Vietnam 01/23 – Suoi Tien Park + Dai Nam Wonderland
After a 3 year hiatus from Asia, it felt good to be back in the old stomping ground. Historically I’ve always been out here around Christmas and New Year, but what with everyone else seemingly having the same idea, things didn’t work out. Instead it led to prices being treble what they usually were and so, along with Lunar New Year falling a little earlier, it was best to hold off one month longer and take advantage of a ‘normal’ cost.
Airports seem able to function again normally at this point, which is a welcome relief and proceedings began with a non-descript flight to Singapore, followed by a few days of admin. I’m still itching to get back to China whenever possible as they’ve thrown up so much more since I last visited – it’s the gift that keeps on giving. In the absence of that being possible this time around however, I had to look to the vicinity. Vietnam kept jumping out at me as a bit of an up-and-comer and was eventually settled on.
It’s an interesting one to navigate in terms of park/tourism hotspots, being such a long and thin, mountainous yet coastal country with little infrastructure between major cities. After much juggling and decision theory I settled on a couple of days each at four separate locations, each separated by some irresistibly cheap internal flights.
And so it all kicked off with a Scoot over to Ho Chi Minh. I’ll be honest, there was nothing in this city I particularly cared to experience (a sentence I fear I’ll be saying more as time goes on), but it was a good entry point, a bit of a warm-up and introduction to the more ‘local’ park scene.
As a city, it far exceeded my expectations. I had pictured nothing but crowding and faff, and with the way the internet paints the place, you should go in expecting to be robbed, at a minimum. On the contrary, my snapshot generalisation formed over the initial days was that everyone in the public sector of Vietnam is genuine, honest, friendly and helpful. The place was pretty cool.
The first thing to check off upon landing was acquiring a tourist SIM for that sweet, sweet mobile data. Tried the very first counter we came across, but they didn’t have the specific network provider I was after (having done extensive research into who was the best). This was no issue however, there was no pressure applied, instead a recommendation to try a rival stall just the other side of passport control. Sure enough, stall number #2 had what I was looking for and for the princely sum of £8, I now had the power of the internet at my fingertips for the duration of the trip.
This was key, as the one and only form of transportation worth consideration was booking drivers through the Grab app, a south east Asian equivalent of your Ubers or your Didis. I grew to despise Grab over the coming days, but for now it was as simple as hitting ‘from: airport, to: hotel’, and within mere minutes we had gotten from runway to road.
Driver #1 was sociable, with a reasonable grasp of English and pointed out some of the various sights of interest along our route. The driving here is, an experience. Mopeds and scooters outnumber cars by about 5 to 1 and every manoeuvre is performed in extremely close quarters, with plenty of horn action. Not once is anything aggressive or malevolent, which is refreshing, and I kinda respect the way the system has evolved to accept that though everyone drives rather poorly, they make the best of it and at least try not to crash into things.
We checked ourselves in (literally, there were no staff) to our slightly odd, but very efficient and highly reasonable accommodation and stocked up on sustenance at a nearby parade of convenience stores.
Points of note here, there seems to be no benefit in ‘shopping around’ in Vietnam. Every comparable item that exists within reasonable access across multiple competing locations appears to always have exactly the same price tag, there’s no undercutting.
Also bottled drinks were like 30p, so paradise.
The currency conversion was always a little unnatural to me. Aside from being a multi-millionaire out of the gate in terms of Dong ownership, it was just awkward numbers all round and I kept having to stop and double check either a) is that really that cheap or b) is that really basically the same price as it would be back home, with very little else in between.
Prepared for the worst, a Grab was booked to the first park.
Suoi Tien Park
Unceremoniously located on a major highway heading to the outskirts of the city is this majestic entrance structure.
Point of note here, contrary to the recent Lunar New Year celebrating the beginnings of the Year of the Rabbit under the Chinese calendar, in Vietnam it’s now the Year of the Cat. 10 of the animals overlap, 2 don’t. So you can have fun playing spot the Mão throughout the trip report. I’ll stop these now.
These local parks sure like a spectacle and it’s interesting how the entrance façade uses large volumes of stairs to add extra height perspective, only for you to immediately descend the same number of steps once through the turnstiles.
Entrance ticket obtained it was off to the first ride, in a roundabout way. The front end of the park is more decorative and secluded, with trees and temples and such.
A bridge is crossed, an elaborate water park is passed (and a wine palace) and then you’re into the amusement or ‘business’ end of the establishment.
Did you know they have a B&M hyper here?
It’s hard to take in the scale of Fairy Phoenix Palace, the enormous bird frontage could have Vogel Rok for breakfast.
Rides here are pay per, with a specific booth outside most major attractions and clustered together for smaller. Inside the palace is a humble dark ride on circular boats that takes you through some jungle stuff with colourful lights, creepy characters and some close encounters with more amusingly big creatures.
Failed to find a couple of other ‘listed dark rides’ from there, instead finding more visual spectacles.
Followed by a whole 12 dimensions of theatre in Cinema 12D TurboRide. Grabbed some tickets for research purposes and hung around the rather pedestrian waiting area. The theatre contains a bank of 2 seater simulator pods and showed an odd combination of brief T-rex encounter, followed by fantasy Olympic bobsled run. Highlights included chasing a disgruntled polar bear, as it too slid down a mountainside.
Continuing around the outer perimeter saw both their farm and crocodile exhibit, before leading to a familiar face, from browsing RCDB at least.
Behind said big stone face is a scary walkthrough of a queueline, with a few surprises up its sleeve, followed by a cute powered dragon coaster with similarly themed aesthetics to the dark ride. Being of unknown origin, #1 Secret of Sorceror Forest is not the standard double spiral layout we know and tolerate, instead being a big oval with a semi-decent airtime hill at the far end. Go dragon, go.
There was a 4D here, guessing there isn’t any more.
If anything this was more spooky than the previous queueline.
With unrestricted access to that abandoned theme park vibe, within a bustling theme park.
Under some shade and on some tiling is this #2 Mini Roller Coaster, an intentionally miniaturised version of the big one here, paint job and all. Because of this, we were accosted upon walking towards it and informed that it was not in fact the same ride, we were mistaken, we wanted the big one. Some explanation was required but it was eventually understood that we in fact wanted both, of course. In jest I said we were just warming up, which they liked.
One friendly and uneventful lap later it was over to said big one. #3 High Speed Roller Coaster or Tyre lift: the ride. One would hope for an Incredible Hulk type experience here, instead you get the lift hill speed of a water ride on Rollercoaster Tycoon, before being eased into a first drop that is shallower than said lift.
As soon as this thing picks up any pace, it tracks pretty poorly. Mercifully the layout is a sprawling and reasonably uninspired series of straight lines and elevation changes in another single large oval. A dive through some rocks is quite good and there might have been some float and crunch in there too.
One, or all, of these parks have a Harry Potter haunted walkthrough which is quite often the subject of clickbait on Youtube. Might have been this one, but it was closed. And with that, nothing else was deemed worth paying for.
Time to book another driver.
Dai Nam Wonderland
Another smooth transaction had us at the main gate to this place. I hadn’t expected things to go so swimmingly. From here there’s a land train to the various attractions that make up part of a larger resort, including race course and, crucially, amusement park. It’s free entrance to the main complex and again pay per ride at booths along the way.
I didn’t have much at all to go on for what was on offer here, other than the writings of a reputedly well-travelled Irishman. ‘Five astoundlingly themed walkthroughs, two of which are dark rides, themed on par with Efteling and Disney’ quickly turned into ‘there ain’t no dark rides and they ain’t very good’ – a bitter Englishman.
Creds first though, and while my foot stuck to the paint on the floor I acquired some tickets for the #4 Worm Coaster. A pop of air, duck for the apple, repeat. Pretty glorious.
Someone was right about this one though, #5 Spinning Coaster span very well for a Golden Horse, almost too well. Not bad.
#6 Roller Coaster is plain bad though. I dread and regret each and every one of these. What a stupid hobby.
The restraints were well padded, but that doesn’t help when it’s rough in an unconventional sense. The poor build quality and/or maintenance doesn’t attempt to smash you into said restraint, it instead rumbles and moves your brain within your skull in a resonant fashion, and each +1 probably takes a couple of years off my life.
I can feel an echo of the discomfort even now, as I write about it.
A sit down and some well needed fluids provided recovery time before heading into the first of what I believed was a dark ride.
Five Phoenix Discovery or Fairy Phoenix Palace: the not good one was in fact a dinosaur-based haunted walkthrough that was overpriced and not good.
Something about dragons was supposed to be the other one, but it’s now something about hell, the frontage has changed, there was no visible ride system and it was skipped.
Just to get confirmation on whether these were supposed to be good or not, tried the Egyptian themed one because it seemed more interesting than the usual haunted premise. It was awful, relying mainly on being poorly lit, with other stuff you couldn’t see or repetitive props and theming. There were a couple of particular sound loops that really grated on me and were used multiple times throughout the entire thing in utter laziness and despair. These aren’t my bag at the best of times, but what a wretched excuse for an ‘attraction’.
4D though, they have this, a regular old cinema with vibratey seats. Plays a fairly well-cloned haunted mine ride film, but with amusing Vietnamese dub over the ghost hillbilly.
Haunted mine ride things happen, although with the lack of accompanying movement against any of the visuals it was extremely uninspired and nearly put us to sleep after a long day.
A quick burst of vintage K-pop from the speaker system as we departed was enough to wake me up, though not enough to board the right train to leave. We ended up being carted to the race course where, regardless of objection, we were unable to stay seated and ride straight back again. By instead opting to walk about a mile through hot sun, back to the main gate, the train passed us by on route just a couple of minutes later. Thanks for that.
Driver was booked. Back to the hotel. +6 and job done for the day.