The penultimate day of our trip began with a long shot visit to Hòn Dáu Resort, located on a peninsula to the south of Hai Phong. We had no information on opening hours to work with, and though a Saturday is generally a safe bet for amusement parks globally we had already found out the hard way that many Vietnamese parks are afternoon and evening places. To compound our woes we were visiting on a day where the mercury was predicted to reach just seven degrees celsius; it seemed unlikely that all that many denizens of northern Vietnam would be travelling to a seaside resort in such conditions.
It was only when we got out of the car that it became apparent that we might be in luck, as loud thumping music was blaring from somewhere in the general direction of the coaster. There was no operator at Alpen Express, but one showed up soon after we did and was more than happy to take our money. I wasn't expecting a whole lot from a powered Blauer Enzian that looked to be around forty years old, which only goes to show that one should never judge a book by its cover; the power level had been turned up, resulting in a forceful thrill that was every bit as good as it would have been when it toured Germany in the nineties under the ownership of Nülken. We were given three laps for our 30000 VND (~€1.13), and decided to go back for a second set on the basis that we would not be returning any time soon.
Tuắn Châu Amusement Park
30th December 2018
Tuắn Châu Amusement Park was by some margin the busiest of any of the parks we visited in Vietnam. This was quite surprising given its location, but the reason became apparent when we tried to buy an admission ticket; we'd somehow managed to schedule our visit for a promotional day when admission and all attractions were free of charge. We arrived a few minutes before the various rides were scheduled to open, but one of the operators saw the three middle-aged foreigners in his midst and gave us the first lap of the day on the Roller Coaster (#2566). This was very much appreciated, especially since a lengthy queue formed soon after.
The ride was a Sấu Con design, albeit one considerably larger than the norm. It featured two separate helices connected by a long straight piece of track that was just crying out for an airtime bump. Each row had a fixed position restraint lowered from overhead that was buckled into place using a backup seatbelt, and though this looked uncomfortable I can report that it had no effect on the overall experience. The layout was lively and forceful in places, particularly at the base of the first helix, but the temperature was a little too cold for us to enjoy it fully. We were content to disembark after a single lap, and elected to spend the balance of our time exploring.
Most of the other attractions are locally built and missable. The one interesting flat ride in the collection is a rare example of a Huss Fly Away that has been installed on the edge of a cliff. It features a giant yellow propeller at its center that marks it as being the model that once operated at the Lê Thị Riêng branch of Thỏ Trắng, though its provenance before then is anyone's guess. I'd have liked to have seen it running and ridden it myself, but sadly it was under maintenance today.
30th December 2018
Dragon Park is one of the essential stops on any coaster enthusiast trip to Vietnam, as it is home to the biggest amusement ride in the country – an enormous B&M sit down coaster with six inversions that once operated at at Hard Rock Park. Unfortunately the Dragon's Run was one of the eight closed attractions today, along with the Elephant Falls flume, the Mystic River rapids, the Crazy Crane topple tower, and four children's rides. The lady at the ticket desk had the good grace to look at least a little embarrassed as she crossed off the various attractions from our map.
The sheer number of closures was perhaps explained by the fact that the park charges just 50,000 VND (~€1.88) for pay-one-price admission. Over the years enthusiasts have accused the the Six Flags chain of giving away its gate by selling season passes at rock bottom prices, but this was on another level entirely; though Vietnamese salaries are low by western standards this price point is completely ridiculous for a major amusement park. We'd have gladly spent additional money on a meal, but this wasn't possible; the restaurant at the front of the park was open but only serving drinks, and the other three options were unavailable. The shutters were down on the Pirate's Favourite and Pizza Temple, and the Solis Waterfall turned out to be an empty shell, which says something in a park that has been open for almost two years.
We'd allocated four hours for the park in our schedule for the day, but that proved to be more than twice what we actually needed as the only attractions of interest that were actually open were the two smaller coasters. Little Dragon's Flight (#2567) was a standard layout 395m Suspended Coaster that lacked the thrill factor of the larger version we enjoyed at Vinpearl Land Nam Hội An; we decided that it wasn't worth waiting another thirty minutes for a second lap. Mine Train Coaster (#2568) was a standard layout 335m Junior Coaster that we fortunately only had to wait one cycle for; the ride was fine, though misnamed as the theming had nothing whatsoever to do with a mine. With those done we spent an pleasant half hour taking photographs before heading for the exit.
30th December 2018
Our abbreviated visit to Dragon Park put us well ahead of schedule for our visit to Mystic Mountain, which was just as well. We knew that our journey on the world's tallest cable car would take around ten minutes, but we'd somehow missed the fact that the system is not a continuous loop; instead, it has just two cars that run in opposite directions four times an hour. Each has a nominal capacity of 230 passengers, though today they were being dispatched with a lot of empty space. Worse yet, the queuing system allows large groups to go through en masse while individual ticket holders have to have their fingerprints scanned, and those lines get held up when the scanning doesn't work properly. We queued for forty-five minutes before were able to board, and it was nearly an hour; we were the last people to get through before a cut off. (Readers who would prefer to get to the park by road will find that it isn't currently possible; as of this writing it's cable car or nothing.)
The main draw for enthusiasts is Samurai Slide, a pair of Wiegand alpine coasters located side by side. We decided to start with track two on the right hand side, only to find that it was in the process of being closed. Bruno managed to get us into the queue anyway by pulling out the foreign tourist card, and a few minutes later we got what we figured to be the final rides of the day. The experience was fine if undistinguished; the car had automatic braking, but I didn't notice it kicking in until the end of the track. It was interesting to ride in the dark with the only illumination coming from yellow lights set next to the rails; at the risk of a being a little philosophical I found a great sense of peace during the descent.
Given that one side had now been closed we decided that it would be a mistake not to immediately join the queue for track one on the left hand side. The staff were only allowing one sled to descend at a time, and as a result it was a full hour and fifteen minutes later (ugh) when we finally reached the front of the line. The wait was not enjoyable as we were inadequately dressed for the cold, though on the plus side it was rewarded by a descent that was considerably better than the other track had been; the initial drop gave a good view of the city below, and a steep helix provided a superb sensation of speed. Were I going back again I'd probably skip track two in favour of a repeat on track one; those who are not bothered about completeness may want to do the same.
Kim Dong Flower Garden
30th December 2018
The driver for the Hai Phong leg of our trip was an artistic type, who insisted on driving at 75km/h on an empty 120km/h freeway "for safety reasons". He also spent five minutes texting a friend before departing from Mystic Mountain, and stopped to refuel the car on the way. Why he didn't do both during the five hours or so that we were in parks is anyone's guess. We were fully expecting to miss out on Kim Dong Flower Garden due to his shenanigans, but fortunately we got there with around thirty minutes to spare.
At first glance Speed Cars (#2569) looked similar to the various Sấu Con coasters on our trip, but closer inspection revealed it to be somewhat different. It had the same basic layout, consisting of a descending helix and an airtime hill, but the helix was far wider than that seen on the common design, and the train could only fit one adult per car. Today the operators were running their ride with German fair efficiency; we climbed the stairs and had barely taken our seats when the train began to move. The back seats were closed off today, and thus I got to experience cars one and three; in both cases there was a slight side to side shuffle during the descent, but nothing unmanageable, and the forces at the base were enjoyable.