I've lived in Ireland for my entire life, where almost everything closes down for Christmas Day. The worst affected service is transport, where all buses, trains, trams, taxis, and even airports cease operations entirely – causing a royal headache for those of us who have a need to travel. Dublin Airport has previously claimed that there is no demand for flights on the day, despite the fact that every other major airport worldwide is operating as normal, and anyone who has the audacity to point this out gets lambasted by the chattering classes for begrudging staff their "hard earned day off" that equivalent employees in other countries do not get. (I've spent much of my career in roles where I don't get national holidays as time off by default, and that suits me well; I'd much rather have the flexibility to take nine extra days when it suits me rather than having forced leave at times that may or may not be convenient.)
The fourth Tuesday in December is considered an ordinary working day in Vietnam, and thus we headed north-west to Long Điễn Sơn, a so-called tourist park located about two hours drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The parking lot was empty when we arrived, causing a brief moment of consternation, but the ticket window was attended and soon after we were inside. Within moments we'd found a poster on the wall advertising the roller coaster that we'd come for, but we couldn't seem to get to it; the only attractions accessible were water slides. It took us a few minutes to realise that there was a one-way gate from where we were that led into the main part of the facility; in hindsight it seems likely that we bought ourselves access to the water park by mistake.
The park sits on a land bank of around 150,000 square metres, though only a small portion of the space is devoted to amusement rides. There are six in total, all of which were manufactured by Sấu Con. The star of the collection is the Roller Coaster (#2555), a stretched version of the double helix design seen at both Công Viên Biên Hùng and Thỏ Trắng. Though not the oldest known example of the type the experience felt quite arthritic in comparison to its brothers, with virtually all of the potential energy consumed by the time the train returned to the station. I found myself wondering whether the hardware might have been a prototype that operated somewhere else before being moved to Long Điễn Sơn; it definitely lacked the refinement of other models. As ever I tried both front and back, and honestly there was precious little difference between locations.
We spent some time admiring copies of the venerable Frisbee and Top Spin that were installed side by side above a river valley, adding visual interest to what would otherwise have been standard model rides. We also located a 5D Cinema, Bumper Cars, and a Wave Swinger that was decorated with a variety of different Disney characters. It was interesting to see the manufacturer's web site printed on the center pillar given the obvious copyright infringement elsewhere in the paint job; one can only assume that branding regulations are not enforced aggressively in this part of the world.
We had begun heading towards the exit when I spotted pictures of 18 Tầng Địa Ngục (18 Floors of Hell) in the park brochure, and decided that it was worth going to investigate. Our target turned out to be an elaborate walkthrough of similar scale and presentation to the ones we'd experienced at Suôí Tiên Park, and as such an experience not to be missed. The scenes showed blood-soaked human figures in various states of torment surrounded by skeletons, angry dogs, and miscellaneous evil spirits, and there was a half size vortex tunnel at the end. (Older readers should be aware that the ground inside this attraction is very uneven and not well lit; those rushing through run the risk of turning themselves into a bonus scene for following visitors to appreciate.)
25th December 2018
After leaving Long Điễn Sơn we made an impromptu detour to nearby Khu du dịch Núi Bà Đen in the hope of riding the Wiegand alpine coaster that opened there in 2017. It took us ten minutes to walk to the ride from the park entrance, though sadly it was for nothing; it was closed for maintenance. We've since learned that it generally only operates on weekends; those retracing our trip should plan accordingly.
Đại Nam Văn Hiến
25th December 2018
Our impromptu detour to a closed Alpine Coaster meant that we were a little way behind our planned schedule when we arrived at Đại Nam Văn Hiến. It was tempting to skip lunch in order to maximise time, but we decided that we'd enjoy ourselves more with a refill. After a brief search we found a restaurant near the main gate that wished us a good appetile, and though the offerings were not exactly haute cuisine (to put it mildly) they met the immediate need.
Đại Nam Wonderland is centered around a 250,000 square metre temple complex that can be thought of as a local equivalent of the Forbidden City in Beijing. This looks like it could be hundreds of years old, but appearances can be deceptive – the place is relatively new, having been inaugurated in September 2005. General admission is free, though there is a charge for four specific areas:
An open zoo with seventy-six species of birds, reptiles, and mammals. Highlights include white peacocks, white tigers, and white hippos.
A water park with a wave pool, a slide tower, and the largest artificial sea in Vietnam.
A two kilometre multipurpose race track constructed in 2017 that has staged horse, dog, motorcycle, and go-kart competitions. This area also includes a "performance pool" for jet skis and flyboarding.
An amusement zone, Khu Trò Chơi, with three roller coasters and six enormous dark attractions.
The latter is a leisurely ten minute walk from the park gate. It features its own brightly coloured entrance arch with castle turrets and a hand-painted design, as well as large television display showing looped footage of people enjoying themselves on the various rides. As we passed underneath our eyes were immediately drawn to a temporary Christmas display centered around a two storey model of the Eiffel tower. Decorated trees, snowmen in various styles, and wrapped presents were accompanied by a life size Santa Claus, and, in deference to local culture, a parked motorcycle – though this was almost certainly an unofficial add-on belonging to a member of park staff.
Our first challenge was the acquisition of ride tickets, and this proved to be far harder than it should have been. We located a booth next to the largest coaster with individual prices on it, but ten minutes of back and forth and a wide variety of untranslatable colourful metaphors proved insufficient to get what we wanted. In the end we gave up and purchased 120,000 VND (~€4.53) combo tickets good for three rides from a list of eleven, covering two of the three credits and a third ride that we were not planning to use. It was only later that we realised that individual tickets for these two rides would have cost us a combined 110,000 VND (~€4.15), meaning that we were arguing over €0.37. readers making their own trips are advised to go straight for the combo ticket in the interests of expediency.
It was tempting to sit out the Roller Coaster, given that I already had the credit, but I decided to join my travelling companions for a lap out of misplaced solidarity. The ride is one of (a faintly horrifying) thirty worldwide installations of the 4 Ring Coaster from Chinese company Hebei Zhongye Metallurgical Equipment Manufacturing, and though it wasn't the worst ride I've experienced from that company it was still not a machine that I'd make an effort to return to. The train felt like it could have tracked smoothly but for a side to side shuffle that began at the top of the lift hill and continued throughout; I rather suspect that the wheel bogies in my car were not quite flush with the track. On the positive side we made it through an entire lap without acquiring new bruises, which is definitely not the norm for this style of ride.
Our second hit was labelled both as Tornado Boat and Spinning Coaster, though both choices feel inappropriately hyperbolic for a Golden Horse ride that was best described as dull. We caught a decent double spin from the turnaround after the first set of switchbacks, but it only took a few seconds for the car to stablize, and from that point onwards the course might has well have been taken in a standard mouse car. The straightening device at the end delivered a thoroughly unpleasant slam that caused the entire ride structure to shake, adding a final insult to a lacklustre experience.
With the major coasters complete Anita set out on a mission to get our group access to the Worm Coaster, which I knew from previous experience to be accessible to adults despite the label on the back of the train showing a 40 kilogram limit in each car. She had no luck at the first few booths, but her persistence paid off, and in due course she returned triumphant with the appropriate 20,000 VND (~€0.75) tickets in her hand. It was hard not to feel a little self-conscious shoehorning myself into a coaster that could not have been more than four feet high, but the embarrassment was quickly forgotten once we started to move. I didn't think to count the number of laps, but there must have been at least ten, and as silly as they were, we very much enjoyed them.
By this point there was a little over an hour to go until park closing, and we resolved to use that time to work our way through the six dark rides that I'd argue to be the signature attractions in the park. We made it through the Witches Castle and the Long Than Great Maze, two similar walkthroughs with shaking floors and ghouls flying across the ceiling, and were just about to buy tickets for the Five Phoenixes Tian Shan when the shutter at the entrance was pulled down in front of us. Moments later we realised that all of our remaining targets had closed an hour before the advertised time, and though this was annoying there was precisely nothing we could do about it.