Day 271: Abandoned Amusement Park

I spent the morning in my Airbnb deciding what to see in Hue, Vietnam. I saw that there was an abandoned amusement park on the outskirts of the city, so I decided to go there. Why go to another museum or temple when I could visit an apocalyptic park?

I walked downstairs and Jack’s parents gave me an automatic motorbike to drive. It was the same one that died on me two blocks away the day prior. It seemed to be fixed, so I took off. It only had one side-mirror and it was so loose that the wind kept knocking it out of place. The labels where the key was inserted were rubbed off from wear and tear, so I had to play around with it to figure out how to turn the engine on and to open the seat. 

I drove to Nina’s cafe for lunch. It was a restaurant that a former coworker, Julia, recommended. It only cost $6.88 USD and it was delicious! The food was fresh, flavorful, and filling. I even ordered a pastry with ice cream inside for dessert. 

After lunch, I drove about 20 minutes to the abandoned water park. When I pulled into the parking lot, there was a barrier blocking the entrance that also blocked the view of the park. Two guys were there and tried to charge me $20,000 dong ($0.86 USD) to park. There was a couple getting on their bike and driving away, but nobody else was around. I drove up the street just about a minute away and saw motorbikes pulling over and parking on a small section of dirt. 

A man came over and put a chalk mark on my bike and asked for $10,000 dong ($0.43 USD). I told the man no because this was clearly a guy who was making money off tourists for no reason. I texted Jack to ask if this was normal and if I should pay. While I waited for a reply, I talked with a European couple who paid the fee. Then someone else drove up. I noticed that the man forgot that I never gave him money, so I just started walking down the trail. 

The trail immediately wound its way through a forest. There wasn’t anybody around and there were no trail markers either. I assumed it would take me to the park eventually. After 15 minutes, I started to get lost because the trail had a few options. Overgrown bushes made it difficult to see which path was frequented most. 

Finally, a couple from China caught up to me and we decided on a route together that seemed to be the best option. On the way, we passed a couple going the opposite way and they confirmed that we were on the correct path. I separated from the other couple and shortly after, the trees cleared and the park emerged. 

There was a large lake with a path going around it. The first ride that I saw was a huge dragon structure in the middle of the lake. There were a couple of women on the grass selling drinks, but once I passed them, there was hardly anybody around. 

I was in love! I walked on the bridge towards the dragon and couldn’t believe this existed. As I got closer, I noticed the broken glass and spray paint everywhere. The menacing dragon was sitting on top of a dome building overlooking the lake.

When I first entered, there was a counter that clearly would have been where workers took tickets. Then I noticed a spiral staircase. It was still light outside of the structure, but as I walked inside, it was pitch black. 

I used the flashlight on my phone and it was creepy. The couple was wandering around, but mostly in different sections. As I walked down the hallway inside, I noticed the aquarium theme. There were windows separating different tanks where it appeared sea life had once lived. The glass was broken, but it remained intact around the frame. 

The whole place was so fascinating! Vines were growing around the structure and in unexpected places because it had been abandoned for ten years. I love apocalyptic movies, but they often fail  to show how much nature would take over. I got to see firsthand how nature would continue to survive even though no humans would. 

I climbed a staircase and as I approached the top, it became a narrow spiral. I heard voices at the top, so I kept going. When I arrived at the head of the dragon, there were a few French people hanging out and taking pictures. They were drinking beer that they had in their backpacks. They told me that the path goes all the way around the large lake and there are more rides. 

After taking pictures, I found the path around the lake and started walking. There was a guy in his late 20s who was slightly ahead of me, so we kept randomly running into each other, but other than that, I had the place to myself. Most people just stopped at the dragon and left. 

The real feel was 103° F (39° C) that day and extremely humid. I was sweating like crazy, but I didn’t care because I was loving the environment. The walk was beautiful with trees all around. I passed a man who was collecting sticks and loading them on the back of his motorbike. 

I arrived at a set of large slides that led to a pool. Spray paint, dirt, and overgrowth engulfed the area. The pool had moss growing in it and there were rumors that an alligator lived in it. 

It all looked so eerie. I imagined what it must have been like when it was operating. Kids would have been playing on the playground equipment and swimming in the pools. Their faces would have lit up as they slid down the slide and splashed into the pool. Now, it was just a dirty, broken mess. There was a spray-painted picture of a needle on the side of the pool and it reminded me to watch my step for needles that might be infected with HIV. 

I continued around the lake and passed a space shuttle virtual reality machine. Then I arrived at the outdoor stadium. It was huge and difficult to get inside because of the many tree branches and broken glass on the ground. I stood in the middle of the stadium and looked around. It looked like there was a pool of water as the main feature. Maybe for animal acts? Or maybe a water puppet show?

Blue plastic square pieces were fastened to the concrete ledges for seats. Several were missing and tall grass grew all around. I stood there and said, “And the crowd goes wild!” as I envisioned what it would be like to be performing in front of a crowd that size.  

I continued walking around the lake and saw statues and a stray dog. I had to walk back through the woods to get to my motorbike and when I arrived, sweat was pouring down my face and chest. My shirt was so drenched, there was no hiding the fact that I was a hot mess. The man collecting money for parking said, “It’s hot outside huh?” Embarrassed, I replied, “Yes!” 

I drove back towards the city and there were large trucks on the road that would expel a huge cloud of dark smoke when they passed. It hurt my eyes and I would cough as I drove through the polluted air. Sometimes, water would hit me and I could only hope that it was water from the trees above. By the end of the day, my legs were covered in soot and grime. My sweat made it stick to my body. I was starting to understand why some people wear masks. 

I drove to an arena that was in Jack’s book, but it was closed due to construction. Then I stopped at a coffee shop and bought a coffee, tiramisu, and a bottle of water for $4.04 USD. I cooled off in the air conditioning before continuing. Next, I drove to the riverfront and walked around. There were nice boats lined up and a woman rushed to me. She wanted to sell me a ticket for $200,000 dong ($8.60 USD). I passed because I thought she was trying to rip me off. Shortly after, another woman approached me and offered the same boat ride for $100,000 dong. 

As I waited to board, I talked with a young couple from the Netherlands. They had traveled for a week in Cambodia and were spending three weeks in Vietnam. We boarded the boat where there were rows of plastic chairs that held about 30 people. The boat went out into the river and then just stopped. A group of beautiful young women stood on the platform and sang some songs, but they did not seem to be enjoying their job. There were lots of other boats on the water just sitting there too. 

Once the singing was done, we were each given a candle in a small bowl of paper to set it out on the water and make a wish. Once that was done, we were back to shore. It was a total waste of a boat ride.

After wishing the couple from The Netherlands well on their travels, I decided to check out the night market. There were pots of brightly colored food ready to be sold at some of the stalls. I couldn’t tell what the food was, and eating purple, neon green, spongy looking things wasn’t going to happen. 

There were little trinkets laid out on rugs, people playing music for money, and a man painted in gold doing an act. It reminded me of the characters on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There was even a booth for throwing a dart at balloons. 

I found a restaurant by the water and after ten minutes of waiting, a server asked to take my order. When I tried to order food, he said, “Oh sorry, no chef.” I left because I needed dinner. I found the DMZ Bar and Restaurant and climbed the stairs to the third floor that overlooked the streets below. I sat at an open-air bar that looked out to the street. I could hear dance music playing at bars and dance clubs across the street. I really wanted American food, so I ordered a burger. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste like a burger in the U.S. 

I walked back to my motorbike and looked at my phone for directions back to the Airbnb. I enjoyed driving a bike there. It was chaos, but I liked the thrill. Once back at the Airbnb, I FaceTimed my mom and went to bed. Technology helped me stay in touch with loved ones back home, something I was really grateful for. 

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 270: Exploring Hue, Vietnam

The room I was renting in a house in Hue, Vietnam included breakfast. I slept in and the night before had a hard time communicating with the homeowner about what time breakfast would be provided. I opened my bedroom door and on the small plastic table was a plate of sliced dragon fruit and a small coffee. I sat down on the tiny plastic chair, ate, and drank the cold coffee. The air conditioning units were in the bedrooms, so the foyer where I ate my breakfast was hot and humid. I quickly retreated to my cool bedroom. 

I searched for things to do online and read through Jack’s guide book of suggestions. Once I was dressed, I walked downstairs to the main entry room and saw Jack’s parents. I asked about the motorbike that was included in my Airbnb rental and they showed me a few bikes that were in front of the house. 

The gated entry had several motorbikes stored within the small section of concrete in front of the house. Jack’s mom brought me to an automatic motorbike while Jack’s dad got me a helmet. They tried to start the bike, but it wasn’t happening. Jack’s dad moved to another motorbike, which started, but I noticed that the gas tank was almost empty. 

I asked them where a gas station was located and pointed to the gas tank. They asked me for money through their hand signals. I gave his dad some money and he drove away. He came back with a full tank of gas. I was nervous to drive in a city. I had only driven a motorbike on an island in Thailand and in the mountains of northern Vietnam, neither of which were very crowded with people or other vehicles.

This was an automatic motorbike, so I figured it would be fine. I started to drive, but after two blocks, the motorbike started to stall in the middle of driving down a busy road. I started to panic and tried to pull over as quickly as I could. I tried to restart the bike, but it wouldn’t start. It was old and the engine did not seem to be in good condition. 

I sent a message to Jack explaining what happened and that I was walking the bike back to his parents’ house. Thankfully, the street near their house wasn’t as congested as I pushed the bike along the side of the street. When I arrived at the house, Jack’s parents tried to give me another bike, but it was a semi-automatic. The bike was old, making it difficult to change gears. 

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Jack rode up on the back of a Grab bike and said he was actually leading a tour group, but had a few minutes to run over and help. He showed me how to use the motorbike and asked that I drive around the block where he could see me to make sure I could drive a semi-automatic. After I completed that successfully, he left to get back to his tour group. 

I used Google Maps to get to the Imperial City and put my phone in the front pocket of my shorts. I tried my best to remember the next two turns and once I made those, I pulled over on the side of the road, pulled out my phone, and looked for more guidance. I was surprised at my ability to navigate using this method. 

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The city streets were busy! There were two lanes of traffic and usually about three rows of motorbikes in each lane. People were passing continually and at random. I almost stopped when I came to an intersection, but after someone honked at me, I sped up and went through. There were rarely stop lights or stop signs, and stopping actually made it worse. Instead, the trick was to slow down a little bit, make eye contact with people on the other street, and give a small honk when you were going to cross. Body language, eye contact, and speed were used to navigate the roadways. Despite the continuous flow of heavy traffic, everyone moved along at a good pace. 

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I arrived at the Imperial City, which is a huge section of buildings that take up a few city blocks. Hue used to be the capital, so there is a lot of history there. I paid the admission and walked through the grounds.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t with a guided tour, so I wasn’t sure what each building was. Occasionally, I would overhear a tour group, “This is the Royal House.” “This is the Royal Kitchen.” I wondered, “Do I just add ‘royal’ in front of everything?” 

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The buildings were mostly empty, but some had golden temples and statues. I wandered into the ones that were open. Some of the buildings were destroyed during the war and only rubble was left behind. It’s strange – we call it the Vietnam War, but they call it the American War. 

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There were beautiful lanterns hanging from trees and then I came across a small cafe. I was feeling overheated because the real feel was 98° F (36° C). The high humidity was making me sweat through my shirt. I ordered a sausage sandwich just so I could sit in the air conditioned room. It tasted like a gross hotdog, but was worth it for the cool air. 

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As I kept walking, I discovered beautiful gardens and small arched bridges connecting structures. There weren’t as many people around those areas, so I strolled along enjoying the plant life. 

Since there weren’t many signs and I wasn’t on a tour group, I didn’t learn much about the Imperial City. I walked across the street to a war museum, which had virtually nobody there. On the outside of the building there were several large helicopters, airplanes, and tanks from the U.S. military. 

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The plaques listed information in Vietnamese with an English translation. One sign read, “Tank with 175 MM artillery, a modern war weapon of the US equipped to American Army and Republic of Vietnam Army. Captured by the Liberation Army from the enemy in the tan my port thuan an, thua thien hue on 26 March 1975.” 

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I walked into the main building and there were giant shells lined up. One sign read, “Bomb: A kind of American Imperialist weapon used in Vietnam invasion war.” 

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It never occurred to me that countries would capture our military vehicles and bombshells and put them on display. I felt sad as I walked around the museum. I couldn’t help but think about my fellow Americans who died in that war, maybe even in those very vehicles. 

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After walking through the museum, I drove my motorbike to two different tombs – Khai Dinh Tomb and Minh Mang Tomb. The first one was a bit of a trek to the other side of the city. I was happy to have my easy-to-park motorbike among all of the giant tour buses. The entrance was grand with weathered black and grey stone. The very wide staircase led to the top of the complex. 

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I climbed the steps, wandered around, looked at the statues, and then tried to go inside the temple. To enter, women must have their shoulders covered. Thankfully, they had some shoulder wraps for visitors to borrow. 

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The views were great at the top and it all looked very grand. I got back on my motorbike and drove to the next tomb. This one would be even further, but I was feeling confident on the motorbike. 

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When I arrived, I had to walk down a dirt path around a huge brick wall. The grounds were more spread out and surrounded by trees. 

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One sign read, “Buu Thanh is a round wall that protects the Emperor’s tomb. The wall is 285 meters long 3 meters high. The gate of this burial area was opened once a year on the occasion of the Emperor’s death anniversary. Huyen Cung is an underground palace where the Emperor’s corpse was placed. When Ming Mang Emperor passed away, his coffin was brought to this palace through an underground channel that was then closed permanently. These constructions were built in 1841.”

On my way out of the palace, there was a woman putting branches that looked like bamboo through a machine. It was squeezing the juice out of it and the woman then put it in a cup with ice. I bought one and it was a refreshing, sweet drink. 

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It was now rush hour as I drove back into the city. I decided to put my phone in the middle of my bra with the camera lens facing out so that I could record some of the insanity. I did a fairly good job at navigating in the chaos. I’m not sure if that means I’m a good driver or a bad driver. I put together a video of some of the driving and sped it up so you can get a good view of different streets. 

I ate at a restaurant that my Airbnb host, Jack, recommended and it was really tasty. On my way back to the Airbnb, I was driving down a street and noticed Jack standing on the side. We locked eyes and I pulled over. I had only met him briefly earlier in the day when he tried to help me with the dead motorbikes. He was finishing up a tour and the group was inside a shop. I told Jack about my day and that I was confidently driving around. He was really nice and fun to talk to. It seemed so random that I passed him in that large city. 

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I drove back to the house and rested in the air conditioning. I still needed to figure out how to spend my last day in Hue and I didn’t want to miss anything. 

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 269: Train Ride to Hue, Vietnam

I took advantage of the free breakfast at my hotel and arrived at 8:45 am, 15 minutes before it ended. I was the only person there and enjoyed the buffet. On my way back to my room, I stopped at reception and asked if they could help me with the train. They didn’t speak English, but thankfully a woman nearby did and came over to help me.

I think the woman was the supervisor and she got on the computer and looked online at the timetables. She said there was a train that left at 11:20 am. She called the train station and asked for a ticket, but when she got off the phone, she said there were no more tickets for 11:20 am. The next train left at 5:00 pm and was a night train. I did not want a night train and on top of that I would have to wander around for the day.

My gut told me there was a ticket available, so I packed my bags, checked out of the hotel, and took a Grab to the train station. I was desperately hoping there would be a ticket so I wouldn’t have to take a 15-hour bus ride (the train took 11-12 hours).

When I arrived at the station, I asked the woman at the ticket counter if there was a ticket for 11:20 to Hue. She wrote something on a piece of paper and slid it to me. It said she had one ticket for $390,000 dong ($13.85 USD) or a sleeper seat for $690,000 dong ($29.82 USD). After my experiment on the sleeper bus, I quickly said I’d take a regular seat.

I was relieved that I was able to get a ticket. The train was coming shortly, so I waited outside on the platform. Per usual, a woman walked over to me, put her hand from her head to my arm (which came halfway between my elbow and shoulder), and laughed with her friends. I smiled and laughed with them. Then they all laughed at the European middle-aged couple who were 5’3” and 5’7”, and had giant backpacks that seemed to be overtaking them.

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I got on the train, found my seat, and looked for a place to put my suitcase. I flagged a woman down who worked there and she told me that I’d have to put it above my seat on the rack. Thankfully, she helped me lift it. Other than the European couple, the passengers were all locals. They had Vietnamese train travel down perfectly. They’d all put a plastic bag full of food (noodle cups that just needed hot water, snacks, and drinks) and tied it to the railing just above their seat. They’d also hang a plastic bag to the back of the seat in front of them for trash, which was great because the attendants never came to collect trash and I couldn’t find a trash can. It was just like the locals in Thailand.

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A few times throughout the train journey, a vendor with a cart would roll down the aisle offering food. There wasn’t a cab with food, so I would need to order from the cart. At one point, I got a corn cob and coffee for $1.29 USD. The corn didn’t have butter or salt, and it was a little sweet. It was pretty tasty. Then for dinner, I bought a rice and beef meal that was in a styrofoam box. It wasn’t very good and the drink that was served was like a soup broth with some random things floating in it.

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The restroom was small, old, and rickety, like the train itself. But I was so happy that it wasn’t a squat toilet! The first time I used the restroom was a few hours into the train ride. I noticed that the little bar of soap hadn’t been opened yet, which concerned me. I opened it and used it. Nine hours into the train ride, I used the restroom again. This time there was pee all over the seat and the floor was wet.

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I worked on my blog, slept, and played on my phone. At one point, I saw a girl post on a Facebook travel group that she just got malaria in Hoi An, which was not that much farther south than my destination. She was asking the group what she should do. Then I read the comments. So many people chiming in, “I got malaria in Vietnam too” and “I got so sick in Vietnam with X disease.” Ugh, I did not want malaria.

There was an older woman in front of me and she kept turning around and speaking to me in Vietnamese. I would reply, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” To which she obviously didn’t understand. She would point out things like the crying child or the guy who was supposed to be next to me, but ended next to her because I was in his seat. Every couple of hours, she would speak to me again, as if she forgot that I didn’t speak Vietnamese.

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At times, the seat next to me was empty. Then someone would get on at a stop and be my seat-mate for awhile until they got off, letting someone else in the seat. I played around on Tinder, but because I was on a moving train, it wasn’t very successful. I matched with a 28-year-old traveller who had been traveling for one and a half years. He was going the opposite direction than me though, so that was that.

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As I sat on the train, it reminded me of the six-hour train ride that I took from Paris to Barcelona in 2014 with my ex-husband, Aaron. It was our first big trip and we spent four weeks exploring Europe. I had never had that much time off of work before, so I was excited to break out of our patterns and experience something new. I told Aaron that my goal was to meet at least one new person everyday. I brought a journal to write about our time and who we met.

During that six-hour train ride, I journaled about our trip so far (London and Paris). I was reflective about the new cultures, people, and the history that I was learning. While I was writing in my journal, Aaron listened to music on his headphones, ate candy, and browsed through a motorcycle magazine.

I will never forget how I felt in that moment. I looked at Aaron and longed to have a deep conversation about our trip. He seemed very content doing exactly what he would be doing in the U.S. I reflected on my marriage with him. At that point, we had been married for seven years and were doing just fine. However, I felt a deep loneliness.

Aaron was a “nice” guy. He was passive and didn’t have many opinions about anything. I would frequently start conversations with him and try everything I could to solicit an opinion, but he just didn’t have one. We were so different in that regard. I was lonely because there was not an intellectual connection. I looked at him in that moment and realized his simplicity. I knew that he would never fill that special place that satisfies my soul.

Then I felt sadness. I loved him. But it was turning into a different type of love. I was married and didn’t contemplate divorce (that wasn’t until I realized his pathological lies that he had told  throughout our entire marriage). I knew in that moment that I would forever be lonely in that capacity. I reasoned with myself, “It’s ok. No marriage has everything. I will just fulfill the intellectual void, the intellectual conversations with other people – with friends and coworkers.” I was content with this decision because it was my fate. I asked Aaron to take my picture and every time I see it, I am reminded of that train ride.

On the train ride in 2014

I have realized in the last few years that I need a romantic partner that I can have intelligent conversations with. Someone who has a curiosity to learn and explore. Someone who challenges me. My Myers Briggs personality test said that I need a partner with whom I am “both teacher and student.” The problem with Aaron was that I was only the teacher and never a student.

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After 12 hours (and much reflection) on the train in Vietnam, I arrived in Hue. It was late at night and I notified my Airbnb host, Jack, that I would be coming in late because of the train. Jack told me that I should not pay more than $70,000 dong ($3 USD) for a taxi to his house. I asked a taxi driver at the train station how much he would charge and he said $150,000 dong ($6.50 USD).

I pulled up the Grab app to see how much they would charge. As I struggled to find the address of the Airbnb, the taxi driver dropped his price to $100,000 dong. I replied, “No. How about $70,000?” He agreed after he saw me pull up the app.

The Airbnb that I booked was a room inside of a house. The homeowners lived there and rented out three different rooms. I booked the cheaper room that had a shared bathroom, but Jack messaged me saying he was going to move me into another room with a bathroom since it wasn’t booked. The reviews on Airbnb raved about Jack. He was a tour guide in Hue, gave great tips, and spoke English.

When I arrived, Jack wasn’t at the house. He only sleeps there sometimes because it’s his parent’s house. Jack’s mom welcomed me, but didn’t speak any English. She showed me my room on the third floor and helped carry my bags up the narrow, marble, spiral staircase.

My room was ok. The bed was hard and only had a quilt with no sheets. I slept on top of the quilt and used a folded quilt as my blanket. It was late at night and I was exhausted. I was thirsty and needed some bottled water, but it would have to wait until the morning.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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