass deterred us, let alone the health and safety risks that we seemed to have forgotten!
We walked around the lake, passing water buffalo enjoying munching on the lush vegetation and came across waterslides, intact but not that you’d want to zoom down them now. Plastic tubes were curving around trees with only scrawls and scribbles touching their surface.
Further around the lake, we found the many seated Amphitheatre where most of the plastic seats have been ripped from their metal clasps. In front looked to be the workings for a dancing-water and light show. I wonder how many had the privilege of watching this.
The sun was setting, and we didn’t want to ride back in the dark, so it was time to leave. We definitely had a lot of laughter here and so glad that Hetty’s friend told her about this mysterious and fascinating place.
What a day of Dragons. Some may be mangy, with not much puff, but they are all magic!
One last note for the day, our host recommended us to eat at a local family-owned restaurant. The food was tasty, but what we were amazed at was their eight-year-old son who created the most incredible Marvel characters out of plasticine! I thought they were figurines that he had bought, not made! Wow – this boy will go far with that talent.