Secret adventures near Hue

Mark Levitin | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The ancient Vietnamese capital of Hue, nowadays a large, prosperous city, clearly does not qualify as an off-the-beaten-track destination. The old palace ruins and tens of imperial tombs in the vicinity see tour groups coming and going as if on a conveyor belt. The palace has, in fact, been demolished by American bombers and is not worth the entrance fee, the tombs, on the contrary, are majestic, full of historical and cultural value, and should not be missed. But in addition to such well-known attractions, Hue packs plenty of "secret" ones: lagoons where unique fishing methods are used, traditional craft villages, and a popular yet ostensibly haunted abandoned water park. Even this close to the city, adventure is possible.

© Mark Levitin

Incense stick making

One specialty of Hue is incense making - perhaps due to its sacred status as the burial place of ancient royalty. The main cluster of workshops is located southwest of the city, conveniently close to the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. If you can withstand the relatively mild pressure to buy incense sticks, you can observe the entire process of their manufacture. Aromatic resins are mixed by hand, then rolled over the wooden shaft, either with a simple mechanical device or manually as well. The ready sticks are then set out to dry, forming random colorful patterns on the sandy grounds. Frames of an artisan in a conical non hat arranging the sticks while sitting in the midst of them have won quite a few photographic awards - so, get your wide-angle lens ready.

© Mark Levitin

Other crafts of Hue

Along the way to the tomb of Tu Duc, on the southern bank of Perfume River, the Phuong Duc neighborhood belongs to bronze casters. Foundry workers usually do not mind the occasional tourist wandering in and taking a few shots. Anything from decorative home appliances to giant temple bells is produced here and polished on the spot. A large basketry workshop can be visited in Bao La, north of Hue. Again, the variety of manufactured goods is great, and the craftsmen are mostly hospitable, or at least indifferent. Nearby, a local family is engaged in a unique art: making paper figurines for funerary rites. Houses, cars, as well as the more traditional horses and carriages, are shaped out of paper on thin bamboo frames to be burned as offerings to the dear deceased.

© Mark Levitin

Tam Giang lagoon

This enormous lagoon is the place to go if you want to see, learn or photograph Central Vietnamese fishing techniques. Huge fishtraps create geometric patterns all over the shallow parts, while in the deeper sections, wrench nets are mounted on wooden supports. Tam Giang bridge is one of the best places to view this activity: in the late afternoon, low-angle beams of light shine through the hanging nets, making them glitter like golden butterflies, dark boats intersect the red line cast by the setting sun, and vague silhouettes of distant pagodas reflect in the still water. 

© Istock/Fantastic Geographic

Thuy Tien water park

Gods only know what draws people to abandoned buildings: subconscious hope of finding a secret treasure? The thrilling reminder of our - and our civilization's - impermanence? Residual effects of too many post-apocalyptic movies? Either way, a whole specialized fraction of tourism has grown around neglected skyscrapers and obsolete mining towns. Thuy Tien water park, opened in 2004 and closed indefinitely soon after, will satisfy the modern followers of Indiana Jones perfectly: it is spooky, it was abandoned for no worldly reason (which leaves enough space for the otherworldly ones), and above all, it may have crocodiles. Taking a dried-out, rusty, decrepit waterslide with a giant carnivorous reptile hot on your heels is definitely the adventure to remember for the rest of your life - that is, the entire two minutes. Officially, of course, the few crocs held in the park's aquarium were relocated to some wildlife sanctuary a few months after the closure, but who can say for sure they have not laid eggs first? And even if not, the sight of tropical jungle rapidly reclaiming what used to be the grazing grounds of human fun-seekers is eerie enough. As is the three-storey concrete dragon greeting visitors at the entrance. Thuy Tien park is located south of Hue, past the tomb of Emperor Thieu Tri. You may need to bribe the guard or sneak past him quietly, then wander at will, and be careful. 

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