When it comes to visiting abandoned places, I’ve realised I have a re-occurring type of place I like to explore. Theme parks!
My interest was sparked simply from watching the action film Hanna. It was the final scene, an exhilarating chase through a decrepit theme park that did it for me. I think it was the combination of the excitement of the chase, The Chemical Brothers soundtrack, the bleak weather, the cinematography, Cate Blanchett appearing out of a gigantic wolf’s mouth dressed in an outfit that aesthetically matched her surroundings was perfect viewing and at that moment I immediately had to know does this place actually exist, and if it does I had to go there. Well, it did exist – it was filmed at Spreepark, a hugely popular theme park during communism times, just outside of Berlin. It was abandoned – after the fall of the wall, a new owner took over and ultimately ended up on drug smuggling charges, the park closed it’s doors in 2002. I didn’t end up going there – my last time in Berlin was 2012. Urbexing was becoming quite popular and Spreepark was a attractive destination for exploring. With the increasing amount of “trespassers”, sturdier fences were erected, security became heightened and everyone’s least favourite – patrol dogs.
I have however, been to five other abandoned theme parks over the past couple of years which are worth a mention.
Yongma Land, Seoul, South Korea
The first abandoned theme park I visited was in Seoul, South Korea, back in 2017. As a solo female traveller I’m quite cautious about the abandoned places I visit alone. I’m quite the scaredy cat and like to think more about “safety first” rather than being of a more adventurous
reckless nature. I’m also a very slow runner so if I did have to get out of a place quickly I wouldn’t stand a chance. So when I was researching places to visit in Seoul, I came across an abandoned theme park just out in the ‘burbs, that whilst officially abandoned there was a caretaker who would collect an entrance fee (*bribe). If this happens it’s normally because the place has become popular and a local or government official has decided they can make a quick buck. To me it translates that I should be fairly safe there. Not in a health and safety way, but in a hopefully not going to get raped, murdered or savaged by wild dogs way. After a mishap of trying to gain entry into someone’s house and not actually the park, I found my way to the gate and a notice with the “caretakers” phone number on it to call to gain entry (pay my bribe). At the time it was about $5 USD, for a little bit extra you can get the lights switched on at the carousel for a few minutes.
The caretaker obviously knows his market as there’s a dress up area set up in a corner of the park – the most popular being the wedding dresses! He sells helium balloons which make for a wonderful Instagram shoot and he even has a stash of tripods you can borrow to get those all important selfie shots. The park wasn’t busy, a few groups of people taking pictures for the ‘gram, if you’re lucky you may catch the latest K-Pop video being shot. It’s still peaceful and eerie at the same time.
Turkmenbashi’s Land of Fairy Tales, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Opened in 2006, the Land of Fairy Tales was the idea of the late President Saparmurat Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi “Father of Turkmen”. The President had eccentric ideas, renamed months of the year after members of his family, released his own book of poetry that students were obligated to read, commissioned gigantic marble monuments across the city and bulldozed hundreds of houses in central Ashgabat to make way for “Turkmenbashi’s Disneyland” costing approx $50 million USD.
Before I commenced my three week Exodus tour of the Five Stans, I decided to arrive a day earlier than the group as I had read about the Land of Fairy Tales and sensed that it most probably wouldn’t be on the itinerary of my group tour. Day one and I went out to hail a cab – turns out there aren’t actually taxi’s in the ‘stans. ALL cars are taxi’s. Just stick your hand out and someone will stop. Tell them where you’re heading and if it’s on the way to their destination or just simply if they want too, they’ll negotiate a price and off you go. My driver seemed very confused as to why I wanted to head to the still in operation but very rarely visited “Disneyland”. The official entrance is flanked by big marble pillars where you can imagine queues of families lining up to go through the turnstiles but that entrance is now closed and the park already feels ghostly. I popped into the park via a side gate that was open.
The gardens are being tended too, the vending machines are being re-stocked, there’s a few kids running through the grounds chasing each other and some of the rides are still in operation but essentially this place is deserted. I stood in front of the ferris wheel watching it slowly rotate, a lone woman sat in a cabin pressing the start button, for who? There was no-one here. Maybe it was to entice me to have a ride?
Unfortunately my thoughts of whether I should climb aboard were interrupted by a man suddenly appearing from out of nowhere hurriedly walking towards me shouting “no photo” with his arms crossed. I’m still not sure why, I didn’t ask as a. it took me by complete surprise and b. I’m kind of use to having to be wary of taking photos in places that have a communist background, just don’t ask questions. In a very British manner I apologised, put my camera away and carried on walking around a bit despondent. It was over 40c so I had my scarf wrapped round me covering my arms, and realised that it was a perfect place as a secret hiding spot to poke my phone out to take the remainder of my pictures. Whilst not technically “abandoned” the Land of Fairy Tales has most definitely been abandoned by the local public. It’s a very surreal spot to visit. In fact the whole city is – possibly the weirdest place I’ve visited to date.
Hồ Thủy Tiên, Hue, Vietnam
Just 8kms outside of Hue’s ancient city lies the most incredible dragon like structure built in the middle of the lake of a once thriving family orientated water park. When I first came across this park, probably on Instagram, all I could think of was it was the closest place I’ve seen on the internet that reminds me of Spreepark. The thing is Vietnam was never high on my to re-visit list. Since becoming a digital nomad and choosing to spend winters in warmer climates, I found myself on a flight to Da Nang in central Vietnam to hangout by the beach for a couple of weeks and work. What’s the nearest airport to Hồ Thủy Tiên? Da Nang!! Just a short 2.5 hours journey on the train and I found myself back in Hue, after a 11 year hiatus. There are several ways to get to the water park – scooter (I don’t scoot), taxi (the cost is pricey), cycle (I’ve only cycled once in 25 years). Again, this park is officially closed, but with a small nominal payment to the security guard he’ll let you through. I had heard a lot of rumours that security had stopped letting people in and whilst I desperately wanted to see the inside of the park, I was a little reluctant to pay the extortionate amount I was being quoted for a private taxi, especially if I was refused entry. It was time to engage my regret monitor – how much am I going to regret not trying to visiting here vs the cost of transport. As I was about to reluctantly book the car, my hotel manager came to the rescue. He had met another lady recently who also wanted to visit and was intrigued as to why the place they use to visit as teenagers, had a growing popularity amongst backpackers. He offered to take me, on the back of his bike… after bringing out the regret monitor again, this time for my fear of bikes vs my need to visit the dragon, I agreed to meet him later on in the day and head out to the park together.
We got to the park for the golden hour just before sunset. The bonus of having a local take you is that he very kindly negotiated (*bribed) with security that we could ride the bike all the way into the park. All foreigners are asked to leave their bikes outside (often for an extra nominal fee for someone to “look after” them) and it’s a km or so to just reach the bank of the lake. Also, not that I asked him but I’m sure the entrance fee (*bribe) was a lot less than it is for foreigners, although that goes without saying for almost EVERYTHING in Vietnam.
There were quite a lot of visitors to the park, which made it feel like it had lost it’s abandoned eerie intrepid feeling but to see THAT dragon in the middle of the lake made me deliriously happy. I’m just so very grateful that the rumours of security not letting people in anymore weren’t true during my visit. It’s always worth asking around or searching social media for up to date posts to check what the current security stance is.
There’s an abandoned amphitheatre, a brick building housing a thrill ride simulator, dried up water slides, a few brick buildings dotted around and of course the mighty dragon!
Walk around inside the body of the dragon and find blue murals, overgrowth climbing up the sphere and discarded fish tanks in the decaying rooms (not pictured as it was so dark pictures didn’t really come out properly).
Climb up through the body and into the mouth of the dragon… at which point security came for a little wander and started blowing a whistle to tell us to come back down. Not sure if they were just alerting us the sun was setting and we had to start leaving or whether they think we shouldn’t be up in the dragon’s mouth.
Taman Festival, Bali, Indonesia
After an exhausting but exhilarating few weeks of climbing volcanoes, releasing baby turtles to the wild, sailing round islands looking for Komodo dragons and other such fun explorations in East Java and Flores, I decided to have a night or two back in Denpasar to relax before the long-ish haul back to Australia. I had no purpose to see any of Bali as I had been before and quite frankly we have a love hate relationship, BUT there was this abandoned theme park covered in street art a friend had tipped me off about. That was all I needed to hear to make me actually want to spend a night or two back on the island (I also heard about two abandoned planes, but they will have to wait until next time I pass through – you always need something to come back for, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere soon).
Taman Festival has been one of the most fantastic places I’ve personally visited, also one of the most reportedly haunted places I’ve personally visited. Locals won’t visit abandoned places as Balinese believe that they are a breeding ground for lost soul spirits. Situated just north of Sanur, along the coast, the site never opened to the public, assuming they had financial difficulties, and was left to the elements over two decades ago. I’m still not sure what the “theme” actually was. It was intended to have the largest swimming pool in Bali, a 3D cinema, a laser show, a wedding chapel and a crocodile pit! There are still rumours that there are crocodiles stalking around the grounds looking for some fresh meat but I’m preferring the rumour that the crocodiles have all now been removed. What with the haunted theories and now crocodiles I’m surprised I even dared to go there by myself ha.
My Grab driver dropped me off at the front entrance next to the never used ticket offices. Of course, as you may have guessed already there is an alternative ticket office now – a group of local men sat underneath an umbrella collecting the 10,000 IDR (50p!) “entrance fee” (*you get the gist).
As an avid street art lover this was a wonderful playground for me. I didn’t know which way to go first, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. All of the dilapidated buildings are covered with art by local artists, some pieces have stayed for years, others have been replaced.
After exploring the main buildings I decided to go for a walk around the more forested areas. A word of warning, if you do come here come armed with mosquito repellent, bitey little buggers. There wasn’t much to see, a few abandoned buildings set back but hard to get too with all the undergrowth. The sound of cicada’s started getting louder and louder to almost deafening sound and then suddenly there was a loud crack and I kid you not a massive branch landed 1 metre in front of me. WTAF. There was no wind, no monkey’s, no people. Then the haunted rumours came back to me and I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. Straight into a pack of barking dogs. Ha. It was just a territorial pack trying to scare off a lame puppy. No biggy! But… as things tend to come in three’s I decided to make a quick exit out before maybe the crocodile rumour then came true. Just as I was wondering about how on earth I was going to get back to my hostel the “security guards” shouted over to me and pointed at the car that brought me here. My Grab driver had waited! My hero!
Pripyat amusement park, Pripyat, Ukraine
I’m not sure this one needs any introduction or explanations. After years of talking about it I finally booked a 2 day, 1 night trip to Chernobyl last summer. Of course Chernobyl is a whole different ball game to the other fairground / theme parks I’ve visited but it concludes my series of abandoned places. I have so much to share about my trip to the exclusion zone I’ll write about that separately, some day.. until then, here’s a few teasers of the fairground.
Have you visited any abandoned theme parks? Comment below if you have, would love to have a new list of places to visit for future travels. x