By saving the biggest park of all until last, it was time to end our Vietnam visit in style.
Booked the same bloke again to drive us out to one more VinWonders. Given the lineup, it’s pretty much their flagship park and these two Phú Quốc fellas were the main driving force behind the whole endeavour.
One point of interest on the drive – the ‘main road’ to the park includes driving down the length of an old wartime runway which is now a (very wide) public road, which was something.
Bright and early we were dropped off at the huge, mostly empty entrance plaza, once again with instructions to let him know when we were done. This could be a long one.
Day 7 – VinWonders Phú Quốc
Got a very Tokyo Disney vibe from the main street, which I’m still not sure is a good thing. One thing it has over that particular inspiration is a parade of convenience stores, something that was quite fun in a number of Vietnamese parks. Convenience store food and drink at convenience store prices, in a theme park. Convenient.
Headed straight round the back of the main castle to where the majority of the rides were. The dark ride Dragon Spell is actually located within said castle and seemed as good a place as any to begin proceedings. Took a long walk through the unrelenting switchbacks to arrive at an empty station and a staff member came over. “It’s not working yet, come back later.” Ok!
Wandered into Adventure World opposite from there, chucking a left at the sight of a Junior Boomerang (and away from the Half Pipe). Though the entrance sign said it was open, there were engineers in the station and a staff member said “It’s not working yet, come back later.” Ok.
Wrath of Zeus, my reason for being here, had a sign up front saying it would open an hour later. Given what happened in the first of these parks, this brought on some fresh nerves.
Well #1 Ipanema Skate Ride is testing, I guess that’s something. Got the first ride in on it and you know what? With lap bars, rather than a shoulder restraint punching you in the head every time it launches, these are actually half decent. Who’d have thought. Still like a worse version of a good swinging flat ride though, but cred.
#2 Eagle Warrior. What the hell is Eagle Warrior? I kept looking at the building and wondering. It rang a bell, but I hadn’t really done any research on this place.
The queueline is insane for starters, especially given what is at the other end. Huge, detailed and containing no less than two pre-shows.
Two. For another Vekoma SFC. Neither of them were running sadly as there was no one else in the park yet (or for the rest of the day), so I’ll never know how they went down. Bit of a Fantawild situation.
To call it another Vekoma SFC is to do it a disservice however. It’s another Orkanen clone sure, the best layout, but it’s entirely enclosed, has a foreboding atmosphere in the station with rocks and lightning, an interesting lighting package and kicks some general ass. These have decent forces on the regular, but in the dark they sneak up on you even more unexpectedly. This is how you amp up repetitive hardware.
So now Vietnam has the best SLC and the best SFC. Such accolades.
No merch though, shop for rent anyone?
Do they have the best Junior Boomerang?
Over the way, #3 Spartan Race was back in action. Yes, that’s Spartan Race with a Beluga on the front. The story goes that it existed in a different spot in the park, Beluga theme and all, but it ended up here. They changed the surroundings but stuck with the train. It was fine, it was not the best.
Do they have the best Vekoma launch coaster?
It was time to feel the #4 Wrath of Zeus. The sign up front hadn’t moved, but there were still no staff at the entrance to do anything about it, so I strolled up the queue to at least take some first pictures.
On cue, it began testing around me. Very positive signs.
Reached the station without acknowledgment and hovered at the air gates for another 10 mins or so while they cycled it once more and a man stared wistfully over to the horizon from the end of the platform (he would do this a lot today it turned out). And then it was go time.
Started with a train to myself, in the back, for maximum effect. As it rolled out onto the launch track I wasn’t sure what to expect. My most recent big boy Vekoma was incredible, perhaps the dawning of what everyone’s been banging on about for so long, but this thing dates back a few years and looks it, fading away in the hot sun.
As with Abyssus, the standing launch is clunky. I don’t like the awkward initial pulse, the gentle tap on the back of the head, it just doesn’t sit right. It’s got some good pull to it after that though, accelerating up to the fastest Vekoma have ever gone.
This is immediately diminished into the top hat, which has some good kick to it on the up, more notably in the front, then a rather hilarious trim that essentially acts as a holding brake into the insanely shaped first drop. This still has some whip in the back, or some weird forwards hang in the front, with the unorthodox almost vertical, then twist and pull out shaping. Even with all that speed sapped the first corner is very intense, near grey-out inducing for me, so it all happens for a reason.
I got worried at this point, I don’t like Lech’s focus on these moments, the balance is all wrong, but Zeus has a couple of aces up it’s sleeve when it comes to that. Just as I’m reaching the point of discomfort in this turn, a beautiful inversion comes and tips you on your head, instantly pumping all the blood back the other way in a great moment of contrast. It fixes you good.
Vertical loopings is alright, intense in, bit of a slow at the top, intense out. I’d personally prefer a Copperhead flop, but it’ll do. This also set up the second near grey-out inducing moment for me, in the pull out, but once again this is immediately followed up and rectified by some twisted airtime.
The balance here is quite something to behold.
You swoop over the launch and past the station here into the only slightly-braked airtime hill.
This still has significant airtime in the back, with a nice surprise of a steep lurch, mid-layout, though it is sadly muted and too noticeable in the front.
Another inversion happens, nicely different from the others, a bit wider and with more pause for thought, then for the third and final time I’m hit with that insane intensity through some tight turns.
Just as it’s bordering on too much, airtime and headchopper moment into the rock tunnel. This is the final moment of excellence on the ride and this trick that plays out three times in a row is so unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I kinda love it. God Damn Vekoma, this is your style, why have you been teasing me for so long?
Sadly it just runs out of all vigour in the final moments from the tunnel. Sideways airtime is attempted and fails, though it looks great offride over that brake run. Then a corner of little note happens and you’re done. Out on a whisper, not a bang.
Overall, yet again, I liked this more than I had expected to and about as much as I had hoped, so this little island of coasters delivered on both fronts. It’s on par with the best thing Vekoma have ever done for me and it’s only very recently that they topped it with Fønix, based on personal preference. The pacing and airtime moments don’t compare to that one, but it obviously has more heft and intensity in everything else it does. If that’s what you like Lech for, this one delivers it with so much more consideration to the overall experience.
Yes. The answer we were looking for was yes.
With no more creds in this area to be had it was time to see if they had fixed the dark ride. They had.
Here’s that elaborate queue for Dragon Spell again. I could never quite tell if this was supposed to be an animatronic or not, never moved.
The ride was alright, it’s an interactive job, moving from screen to screen as you shoot various mythical monsters that are taking over the castle and kingdom under said ‘Dragon Spell’. You must help the king fight them off, cos he’s just sitting around in despair, alone. There’s a couple of interesting breaks in the usual screen to screen routine, which is good. The media loops when action isn’t happening are a little rough around the edges and the timing of the system didn’t help to hide this, which is bad. Some physical stuff in between looked rather impressive but you’re always whisked past it at a rate of knots in order to continue the gameplay, which is so-so.
Worth a few goes to get out of the hot sun and try and beat your score at the very least.
The next area of concern was Fantasy World.
A slightly odd hodgepodge of different themes is contained within, though there’s a distinct lack of actual attractions at this end of the park. Scenery has variety ranging from lifesize fairytale dioramas in the side streets.
Forced perspective castles in the backdrop.
And some general epic Sinbad stuff. There’s also an Egyptian area with nothing but a learning centre and soft play in it, a bamboo forest, and a tacky Wild West land.
I was interested in the bamboo forest, though the only python around was a massive slide. Instead they have Eagle Soar Spiter, a single car piece of children’s play equipment with an absolute max weight limit of 50kg. One glance at us was sufficient to be denied entry by the staff. When one has too much time on one’s hands, one wonders how 7 other people have clocked it on coaster count (the child is fine), when until now RCDB didn’t have photos nor the additional information on weight limits I provided. At the very least it should come up with the ‘are you sure you rode this, you big dirty?’ warning when you try and register it. How many of those have you got?
Instead we headed Down the Rabbit Hole, an inspired walkthrough attraction that had timeslots for a ‘guided tour’, but thankfully was also free roaming the rest of the time.
It was quite a fun little adventure with no one else around.
This makes me laugh the more I look at it. He’s cooked.
The only other attraction of note here was Aladdin’s Adventure, with a time-slotted standing simulator in front of a big screen. It didn’t have the hilarity of the Bon-Bon Land edition, it was far too well made for that. Quite good for what it was and a ‘crowd’ favourite for sure, better than your average flying theatre.
It got too hot to bear by this point, so was time for some indoor activities. Let us take a moment to appreciate the scale of this turtle.
Within his walls lies an aquarium and several restaurants. Unlike the Nha Trang equivalent, this was really high quality. It had an interactive walkthrough with all sorts of different technology-based, save the planet mini games, through projectors and touch screens and the like.
This wobbly rope bridge over a shark tank.
I rather enjoyed the aquarium proper part of it too, though I’m generally a bit over them by now. It was very nicely themed, sometimes unnecessarily so, in places people would never look and I spent more time with that than I did the fish.
I see your Kugel Ball game and raise you a glass one, with Jellyfish inside it.
There was also another kids education area with various water contraptions and this cute little film about Captain Starfish saving the oceans.
Still too hot, we hot footed it over to the token ferris wheel. It’s at a weird dead end of the park, with a mile walk from everything else, which is awkward.
Just like the man said to the Orion shirt, is that Star Wars?
From the wheel you can see why it’s in such an awkward position. There’s a whole other old section of the park, and what looks like the previous entrance, that has become disused, sitting right next door. It was unusual to gaze upon that abandoned theme park vibe once more.
If you look closely you can still the now defunct other cred poking through the trees.
All is well on this side though.
Except that no one is riding anything.
One more moment to appreciate this.
Spotted this water ride from the wheel and saw boats disappearing into tunnels, wondering once more, is it a dark ride? It is not, while it contains one long section of crystals and rocks, there are no scenes to be gleaned. Also not very wet, though everyone else was dressing up like they thought it was Bilge-Rat Barges.
And with that I had just about exhausted everything on offer. We had the same old food voucher and ended up in a Greek place that didn’t do Greek food, because it was quiet, they could serve food competently, it also had ice cream and was right near Zeus.
Saw out the remainder of the evening lapping that, once more closing out on the last, empty train in a pseudo-dusk ride. Rather magical.
All that was left was the night time show, where once again Nha Trang took another knock (Tokyo Disney too). This kicked ass.
I didn’t follow exactly what was going on, but the overall production was astounding in places. It had a Disney Dreams-esque story about believing in yourself and whatnot, interlaced by song. Because a man believed in himself he got magic powers, some bad dragon appeared and wreaked havoc before a big Fønix friend came to save the day. They had a Lion King puppet style phoenix for this, as well as incredible projections of the battle scenes. As the show went on I found myself thinking things like ‘this is epic, but it could use some fire’.
Fire happened. Fire on water, magic fire on top of fountains like that weird ride in Schwaben park.
Oh, and then the biggest fire effect I have ever seen. A two-foot thick pillar of a plume that must have fired 100ft up, ending in a mushroom cloud of thick black smoke. I gasped aloud in shock. I don’t do that.
Just when I thought it could use some fireworks, fireworks happened. All in all, it was well up there.
In fact, what a great day. There’s some obvious holes in places here and some operational embuggerances, but it didn’t matter with how dead it was (on a Saturday, worrying) and there was more than enough opportunity to get a fill of the good stuff. Best VinWonders by a significant margin, not least helped by the best ride in ‘Nam.
I suppose it’s time we looked an actually notable coaster for a change, I’ve been boring you for long enough.
The following morning saw yet another internal flight over to the island of Phú Quốc. It was the most faffy of airport experiences thus far, with some fairly chaotic crowding around the check in desks. A massive tour group was being funnelled through the regular queue in order to have arguments with the staff and their own guide about luggage restrictions, one at a time, so essentially no one was going anywhere. Once we finally made contact with the desk and should have been sorted in about 30 seconds, a strange man from foreign lands sidled over to interrupt us and directly ask the airport staff member checking us in if they had space? Apparently he was trying to book said flight right now, 90 minutes before departure and it wouldn’t let him (I wonder why). Do you have space? No, but do you have space? Do you have space? This went on for some time while I wondered how he had come to find himself in this predicament (and whether he had any manners).
Neither the tour group, nor the man, seemed to actually make it onto our plane, for which I was rather thankful, and upon arrival at our destination we were paired up with a rather sleepy grab driver to the hotel, pinching his ears and noticeably nodding off at a couple of moments (thankfully the roads were dead). Rather than follow the instructions provided to him on the app, he obviously had it in his own mind where he was going and as such took us to the wrong place (they did have kinda similar names). Rather than listen to my clear instructions provided to the app, and demonstrated on my phone, he decided to drive into the wrong place anyway and ask them for advice. The advice was obviously you’re in the wrong place, maybe use the technology available and eventually we were dropped off at the originally intended location. Amusingly he then whipped out a business card and said call me again for your next journey. We did not.
Luggage successfully deposited, we then encountered our true driver for this portion of the trip. He wasn’t quite the legend of Da Nang, but an otherwise helpful and pretty cool guy. He helped us find some park tickets on route from some stall at the side of the road. They’re the same price as on the door (no point shopping around), so why not let the agent get a cut, I guess.
Day 6 – Sun World Hon Thom
Said tickets were for the cable car, and the next in line of the Sun World establishments at the far end of it. It’s that setup again.
I wonder what’s on the other side.
Once more this cable car has many claims to fame about being the longest, fastest and meanest in the world, with specific stipulations about the number of spans, the thickness of the cable and the colour of the air-conditioning units.
God Damn Iron Gwazi was it a beast though. The pictures really don’t do justice to the sheer scale of these pillars, which are comfortably taller than Kingda Ka. The effect of this on the ‘ride’ was actually quite pronounced, with each moment it ascended and descended the interval rumbling transition at each pillar providing sustained floater airtime that wouldn’t be out of place on your average B&M hyper coaster. The resulting sensation had everyone else in our car going “wooooooooohhh-heeeeeeeeeyyy”, losing their minds each and every time.
Oh and the views were good too.
Upon exiting the station into the resort I immediately clocked two things. First, it was ridiculously hot. Second, a massive sea of a tour group had just arrived, all with bright blue hats, and I had the strangest suspicion they were about to be led straight to the woodie, with the potential to turn the queue from walk-on to 90 minutes in a single hit.
My suspicions about their intended destination were correct, as we powered past them at speed, teased by views such as this.
I wouldn’t really call this a park just yet. The cable car is a massive part of the overall appeal right now and in the resort you’ve got a water park, which has existed for a number of years now, and the new ‘exotica village’ which contains the coaster. It only contains two other rides – an observation tower and a drop tower, with all three separated by a seemingly unnecessarily large walk. It’s a bit of a pain, given the climate, in what I assume to be forward planning, but could just well be designed to extend your visit time.
Eventually laid eyes on the entrance plaza, which I was rather fond of. The sign may be a bit mystic timbers-esque, but I love the more natural use of materials here, particularly the foliage in his less angry mouth.
What makes less sense with it being about a less angry tree is that the remainder of the theming has an atlantis/sea monster vibe to it, though I’m not complaining. Good character.
Also found Roaring Timbers dog here.
Fortunately the second half of my prediction about the tour group wrecking the queue turned out to be entirely false, as 95% of them saw it as a spectator sport rather than something to do. For the duration of the afternoon, dispatches were limited to one every 15 minutes and the train was never filled.
It had a nice observation/waiting area to the side of the station and a pretty rocking soundtrack playing intermittently.
So, how was #1 Roaring Timbers then? It’s good. I liked this more than I had expected to, but about as much as I had hoped for. It would have been a shame to come all this way for a Wicker Man.
The first drop, which you never really see, has some pretty wild banking and steepness to it which, combined with the momentum building turnaround at the top delivers a sort of Wodan 2.0 experience. That was a surprise.
It suffers from similar issues I have with most GCIs, being a little high-turn-heavy, with not much going on in parts, but these are mostly diminished in this particular case by some other really good moments and sequences, and some significant laterals.
There was intensity where I didn’t expect to find it. In fact, after a couple laps it appeared to re-open my wound from that horrible children’s ride, the faster turns that forced me one way or the other were reproducing that dull, bruised ache in my left side. I also had a Zadra experience where it got a bug under my eyelid. Scary stuff.
Elswhere the terrain action is welcome, there’s some reasonably solid airtime moments in there, for a GCI, both bigger and smaller. Most of all it has one run of four consecutive twisty, bouncy, out of control bits towards the end that are right up my street and I unfailingly hit the brakes both buzzing (it had been a slow week), and wanting to get out of the sun as quickly as possible.
Overall its high tier GCI for me, still way off top tier (I’m not sure what comes over them when they make those). Kentucky Rumbler territory if that means anything to you. Better than Renegade if that irks you. Definitely glad I made the effort.
Especially as there’s absolutely nothing else to do here. You do wonder sometimes what the plan is. In the interim, took a spin on this mean looking bird, Mắt Đại Bàng (Eagle Eye).
It’s a little redundant, given the views coming in from the cable car, but a welcome sit down and some intermittent shade. See if you can spot anyone in the water park, it’s tricky. Which is weird, as there were quite a few people heading in and out of the entrance for it.
The drop tower was closed, so that brought them down to two out of three attractions. And I’m fairly certain no one else did the woodie more than once this day.
And so that’s that for the day, back to civilisation and our new main man.
The following morning we took an early flight to the third city of the Vietnam leg of the trip – Nha Trang.
On paper, it wasn’t the most attractive of destinations, but it did have one thing going for it. The park had very recently opened up a new and impressive looking dark ride.
Once again, the travel side of things went remarkably without a hitch, we dumped our bags at the hotel for the day and walked over to the cable car station from which you can access the park, our second VinWonders in as many days.
Day 5 – VinWonders Nha Trang
Except there was no cable car. There should have been, but it was unavailable. To the point where the pillars remain, but the cable is missing in action. Instead the ticket desk were offering a speedboat shuttle service included in the ticket price, as the park itself is located on an island and otherwise unaccessible.
So this was a bit of fun, blasting across the water on our chartered vessel, quite the arrival at a theme park I must say. In contrast, once the boat docks, guests alight rather unceremoniously and are just ‘on resort’.
There isn’t really an entrance as such and we headed straight towards the main event, Tata World River Adventure. Still quite early, it was due to open within the next few minutes, so sat down on a bench to peruse the park map.
Made a discovery here that I’m sure set the world alight – they’re building a Flying Theatre, listed as ‘coming soon’ on the map.
Soon enough, the doors opened and we were the first to head inside. It’s a nice looking queue with some good storybook elements throughout the first switchbacks, not that it needed those with current crowd levels.
Upon reaching the first batch point, an attendant leads you into the pre-show room, in which this animatronic waffles on for a solid 5 minutes, never really changing in emotion. It reminded me of Villa Volta in that regard. The more interesting part is the projections on the book that accompany his dialogue, though they would be a little hard to take in if the room were a little more crowded. He sets the scene – introduces our protagonist Princess Tata, the Pearl of to Happiness and her fellow sister Princesses of the forest and sea.
It seemed a bit of a shame on our first encounter that the other guests who could actually understand what was going on in this room were noticeably bored by it and, though there is a bit of spectacle with some more projections and a screen rising to reveal the next part of the queue, we were rather impatiently shepherded out of there before the final words were even spoken.
The station looks really nice and we were soon aboard our purple Interlink boat. It’s a very solid 8-minute experience, predominantly animatronic led in the first half and becoming more screen-based in the second half when the action starts to take place, which makes sense. The scenes themselves are very pretty, though the storyline, as with the pre-show, just doesn’t seem to be that engaging to the casual rider.
After the evil queen steals the pearl, you drift from place to place, collecting followers along the way without much fanfare. The first ‘drop’ wasn’t a drop at all and ruins the flow somewhat, taking place in an empty blue room. The lift clunked us up 4 feet before lowering you back into the water at exactly the same speed, no splash. The action builds as good comes to fight evil in a fiery lava environment. There’s a good sense of scale here to counter the projected visuals and it all leads to the final lift and drop, which is far more significant. The pearl is restored, the final drop has some heft to it and some mild splashback peril as you enter the party room, with all the characters happy in another attractive forest environment. Should have a POV for you at some point.
I had been warned prior that certain aspects of the show system weren’t working at 100% yet, and this was true. On our first ride there were several noticeable issues with one of the special effects, some animatronics and a couple of screens. At some point around midday however they closed the ride down for a quick burst of maintenance (that made me nervous) and during our afternoon rides most of these elements were fixed.
It was a real grower of an attraction for me, I grew to appreciate it more with each and every encounter and overall it’s pretty fantastic. By far the most ambitious dark ride project in the country, executed very well on the whole and I hope it pays off for them, sparking further attractions like this down the line both within the chain and at rival parks around here.
There are creds here too you know. The park is built into the side of a hill and in the next ‘land’, also at the base of this hill, are a couple of Alpine Coasters. Not this again.
The queue was pretty painful, with even more faffy loading than the previous ones on the trip. Oh, and only one side was open. I estimate the throughput was around 60 pph, and we were there for about an hour. More disturbingly a sign at the entrance warns the queue from here is about 2 hours. For an #1 Alpine Coaster.
It’s a decent one to be fair. One where the scale is sufficiently huge for them to just send you up the 5-10 minute lift hill without a word, then have a separate attendant at the summit to explain what you have to do before the descent. The views were decently spectacular and it had some thrilling moments, though yet again it suffers from some fairly major issues with guests just stopping, mid-mountainside, even while being shouted at.
Did I mention only one side was open? Not bitter at all about that. It transpires that the other track has become entirely dedicated to being a transport system for a Zipline attraction at the top of the hill. Guests gather around a booth and are then led in groups to board the left hand set of cars, in which they are sent up to the top to alight at the other station. The cars are then sent back empty. I was cheeky enough to ask if I could do it anyway, but they didn’t even understand the concept.
Across this vast empty plaza, which will be used later, is a building that houses various robot arms, VR experiences and other silly nonsense.
There’s a Triotech XD theatre too, most significantly. 6 motion seats hidden behind this curtain from which you can shoot various haunted mine-based spooks on the big screen. Where have we heard that one before?
With not much else around on ground level, it was time to head up various escalators to find the rest of the rides.
#2 Mine Adventure, Vekoma mine train clone. Where have we heard that one before?
Sadly the other coaster was closed all day, even though the operating schedule on the sign suggested otherwise. Annoyingly the best response they had was based on the logic that ‘yeah, but you can ride the mine train instead’.
Not sure how you even get to this, or what it would contain, it appeared to be separated from the rest of the park by a service road. Huge though.
Even further up the top are some gardens and a big wheel, which we rode mainly to get out of the rain that started falling at this point. Views were obviously compromised.
This park also had the food voucher system, with which we dropped one half on the worst theme park ‘dining experience’ of my life as the selection was vastly poorer than the previous day. Incoming rant.
It took over half an hour to receive a drink, two portions of rice and some cold fries while having to fight for ground in the midst of a rabble. Instead of transferring your order to the, what can loosely be described as a kitchen, at the point of payment, you are given a ticket which must then be brandished in the face of a staff member who puts it under a tray on the counter for you. This is done at the expense of other ‘queuing’ guests as it’s a complete free for all.
The food is brought to this line of trays, 7-10 of them set up at a time, in a completely haphazard fashion so that no one receives their order efficiently and 20-30 people are just bumbling around awkwardly waiting, stocking up on dipping sauces and utensils. As such, most of our order (not the fries) was just sitting there while I stood there, losing the will to live, and some old woman next me was absent-mindedly touching and feeling up half the trays (including my cutlery and straws, which were promptly disposed of). The fries turned up last, completing the set, already stone cold. Was it worth the bother? No it was not.
To be honest I’m not sure how we lasted the entire day here, with such a lacklustre line-up and some intermittent bad vibes (and a 4am start). It reached a tipping point where we might as well have stayed for the night time show however, so needs must.
They have an aquarium, it’s not a very good one.
We used the other half of the food voucher on multiple ice creams at a small stall. Best way to do it here, far superior to the actual food.
Night fell, and first up was this laser/fountain show. It’s not a very good one.
On the walk to the proper show, stumbled upon a bit of a spoiler in the form of this impressive beastie.
Said show was actually the inspiration for the storyline of the dark ride, with a few notable differences. There’s an evil queen and king, one of the sisters is a man and a love interest, and of course the big dragon.
The whole thing was a mixed bag. The projections were epic, it kept going on about how ground-breaking the technology was in the build-up and I can’t argue with the statements. The story was too slow, lots of wafting around in spandex in between key plot points, including, but not limited to, pointless Baby Shark dance showdown with children from the audience. Mid-fairytale. The dragon was cool.
What the hotel room lacked in views, the rooftop bar made up for, except for the times they hired it out for birthday parties and karaoke.
Dragon Bridge on a misty morning.
Our driver friend was on top form again today, picking us up at the allotted time in order to take us to the last major park in the region. Before arriving he had sent me a couple of photos of local spots ‘on route’ that he recommended and could take us to on the way.
One of them involved boats and looked rather time consuming when I really just wanted to be getting on with things, so we plumped for the other – it looked nice.
He dropped us off at the side of the road where there’s an outdoor elevator to take you up to this stuff, hidden away in a mountainside.
I think it was the right pick.
We took some time up here to explore what else was around after finding a big map on a sign.
While our friend waited for us at the bottom – no problem, take your time.
This cave was rather spooky with no one else around.
Just the sound of water dripping from the ceiling while ominous statues peer at you through the darkness.
Rather than take the elevator back down, you can climb down a ton of stairs on the far side. To not keep him too much longer, we headed out this way and jumped back in the car to
Day 4 – VinWonders Nam Hoi An
I got confused by the poor admission staff here, who immediately cracked out a park map and drew two prices right in the middle of it. It read like they wanted to upcharge me for the ‘meal plan’ ticket, though it eventually transpired that they were just illustrating that the ‘meal plan’ was free with a regular ticket and I was saving hundreds of thousands (of Dong)! That’ll do.
Hmm. Quiet. But nice. First impressions of the other big theme park brand of the country were that it was rather polished.
Though perhaps only on the surface. First cred we came to, just another Vekoma SFC Orkanen clone, was closed, with the sign saying come back at 11. Ok.
Instead I headed for the Wacky Worm to begin the day in style. It was the type of ‘quiet’ in a theme park where all the staff are literally just standing at their rides and watching you walk past because there’s nothing for them to do. Not always the most comfortable of situations. This only became worse upon reaching the worm, only for the attendant to deny us entry saying ‘no, we wanted the big rides’ gesturing at some horrible flat ride and a drop tower.
No thanks, we’d like to ride this one please. Another staff member from the Wave Swinger opposite slithered towards us, offering neither a positive or negative reinforcement. The answer was still no, for reasons unexplained. We reached an awkward stalemate, never aggressive, it seemed they had our best interests at heart and that silly tourists shouldn’t want to ride the kids ride, but still, surely cycling the ride would break up your otherwise monotonous day at this point?
In stark contrast to this ‘policy?’, we stood outside #1 Spinning Coaster for no more than 30 seconds before a friendly operator came powering over and asked if we wanted to ride. Ride? In a theme park? Go on then. No issues at all, except for it being a burdensome SBF.
Just another Vekoma mine train clone in #2 Lost Valley. Tick.
Discovered a 4D cinema inside their big, not quite centrepiece castle. Not come across the film before, though it seems rather well distributed. It’s actually a really decent, funny and well written story. There’s no dialogue at all, everything emotion needed is conveyed through actions, suggestions and grunts, which is pretty clever and makes it fairly universal for any park.
With no more rides of interest available for now, took a stroll through the ‘cultural’ section of the park. They have various displays and events going on throughout the day including that stick dance display that was better at Xishuangbanna.
It also contained this oddity, a big spiral observation type building with a surprise at the top – an observatory with a 3D show inside. Rather than shoe covers, it was shoes off here, which is always an odd sensation in public. Rather than seats, it was beanbags, which get rather uncomfortable after 10 minutes. On the domed projection we watched some weird video about a German professor in space flying around some dinosaur-occupied planets. It weren’t great, but we may well have been the only visitors of the day.
In the main street along the river they also have more cultural old timey stalls and houses, along with most of the restaurants. We claimed our meal voucher at a Korean BBQ restaurant, with decent quality food and drink ending up being entirely free. I like this system.
I had a score to settle at this point, we had been back to the SFC at 11 as promised and they had removed the sign, replacing it with a man shrugging and saying he didn’t know when it would open. I was still bitter about the worm too, having sat down on a bench and re-read evidence of someone else whose life was consumed by this silly hobby riding it with no reported issues. The park map had a symbol for Guest Information in the key, and yet the icon didn’t appear once on the entire thing. Heading back to the entrance there was a man with a small plinth of maps, greeting guests.
For fun, I asked first where the Guest Information was, perhaps I had missed it? The reply was ‘that’s me!’ Perfect. Question 2 – when will the SFC open? A radio call was made. Maintenance, it won’t open today. Fair enough. Question 3 – can I ride the worm? Yes, yes you can, it’s open. But I went there earlier and they said no. A radio call was made. Let the man on the worm. Perfect.
The operator was perfectly friendly on our return to #3 Family Coaster, letting us in and initiating our cycle, even offering to take photos at the end for us. So yeah, I’ll chalk that one up to well-meaning misunderstanding. Tick.
With no more creds to be gained, it was time for the impressive looking River Safari. Love that plaza scene.
It’s a guided boat tour affair through various animals, with a couple of stop offs. The guide was very friendly and useful, doing each main speech for the locals and then sneaking over to us to do a little personalised side version in English.
They gave out free beans at the first stop, in order to feed the giraffes. They weren’t having it though.
Second stop was the elephants. Don’t think I’ve ever been that close before. This whole attraction was well up there in terms of animal experiences.
Feels like we’re being watched.
Now I’m scared.
This one’s got the right idea.
Thus concludes our time at this park, we booked our man to come back and get us again, conveniently he was only 20 mins away. I had already quizzed him on the ins and outs of our next park, because it was rather more obscure and I didn’t even know if and when they would be open.
They were. RCDB tells us a little history lesson here, in that the park is named after the date on which Đà Nẵng fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam.
What could be more endearing than this #4 High Speed Dragon through the trees though? Pure excellence.
I’m not sure this was open.
Sadly, #5 Potential Energy Train was. A mirrored clone of the ride that killed me the previous night. It’s actually perfectly tolerable if you know what’s coming, sit on your own and don’t get wedged, and continuously push yourself in the opposite direction from the lateral forces using your feet and legs. Only a small ask for a cred.
I ran out of small change at this point, but the operator of the final coaster was happy to walk me halfway through the park to find someone who could break down a mere half a mil into something more manageable. Legend.
Also what a ride it was (#6, no name). Two trains on a powered coaster? I thought that black magic was only reserved for the big named parks.
To finish up, I wanted to try at least one of these dirty shuttle things (particularly the one closest to the camera). Sadly the required operator wasn’t around, but at least I didn’t get caught up in that specific ‘coaster’ counting dilemma.
Park complete, there was some unfinished business down the road. I had completely forgotten that there was a second establishment within walking distance of Asia Park the previous night, in my trauma and pain, so headed back there again.
First I stuck my head in the door at Asia Park just in case Highway Spites had miraculously fixed itself in a day. It hadn’t.
Over the road is a combination of night market and mall, which was supposed to have an SBF spinner. Right on this very spot.
Stories on RCDB tell of it moving between the inside and outside, and the actual website for the place still advertises the ride as present, back inside the mall. Went in to have a good look for it.
Spoke to a lady at an information desk who confirmed it had been gone for a couple of years at least, so I’ve now added an entry and taken one away. We’re all square.
The flight out that night was uneventful and before long we touched down in Da Nang for the next leg of antics.
A short grab took us to the next hotel which was supposed to be better than the previous – it wasn’t, and was supposed to have views of the Dragon Bridge – it didn’t, but it was functional.
A reasonably early start the following morning allowed us to book yet another grab out to the Ba Na Hills in time for the first cable car of the day. It was on this journey that we met our first true legend of a driver. The vibes were good from the start as he sang along to his playlist of Boney M’s greatest hits. He had a reasonable grasp of English, showed genuine interest in our trip and eventually in helping us for the duration of the stay which, crucially, allowed us to cut out that terrible middle man of an app. As a well-connected man, he also knew someone that worked at the ticket office for the park and rang ahead to check whether it was busy/whether there would be queues (it was dead). We exchanged Whatsapp details and were instructed to let him know an hour before we wanted to leave, so that he could pick us up. The return journey would be cheaper this way, and he would make more money without grab taking their share – win win.
Day 3 – Sun World Ba Na Hills
As the first of the branded, chain parks in Vietnam, I was rather taken aback by how stunning this place was.
The whole entrance plaza has a very polished and attractive vibe and you can almost get caught up in the wander through the deserted faux village that leads to the first cable car station.
This isn’t just any cable car, it’s apparently just over 19,000ft long, reaches an elevation of 4,900ft and takes about 20 minutes from end to end. It holds various records, but they’re all rather muddied by words like non-stop and the stipulation of the number of cables involved, just like certain rollercoaster records.
Point is, it’s big.
It just keeps on going, to the extent you can’t even see where you started.
The climate changes on route and suddenly we were in the clouds.
At the point at which you alight, there’s a small hub with an indoor area that leads to the first outdoor attraction of the resort – the golden bridge with the big hands. It was quite eerie at this time of day with visibility so low and virtually no one else around, but definitely very cool.
To get to the main body of the attractions, yet another cable car must be taken to reach even greater heights. Upon exiting that one, an escalator or two leads guests up to this central plaza. Off and down to one side is the primary ‘amusement’ area which is located back indoors.
As the name would suggest, this is home to a 5D Interactive Theatre – the one where you sit on the horseys and shoot bandits. It was par for the course, with the main disappointment being that the interlude moments where it shows people’s faces and who is doing well wasn’t working properly.
The 4D across the way holds these six-seater simulator things, with a film about rocket cars. A very Phantom Menace pod race inspired sequence of events.
Adventure to the Centre of the Earth doesn’t quite live up to other iterations in the theme park world.
The little cars trundle through predominantly darkness and flashing lights while you shoot at nothing in particular.
This 3D 360° Cinema was even more naff, perching on swivel stools on a motionless platform (so not a dark ride), surrounded by a screen that was showing some horror rubbish. I found the imagery just doesn’t work in this environment – if you’re the subject of the scary events, rather than a third party you can at least empathise with, and then nothing happens to you with each and every scare that then has to end, shrug itself off and lead onto another one, then what’s the point? Goon points, that’s what.
Back to Jurassic was a better dinosaur walkthrough.
Not trying to be something it’s not.
Having efficiently cleaned out this indoor section, headed outside to see that the various Alpine coasters on offer were not ready yet, presumably because you couldn’t even see the stipulated 20m in front of you at this time of day.
Not even sure how, but stumbled onto a funicular railway here that took us over to the newest section of the park. Annoyingly, after virtually having the place to ourselves for the first hour, several massive tour groups showed up at this point and proceeded to tailgate us into every queueline.
A ridiculous castle structure at the other end of the railway is home to just two newer attractions at present.
The inside is so elaborately decorated and yet void of anything of significance, it almost defied belief and the contrast of the intricacies against the utilitarian escalators was quite something.
One of the attractions is Rạp Mắt Bay, a simulator channelling a flying theatre. The station has a bit of a steampunk transport hub type vibe where we were all bustled through some batch doors and into the vehicle. It then proceeded to break itself, with various walkie talkie calls being made and a bizarre episode in which they asked a larger gentleman to swap places with someone within the same bench ‘for a better view’.
Eventually it fixed itself and we were off, soarin’ over various sights and sounds from around the globe. The vehicle moves forward and seemingly off the edge of the platform, towards the screen, to achieve this, which is quite an effective immersion. The other sensory aspects are really rather good. There’s mist, fog, heat lamps, lighting and a decent soundtrack, all complimented by a relatively intense set of movements from the vehicle at certain points, particularly if you’re seated towards the edges and corners.
The bad? The media. I just didn’t get on with the fact that everything is a low-end digitally produced version of real life locations. It was highly noticeable to me that this just meant the scaling of landmarks was off and the level of detail was far inferior to that of something photographic. When you swoop along the Thames and realise half the bridges are missing or wrong, certain buildings look crude, the London Eye isn’t even circular and that there’s just no depth to a sprawling metropolis, it takes me right out of it. I guess that’s the one thing that made the Futuroscope version clever – if you’re gonna render it, sprinkle some fantasy elements in there.
The only other thing here is a massive 4D cinema, the Moon Junction Theatre, with the fun novelty of being required to wear shoe covers to stop you messing up their nice furniture.
It was all very familiar brands in this one, a Mack Media film about that monster family, in English, featuring Europa Park Easter eggs and some Crazy Bats. Quality.
After taking in the luxurious surroundings (construction, get excited), it was time to head back up the funicular to the main hub and see what was what.
With still no signs of activity at the Alpines, I asked a member of staff what was up and they said things should be running in about an hour or so.
To pass the time until then we took a wander around the more scenic and architectural aspect of this bizarre but kinda brilliant place, before stopping off in a cafe for some sustenance.
The estimate turned out to be pessimistic as by the time we arrived back at #1 ‘Alpine Coaster 2‘ (they used to have more elaborate names according to RCDB, but these appear to have been scrapped), a reasonably hefty queue had formed. Sadly they were only running a single side of this one and confirmed that they wouldn’t open the other. Around 20 minutes later we were strapped in and made our descent to the field at the bottom. The views are of course pretty stunning, but there’s not much going on in the layout department. The main drawback of this is that most people just end up on the go-slow in order to savour the moment, even though they’re continually instructed not to.
Over at #2 + #3 ‘Alpine Coaster 1‘, both sides were running and the wait was even more significant. But we’re here now, gotta suck it up. This layout was actually slightly better, but even more hampered by poor guest etiquette.
Confusion happened next as we went round again and reached the split point. Both queues had gone down a fair bit after the initial rush and we specifically asked the guy there if we could go to the other side. He said no, we’re clearing that one out, go the other way, so we bailed out and stepped back to watch for a second. A mere ten people later, he started loading guests into the side we wanted. We followed back in and gestured once again, being immediately waved in the right direction without even a hint of recognition. Bizarre. +2.
This marked the end of everything that needed achieving, single alpine spite aside, so I sent a message to our new best mate that we’d be heading out soon.
On the way down we stopped off at the bridge again for another look. Though it wasn’t that much clearer of a view out over the hills, the amount of people here now was a bit much. Overall I really enjoyed this place though, it’s very different to basically anything else out there. Just needs some proper rides now, which it seems they are building right this minute, so definitely one to watch.
Our guy messaged back and said that he wouldn’t be able to make it in time, but had sent a friend in his place, along with a photo for us to ID him. I double checked that the friend would be happy to take us straight to another park, which was confirmed. We found said friend and were soon our way to
As somewhat more of a city park, the simply named Asia Park, also owned by the Sun Group, often doesn’t open until late afternoon and then runs on into the night. Our designated hours were 15:00-22:00, though in low season matters were complicated further by everything operating on alternating timeslots. Coaster A would run from 15:00-16:00, 17:00-18:00, while Coaster B would open from 16:00-17:00, 18:00-19:00 and so on. While all very well, this information was only presented at the very entrance to each ride, meaning a lot of aimless wandering around, backtracking and last minute planning within the somewhat limited time spans.
Ended up at sort of the main event first, at a time when #4 Paradise Fall just happened to be re-opening. While not the biggest coaster here, the Intamin family launch coaster held a bigger appeal to me than most other things on offer in the region.
Upon sitting down in the front for the first train of the new time slot, it proceeded to do an Intamin and break. We were sent back through the air gates in order to witness an engineer arrive, tell the staff they were doing it wrong, despatch two empty trains to prove the point, and then leave.
Once seated again, we were catapulted off at a decent rate into that Blue Fire looking first element. It’s an unusual one, sideways floptime in quadbike trains isn’t your average coaster sensation, though from there it just doesn’t have much pace or layout to back anything up. The scope of the ride is just too limited, so it’s a bit something and nothing for the type. Oh well, one step closer to set complete.
The oddity that is Highway Spite has been plagued with issues ever since it was first installed here, though I had sort of got the impression that the worst of that was behind it. Nevertheless it was closed, so no steps closer to set complete.
What appears on the surface to be just another mine train clone is apparently slightly custom. #5 Port of Sky Treasure rode well and had some fun little pumps here and there. Dare I say it was the best ride in the park? That’s a sad thought.
On the subject of sad thoughts, we headed over to the Vekoma Junior to find that the train was parked on the lift hill. It was broke. They were working on it though, there was hope.
Cheer up, the views here are pretty good.
Until the sight of an SLC slides into view.
To be fair to #6 Queen Cobra, it earned the proud title of my new favourite SLC, out of a good 30-odd by now. While still far from a good ride, the vest restraints and bearable comfort levels complimented by the night ride and some rather awesome and unique visuals in the front row made for a reasonably special experience.
There are patches of brilliance in this place.
Headed back over to the last cred to see if they had made any progress, and they had! The ‘it’s broke’ sign had been replaced with the usual timeslot sign. In half an hour or so, in theory, it would reopen.
So we jumped on the Sun Wheel for some views.
Not the best of conditions for photos with the scratched walls and over-engineered cages, and the on board music appeared to be running on radio, cutting to static for the duration of the high altitude parts.
Upon exiting, a humble staff girl with an Ipad approached us for an on the spot survey. I was overly generous in the moment, choosing only to bring up those points about the Ferris Wheel amongst a sea of praise.
The praise may well have been justified. As promised, #7 Garuda Valley was running like a legend once we reached it again, closing out the day on a high.
Until I remembered that there was another cred just outside the park, within walking distance.
Children’s Cultural Houses
Oh, how I had been looking forward to experiencing my first confirmed Vietnamesely manufactured coaster the previous day. We slapped down our dong at the desk and hopped aboard this without a second thought.
It very nearly killed me.
The lateral force as #8 Roller Coaster descended the spiral is off the charts, and I was wedged to the point that I couldn’t brace for it, bearing the brunt of every single lap with intense pain to my lower left rib cage and internal organs. Again and again it cycled, while I was slowly dying and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Who’d have thought Dragon Slayer would lose its title of second worst coaster experience in the world after such a short period of time, to a children’s coaster no less.
I came off severely bruised and not happy, feeling the after effects of discomfort for the remainder of the evening, and in waves for most of the rest of the trip. It wasn’t even funny (it is now). What a stupid hobby.
With a more successful than anticipated first day out of the way, day 2 in Ho Chi Minh was nothing more than an attempted mop up. After some well-deserved extra sleep, we booked another car over to the third and final ‘most significant’ park of the city. This is precisely where Grab started to let the side down. For some reason after working perfectly throughout the first day, it would no longer let me use my credit card when making the bookings, throwing up one of two generic errors that didn’t make sense. Time to start counting the cash.
Day 2 – Đầm Sen Park
Though the parks had been far from busy the previous day, this Monday morning brought the old classic ghost town vibe often associated with establishments in this region. I was surprised to learn throughout the day that they even deemed themselves significant enough to have a fast track system.
After acquiring entrance tickets and wristbands in this case, there was barely a soul to be seen on the pleasant walk over from decorative garden section to amusement section.
Unfortunately the first coaster we came across was closed, becoming the first spite of the trip. A sign outside stated our old friend ‘maintenance’ and a nearby staff member confirmed that it would not open today.
This non-cred happened to be a significant distance from any others, as we continued on a slightly more despondent journey around the park. Mercifully signs of life were seen at another powered dragon, it was time for a +1.
If I’m not mistaken, #1 Flying Dragon is exactly the same hardware as the indoor one from the previous day, just outside in some trees rather than inside in some trees. Go dragon, go.
Just across the way was #2 Children’s Spiral Coaster, an inviting looking wacky worm with a twist. How often have you seen one of these with a watermelon AND an apple? The clearance and proximity to foliage on the journey round was highly questionable on this one, but that only added to the experience, along with the world’s most intense lift hill engagement.
We next sat on a bench in front of this building and had some refreshments while contemplating my favourite question of the current era – is it a dark ride? Signs pointed to no, nothing on the pictures indicated anything but VR experiences, of which there were several.
With only one way to find out, headed in and noticed a non-descript inner building on the right hand side which turned out to contain a 4D cinema of some description. That’ll do.
Somehow the waiting area ended up being even more pedestrian than the last of these, which only added to the charm.
Inside were these 12 seater simulator pods and a film of a crude fantasy rollercoaster rendering with awkward trackwork, uncannily similar to what you would see on your average Planet Coaster POV these days.
From here I actually bothered to look at the park map instead of winging it, in order to locate the final coaster. Turns out it was the exact opposite end of the grounds but there was a sketchy looking monorail that departed from nearby and should have taken us to the far side.
I say should because it didn’t… Frustratingly this attraction appears to have lost its original purpose and is now seen as ‘yay, we’re riding a monorail’ rather than transporting people from A to B, and occasionally C for groceries. Instead it ploughed (at a comically slow pace) straight through the station we wanted and wound it’s way back round to the start.
Views varied from this.
After that unfortunate set of events, we took the long walk over to where I didn’t particularly want to be, amusingly beating the monorail on foot before it even came round for another lap. I was completely torn on whether I actually wanted the last cred to be open or not. On the one hand it would have sucked to be 50% down for the day, on the other…
It was another one of these.
Sadly #3 Roller Coaster was running, and just to make matters worse they moved me from my tactically central chosen seat to one of the extremities of the train to put me next to some sweaty bloke because ‘rows need to be loaded in 2s’. That’s reassuring.
The only mercy is that it had a single vertical loop instead of two. Nevertheless it was awful, an instant headache was induced and on that note it was time to leave.
Incoming rant that’s characteristically longer than the trip report:
Grab let us down a second time here, though it was most likely the driver’s fault. It developed this annoying habit of saying ‘your driver has arrived’ when you could clearly see they hadn’t yet arrived, both in person and on the map. It then started threatening things like ‘if you’re not in the car in the next few mins, you’re the one who is late, extra fees or cancellation fees may be charged’.
But he’s not here mate. And there’s nothing you can do to protest it. It basically gets stuck in a never ending loop thinking you’re in the wrong (kinda like the Chinese version did a couple times).
So as we watch the screen, he completely skips past the specific entrance I have pinned, where we are standing in a car park getting sunburnt. The car then drives the perimeter of the park and stops for several minutes at the opposite end. Well that’s no good, and it’s still threatening me for not being in the car yet. One of the, what should be useful, features of the app is you can send the driver a photo of where you are, of which I now sent several, just to emphasise the point of where to look.
The car starts heading back towards us, only to completely miss the turning again and come into yet another entrance which was on the far side of a dingy multi-storey car park. Sigh. It looks like we’ll have to go to him then. We start powering through said car park, with the attendant looking like he wants to say something, but doesn’t. By the time we reach the other side we lay eyes on the car for the first time, only to see him driving away from us and out the exit again. At this point I’ve had enough and just hit cancel on the app. The guy’s clearly an idiot and stuff your cancellation fees, you don’t even have my card details now, why does nothing work.
It lets me, and them I’m scrabbling around to try and book the exact same thing again. Guess what? It just pairs me up with the same guy AGAIN. Well third time lucky, he actually bothers to come to where the app is telling him to, and we’re off.
On route I decide to visit the customer support bit of the app to have a moan about the credit card situation. Apparently it’s a security feature (for them, not me), though they refused to explain exactly what that means and how it works. All they could offer was ‘wait 6 days and try again’, to which I responded ‘that’s no use to me, my holiday will be over by then.’ We go round in circles for a bit and then I get the exact same copy paste answer ‘wait 6 days and try again’. Thanks for listening.
Things should have improved from here, as we arrived at one more park for the day. They did not.
I was intrigued to ride my first officially Vietnamese manufactured coaster, adorned with fun RCT graphics. Even after all the faff we arrived about 10 minutes before 15:00, when the rides were due to open. 15:00 came and went, but although there were staff busying themselves around the ride all this time, they were more interested in jet washing their motorbike than their prospective paying customers.
I opted to give them a while and took a wander around the rest of the park where I made the greatest discovery of a generation – there’s a new cred here no one knows about.
Bonus cred! I snapped many photos to mark the momentous occasion and headed back over to the ticket desk to wait.
15:30 came and went, other people were wandering through but seemingly on their way to other places and showing no interest in the rides. We needed to be gone by 16:00 really.
Found a Vietnam cat in the ‘ride area’.
It was time to ask the ride staff. When will the rides open? 17:00. 17:00? 17:00. It was time to head to the airport. All that for absolutely nothing.
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.