Sun World Danang Wonders is a VND 10,000 billion (~€380 million) theme park located close to the center of Đà Nẵng, a few kilometres south of the famous Dragon Bridge. The project was originally conceived as Asia Park, but rebranded soon after its 2015 opening as part of a larger exercise involving quite a number of the Sun Group properties across Vietnam.
The developers decided to enlist outside assistance for their initial foray into amusement park construction. In an unusual move they decided against using a mainstream consultancy like International Theme Park Services or Legacy Entertainment; instead the work was outsourced to Bill Bensley, a Bangkok-based architect more typically associated with luxury properties, including over two hundred hotels around the world and the incredible Royal Istana of Kuala Terengganu. The result from his efforts looks magnificent, but I can't help but wonder whether the budget was weighted a little too far towards appearance at the expense of things to actually do; a sizeable number of the attractions listed on the park map are sights that, once seen, do not need to be repeated, and we only stayed for four hours because limited operating windows required us to.
There was a lengthy queue to purchase tickets when we arrived shortly after opening, and it moved exceptionally slowly as the staff felt compelled to go through the list of closed rides with each person individually prior to accepting payment. On one level this was laudable (are you listening, Dollywood?) but the amount of time spent on it was excessive, especially since there was a clearly visible list both at the entrance and at the individual ticket counters. A park map was opened in front of us and black crosses drawn across several rides just to make absolutely sure that we fully understood what we had already had ample time to interpolate for ourselves.
The published hours today were from 3:00pm to 10:00pm, and we were told that the Monorail was due to open at 4:00pm. It was only after entering the park that we learned that the SLC was due to open at 5:00pm and that the entire children's area was due to open at 7:00pm. Worse yet, a number of secondary attractions were operating on alternate hours, and all but one of the park restaurants were closed for the entire day. There were two free standing food carts in their place, but we gave up on the one we selected after waiting more than ten minutes to be served despite having only one person in front of us. The coasters were being run using appallingly inefficient loading procedures, coupled with front to back assigned seating. As a result of these irritations we managed just two rides in our first ninety minutes in the park despite virtually non-existent queues.
One of the most interesting (or perhaps redeeming?) features of the park from an enthusiast perspective is the fact that it has inherited much of its equipment from the failed Hard Rock Park. Three flat rides from HUSS Park Attractions have been installed with new themes; the Magic Mushroom Garden Airboat is now Fireflies Forest, the London Cab Ride Rodeo is now Shanghai 1920, and the Muddin' Monster Race Swing Around is now Kabuki Trucks. In addition four of the five roller coasters were purchased and built up, though only two opened to the public; the other two, Maximum RPM and Slippery When Wet, were disassembled and scrapped in 2017 as a result of problems encountered during testing.
Our first tick was Port of Sky Treasure, a slight variant on the standard layout Vekoma Mine Train once known as Eagles: Life in the Fast Lane. The train retains a number of accoutrements from its former home, including printed English language safety warnings and large speakers at every seat that are sadly no longer in use. The track and supports have been repainted, though the new hue isn't radically different to the old, coming in somewhere between red and brown. The surrounding area has been filled out with foliage and artificial rockwork which adds interest to what would otherwise be a fairly mundane ride experience; the train clatters a little, as is normal for the genre, but the tracking is for the most part comfortable.
We took a wrong turn on the way to our next target and wound up in front of Highway Boat. The signage now fronts an Intamin suspended coaster, though it was originally the label for the relocated Slippery When Wet, allegedly a Premier Rides design despite an uncanny resemblance to the Caripro-built Hydra Fighter II; the reader is invited to draw their own conclusion. There was a billboard-sized "coming soon" sign blocking the entrance that featured a montage of Speed Monster and Storm Runner, implying a high speed thrill ride. The reality seemed rather less exciting; empty cars were being cycled today at a pace that could have been halted entirely by an untimely gust of wind (and/or carefully synchronised flatulence). With luck things will run a little faster with passengers on board.
In due course we wound up at Paradise Fall (#2563), a launched family coaster from Intamin that uses the quad bike vehicles that premiered on Juvelen in 2013. The acceleration uses a bank of tyres covered by a sheet metal roof which should (in theory at least) allow the system to operate as normal in poor weather. The ride was superb, and the best in the park by some margin, though far too short; the total duration from launch to brake was of the order of thirty seconds, followed by another thirty or so for the train to slowly roll into its parking position. A very simple fix would be to give two laps per dispatch, with the brakes held open at the end of lap one; that change would upgrade the experience enormously without a significant effect on throughput given how long the loading takes. (As an aside, the ride name should probably be changed now that the layout no longer begins with a drop/fall, though Paradise Squeaky Acceleration doesn't quite have the same ring to it).
Coaster number three became Queen Cobra (#2564), a standard layout SLC, albeit one with the more recent style of train fitted with soft vest restraints. The presentation of the ride was faultless; deep purple track, creative theming, and multicoloured lighting combined to make it one of the best looking SLCs around. Unfortunately the tracking was every bit as haphazard as the older examples of the genre, with several distinctly uncomfortable moments. The improved restraints guaranteed no headbanging, but the hard seats ensured an even distribution of bruises in other areas. Recent installations in Poland and beyond have proved that Vekoma now has the ability to engineer smooth steel; it's difficult to understand why these techniques have yet to be applied to a product line that could so easily be lauded (rather than reviled) by the enthusiast community.
We next made our way towards an impressive facade of Angkor Wat that we assumed to be the front for a dark ride. The attention to detail was impressive, even down to the deliberate crack lines carved into the rough brick paving. However, closer inspection revealed it to be an unfinished shell; all the access routes into the 3,250 square metre building were blocked off by construction boards, and there was no sign of any work underway to change this. We were similarly unimpressed with Namaste, which had signage promoting "Food and Activity" while being entirely devoid of both.
We regrouped at the Golden Sky Tower, promoted on the park web site as the tallest free fall tower in Vietnam despite the fact that there is an equivalent almost twice the height at VinWonders Nam Hội An less than forty kilometres away. The hardware is a SBF VISA MX501 with a height of 47 metres, and though it isn't a bad ride by any means it isn't in the same league as the fabulous Drop'n Twist. On the positive side, the initial drop sensation is every bit as good as one would expect from a proper gravity free fall. On the negative side, the landing was uncomfortably abrupt, which was arguably unnecessary as there was plenty of tower left. I'd also call out that the ride is ugly; the array of colour changing bulbs at its center would be fine at a carnival, but they stand out like a sore thumb in an otherwise beautiful park. A subtle steady glow (or even just an illuminated ornament at the top) would have worked much better.
We had around ninety minutes to kill before the final coaster was due to open, and given that we decided to burn some time with laps on Paradise Fall, taking in both the front row and row six (the back was out of service) using the simple expedient of counting the guests in line around us. The sensation in both locations was virtually identical, with only the tiniest difference at the apex of the initial hill. That said, I found that I liked the view from the back seats better, as watching the train turning in front of me was more visually interesting than unadorned track segments disappearing into the fading light.
We also took the time to try the Sun Wheel, a 115m installation with sixty-four cars that is as of this writing tied for fifteenth place in the list of the world's tallest Ferris wheels. The ride is ordinarily accessed by escalator, but this was blocked off by a rope barrier and a sign indicating a last ride time. We briefly suspected that the whole wheel might be off limits, and had begun formulating creative sardonic comments when it became apparent that there was also a lift. There was a surprisingly lengthy queue at the entrance, caused by the fact that staff were only loading every fourth car, but in due course we were on board. The cars were enclosed, but there were small sections that could be opened on three sides with gaps large enough for a compact camera lens. Unfortunately there wasn't one pointing towards the main area of the park, and I found that I couldn't get useful shots through the glass due to scratches reflecting light in all directions.
When we disembarked fifteen minutes later we were able to make our way into the children's area in pursuit of the final coaster. We needed a handstamp to enter, and soon realised why; the area wasn't gated, and could be accessed either on a pay per ride basis or on a full park admission. Our target was Garuda Valley, a custom layout junior coaster once known as Shake, Rattle, and Rollercoaster. It was interesting to see both a transfer track and a special rear car with a metal plate that was presumably designed for wheelchairs back in the day; one doubts that it is used nowadays. The ride was respectable enough, and was a pleasant way to conclude our day.