Our morning began with a shuttle bus to Saigon Airport for a flight to Đà Nẵng with Vietnam Airlines. We had given ourselves plenty of time, and it was just as well, as we found an hour long queue to get through security, in sharp contrast to what we'd experienced just a few days earlier on the way to Phú Quốc. Much of the delay was caused by the staff, who were escorting people booked on closing flights to the front of the line on a regular basis. This got irritating after a while; unplanned delays can happen to the best of us, but the number of people involved today bordered on the ridiculous. It was impossible not to wonder whether frequent travellers and/or serial reprobates aware of the escort policy were deliberately arriving a few minutes before their flights safe in the knowledge that they would be able to jump the queue.
We had a gate change before boarding that wasn't shown on the display screens, but aside from that minor hiccough the flight experience was top notch. The plane was a virtually new Airbus A321, with more than enough legroom to accommodate tall westerners. I noticed a piece in the inflight magazine that proudly proclaimed a four star rating from Skytrax, which made me grin; Irish airline Aer Lingus made an enormous song and dance over being awarded the same accolade in 2017, a bizarre decision that made no sense either then or now. The inflight service on Vietnam Airlines was worth at least twice the number of stars assigned to the Shamrock; the friendly crew offered complimentary soft drinks and didn't feel the need to annoy passengers with repeated sales pitch and pointless announcements over the PA system.
Sun World Bà Nà Hills
27th December 2018
Google Maps told us that we would need two hours to get from Đà Nẵng Airport to Sun World Bà Nà Hills, but this estimate proved to be far in excess of what was actually required; our driver got us to the park entrance in just thirty minutes. The only problem was that this was several miles away from our target coordinates. Nevertheless we soon confirmed that we were in the right place; the complex in front of us contained assorted exhibits, food stalls, and boarding stations for three separate cable cars. The first of these took several world records when it opened in 2013, and though most have still fallen (in many cases to other Sun Group properties in Vietnam) it remains as of this writing the highest non-stop single track cable car in the world, with some seriously impressive numbers: the 11,587m cable (weighing 141.24 tons unloaded) lifts guests an incredible 1,368m (4,488ft). The park has a total of five cable car lines, with a combined throughput in excess of 6,500 guests per hour.
On the flight in our pilot warned us that the weather forecast for the next few days wasn't particularly good, not words calculated to please travelling coaster enthusiasts. Things didn't look too bad on landing, but there was a definite chill in the air relative to Ho Chi Minh City, and the mountain peaks were shrouded under thick cloud. We made it almost five minutes into our cable car journey before the outside disappeared into the murk, and while the optimist in me thought that we might break through the top of it in due time it wasn't to be. Ten minutes later we switched to a second cable car for the last portion of the journey, which took us past a dark shadow that what was barely recognisable as the outline of the Golden Bridge.
The main section of the park has been designed to resemble a French colonial village, and it is this that is the draw for the majority of visitors. There are around a dozen high quality restaurants inside buildings that could have been transplanted directly from Paris, along with a cathedral church with stained glass windows and an impressively detailed interior. Assorted gallic theming can be found around the place, not least an elderly Citroen 2CV (which I suspect to be the only vehicle of its type in the country). There is also a Mercure hotel on site for those who want to enjoy a faux European holiday without leaving Vietnam. We quickly found the two known alpine coasters, which were closed due to the conditions. Soon after we found a second pair not previously listed in RCDB, though sadly these too were hors service. We made a brave but fundamentally unsuccessful attempt to photograph both sets for posterity before heading into one of the restaurants for a buffet lunch.
Most of the park's rides have been installed into a two thousand square metre building that has been elaborately themed using ideas from two of the most famous Jules Verne novels: Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The highlight of the collection is a Drop'n Twist 29m from SBF VISA that goes through the middle of all three floors and into an extended roof structure that is supposed to give a view of the outside. Today it was being run with a lengthy and hugely enjoyable programme featuring a mix of full height and partial drops. I suspect that some of these were boosted to be beyond pure freefall; I could certainly feel the butterflies in my stomach as we fell.
There are also two mediocre dark attractions, again supplied by SBF. Adventure to the Center of Earth is an uninspired target shooter that feels like it was designed by committee. The layout comprises a series of straight sections linked by 180° turns, and each one has its own theme with no coherent story. The only section to be even vaguely interesting was made up largely of mirrors and coloured lights, giving a psychedelic effect that was novel if not something I'd go out of my way to repeat. Throughput was fairly grim today; there were six cars in use, but they were all loaded together, dispatched one at a time, then unloaded after all had returned. We waited thirty minutes, which would have been no more than ten if the ride was being run properly. On the plus side we were able to walk directly into the House of the Dead, a generic haunted house memorable only for having strobe lighting on every single scene.
We went for a walk around the building to ensure that we hadn't missed anything, and in the process ended up at Back to the Jurassic, an animatronic dinosaur exhibit that killed around five minutes. With that done we decided to wrap up our visit with a walk across the Golden Bridge (or, as it should have been renamed today, the Dank and Grey Bridge). As expected we could see absolutely nothing; hopefully we'll make it back to the park some day in more cooperative weather.
27th December 2018
29/3 Park is a public garden and lake located close to the center of Đà Nẵng, named to commemorate the day that the city fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam. It is home to a number of different amusement rides, though they were all closed today and their general condition suggested that many had been out of action for months if not years. There was a tree growing out of one side of the Rockin' Tug, and the electrical control box on the nine track Wave Shuttle was exposed to the elements. The Potential Energy Train looked to be serviceable, but there was a layer of rust on the track and signage for other attractions was being stored on the station platform. The park wasn't all that far from our hotel, and given that we decided to call past on both Friday and Saturday to no avail; my guess is that the rides are down permanently.
27th December 2018
Our third stop was at the Helio Center, a family entertainment center with both indoor and outdoor sections. We found the SBF figure eight Spinning Coaster that we were expecting, but unfortunately it was in pieces. A member of staff told us that it was being moved to a different location some one hundred metres to the east of where it was in Google Earth imagery, and sure enough a quick check of the site showed the first two supports already in situ. These rides can be assembled very quickly, as can be seen from the fact that quite a few travel in Europe; I rather suspect that we missed it by no more than a week.
Children's Cultural Houses
27th December 2018
There were a small number of rides visible across the road from the Helio Center, and decided that it was worth taking five minutes out of our evening for a quick investigation. Our efforts were rewarded with the discovery of a previously unknown Sấu Con family coaster. The back car on Roller Coaster (#2559) was parked outside the station, but I climbed in anyway and closed my restraint. It was only when the train started to move that I realised that there was a lot of standing water in the car, and the tilt of the lift hill ensured that virtually all of it ended up on my seat, completely soaking me. It was worth it though; the ride was excellent for its size, comprising a powerful descending helix followed by an ejector airtime moment. As ever we swapped back and front for a second round; each six lap dispatch cost us just 20,000 VND (~€0.76).