There's a great thrill in visiting abandoned destinations, the spookiness of being somewhere where people used to live their daily lives but is now empty is not something for the faint of heart. Drone footage from Pripyat in Ukraine is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. A city decimated by nuclear tragedy and nature's attempts to claw back in the wasteland is eerily beautiful. Vietnam countryside tours have much to offer in this regard.
Ho Thuy Tien, Hue
One of my favorite things to see in deserted locations is an old theme park. My first experience of seeing this was the haunting image of the Ferris wheel in Pripyat, a Ferris wheel that never saw any passengers as it was due to open the day after the Chernobyl disaster. Ho Thuy Tien has a similar feel to it. A mere five miles outside of the beautiful city of Hue (a must see destination in itself) this is the site of a long-abandoned water park. Dragons (rồng) are intrinsic to Vietnamese folklore – one legend is that Vietnamese people are the descendants of a dragon – and Hue is home to several images of dragons throughout the city. The foremost of these symbols in the area is to be found in Ho Thuy Tien.
Ho Thuy Tien dragon shaped aquarium
The park was opened on a small lake of the same name in 2004 at a cost of $3mUS. However, the park opened its gates before it was completed and before long this adventurous move from the owners ended in closure. Its main attraction was a three-story aquarium in the shape of a dragon rising from the waters of the lake. Live fish and crocodiles filled the tanks inside, the crocodiles would soon go on to become an unintended attraction in later years.
During its heyday, Ho Thuy Tien was easily found and heavily advertised. It was the go-to destination for tourists coming to Hue and Vietnam countryside tours. Famed for its cool waters and exciting attractions. After closure things were a little different. It's very difficult to get to if you don't know where you're going, a lot of locals are unsure of its existence even. Like the famous beach from Alex Garland's novel the location of the park is passed from traveler to traveler by word of mouth, it's easy enough to Google but the thrill of travelers’ word of mouth won't dissipate any time soon.
Crocodiles at Ho Thuy Tien
The original beauty of the giant dragon looming from the lake is only surpassed by the haunting vision of that same dragon falling into disrepair. This darkly wonderful experience made all the more enthralling by the knowledge that there were crocodiles in the lake, sustained by careless backpackers. Its guard of neglected crocodiles is long gone now after the WWF and PETA worked with the Vietnamese government to finally move them to somewhere more suitable.
Access is limited and you will have to pay a "gate fee" to the security guards outside before being allowed to investigate this tribute to the hubris of the owners.
Van Village, Da Nang
There are well known abandoned settlements all over the world. The most famous of which is probably Ordos in China. On a smaller scale geographically, although certainly not in eeriness, is the Van Village near Da Nang. Located at the foot of the Hai Van Pass (a famed destination for Vietnam countryside tours) and formerly known as Lei Village. It was never heavily populated but now no people live there – a few people living nearby still use the waters for fishing.
Van Village abandoned beach
Boasting stunning beaches and an unprecedented level of tranquility since the population decided to leave, tourists have taken to visiting in their stead. Getting there can be quite treacherous. It's easier to get there via boat, although pretty costly, another option would be to get a car to take you approximately 2 miles beyond the foot of the Hai Van Pass and then find the rail lines. From there it's a fairly simple route to the village through the rail tunnel – there is a chance of a train coming while you're traversing the tunnel but there are plenty of recesses in the tunnel to keep you safe.
Camping in Van Village
Once there, you can camp wherever you like, just remember to bring something with which to cook. During the day you can wander along the beaches and watch over the water. Enjoying the peace afforded to you by the lack of population. At night, the views across the bay to Da Nang are incredible. You can sit and watch the lights of the big city dance the night away.
Hai Ly church, Nam Dinh
Churches are beautiful buildings. The gothic architecture mixed with the frescoes and ornate interiors can make even the staunchest atheist revel in the beauty. Abandoned churches still hold a lot of this beauty but it's exacerbated by the haunting feeling that nobody comes here regularly anymore. In Nam Dinh, you can find one such church, in the Van Ly commune of the Hai Hau district. It's a popular tourist attraction in Vietnam countryside tours due to the picturesque setting along the coast. It's also a busy hub for fishing. Sadly, the interior is entirely gone. Having been torn down after the surrounding area was decimated by unusually high tides in 1996.
The eerie beauty of Hai Ly Church
Originally built in 1943, Hai Ly church was a church of St Mary Magdalene. It stood strong for decades before the sea decided to take over. Now, every time the tide comes in the interior of the church fills with water, up to 1m in depth.
There's something uniquely beautiful about human endeavors being reclaimed by Mother Nature and Hai Ly is a prime example of this. It's a great spot to get some incredible photographs but you need to be quick, there's no telling when Hai Ly is swallowed up by the depths of the sea.
Franciscaines Missionnaries de Marie, Da Lat
St Francis of Assisi is a saint of much renown. He is famed for his philanthropy and his efforts to help others. He's so revered that Franciscan monks have traveled the world to try and spread his message and provide support for people who need it. In the early 20th century they turned their attention to the central highlands of Vietnam, specifically Dalat.
Franciscaines Missionnaries de Marie, Da Lat
It's not easy to tell that the crumbling yellow buildings that you'll find here once housed a missionary school but ask around and you'll soon hear the story. Ornate stained glass windows and soft arched doorways litter the buildings and this once thriving missionary is now home to only a few families.
The most easily accessed site on this list, it's only a short journey from the Da Lat station, Franciscaines Missionnaries de Marie is an understated beauty in the ilk of Roslyn Chapel in my native Scotland – although, in a better state of repair. Rumors abound that a young bride committed suicide here, although there is no evidence to suggest this, it adds to the dark appeal. The area of the mission is currently owned by the University of Architecture in Da Lat so I would recommend trying to go and visit it soon – before access is severely limited.
These are just a few of the darkly beautiful abandoned tourist destinations in Vietnam countryside tours. These sights are some of the most moving and inspiring in the world and make for some fantastic photographs and experiences. They give a great insight into just how the planet would reclaim itself long after we have left it. Just watch out for the crocodiles!