Our final day in Vietnam began with what should have been a two hour drive to Hanoi that turned into three only because our driver deliberately routed off the motorway to avoid toll gates. This was not on, especially as we'd paid ahead of time for these costs, and we called him out on it. He ceased this behaviour, but was clearly upset at being caught and his bad mood persisted for the remainder of our time with him. When we arrived at Unified Park he suggested that we should meet him on the far side of the 500,000 square metre facility, apparently oblivious to the fact that there were a large number of different exits that we might try to find him at, and grumbled vociferously when we said no.
The park is an oasis of calm in the middle of a bustling city, and a token admission fee ensures that it stays that way. Almost half the space is taken up by a lake, which is circumnavigated by a path measuring a little over two kilometres in length. The north-eastern corner of the site features a collection of dilapidated amusement rides for children that look more than a little sketchy, including a carousel, a swing ride, two toy sets, and a powered coaster. We arrived in front of the High Speed Dragon at 10:45am, just as an operator turned up on a regulation motorbike, and soon after we were treated to three laps of the wide oval course. The name Low Speed Dragon (or perhaps Arthritic Dragon) would have been more appropriate for the experience as it was today, but we enjoyed it nevertheless.
HoTay Theme Park
31st December 2018
Our increasingly agitated driver got stopped by traffic police on the way to HoTay Theme Park for turning on to a road reserved for buses, and was forced to pay an on the spot fine/bribe in place of a mandatory court appearance. Under ordinary circumstances I'd have felt some sympathy for him, but it was hard not to feel a little schadenfreude in light of what had happened on the way to Unified Park. Even without the impromptu stop the eight kilometre journey between parks would have taken almost an hour to complete due to crazy traffic conditions; those considering their own trip to Vietnam should plan accordingly.
The park is very small, with a total land bank of around 20,000 square metres. Roughly one third of the area is devoted to the world's last surviving Meisho Corkscrew, acquired from the defunct Daisenji Yuen in Japan. The remaining space contains an enormous Ferris wheel and a motley collection of flat rides, most if not all of which were built locally. Flat rate admission costs 95,000 VND (~€3.57), and though this price is low it is evidently sustainable, as is evidenced by the fact that the business has operated for almost twenty years. It's also worth pointing out that the hardware would not have cost anything like what was spent to build Dragon Park; one presumes that it has long since been paid off.
Hanoi Steel Dragon (#2570) uses a hybrid lift design comprising two traditional chains that are pulled to the top by steel cables. The train engages this mechanism with the loudest bang that I've ever heard from a coaster in ordinary operation, and it did not feel even remotely good from the front car. There was a slightly less dramatic bang as we reached the apex, followed by a shudder throughout the structure as the train came to an unceremonious halt. Moments later, I saw the chain mechanism reverse direction and roll back to the station. The inevitable conversation about whether or not we'd gotten far enough to claim the credit (yes, I know...) provided almost ten seconds of entertainment before we began to wonder whether we would be evacuated or not. It didn't take long before we got our answer; several members of staff cheerfully unlocked our restraints and helped us climb onto the catwalk for the descent back down to ground level. There were no safety harnesses of any kind, and as we were unencumbered we took the opportunity to take a range of photographs.
The ride was returned to service remarkably quickly, a definite indication that the staff had seen this situation before and had their playbook ready to go. Once all guests were back at ground level an engineer went up the lift and did something with tools. The chain was sent up, where it caught and successfully pulled the train over the apex. A test train was sent to confirm that the problem was resolved, and when it completed the course successfully we were invited to retake our seats. I'd estimate the downtime lasted less than half an hour from start to end; I can't imagine many parks would be able to handle this type of incident so quickly.
There was a definite moment of relief as we crested the apex that quickly gave way to mild apprehension about what we were about to experience. Fortunately we need not have worried; the comfort level was absolutely fine, with the only very mild irritation being overhanging leaves which I was able to brush out of the way using my arms. There wasn't a lot of leg room, but I managed to shoehorn my 6'2" frame in place by sitting very slightly sideways. The back seat was also pretty good; there was some mild shuddering, but nothing unmanageable, and in that location the lift hill engagement was far less obnoxious.
In full nerd mode I can now claim to have ridden twenty-eight of the thirty remaining Meisho coasters, and I've stood in front of the other two. Perhaps some day I'll get back to the ones that I missed at Rusutsu Resort and Taesongsan Funfair.
Blue Pearl Island Park
31st December 2018
Blue Pearl Island Park was a late addition to our trip, added just one week before travel when Bruno's research revealed the presence of a two hundred metre long family coaster. The ride in question looked rather interesting, but sadly it was out of commission today due to non-existent rain. We made a brave attempt to find out more, but the language barrier proved insurmountable. On the positive side, we found signage indicating that the park plans to add a second coaster during 2019, making it an obvious stop for our next trip to the area. We rode the Ferris wheel for photographs and spent some time exploring before deciding that the time had come to head for the airport.
31st December 2018
It was in hindsight a serious tactical error to let our driver know that we were not in any particular hurry to get to the airport. The troglodyte decided that he would bring us along back roads in an attempt to cut thirty kilometres off the total distance, and his route was not so much stupid as actively dangerous as it took us along a narrow gravel track with no safety barrier on the edge of a river. This would have been bad enough in daylight, but as night began to fall it bordered on the suicidal. We were not intending to tip generously, but decided after this charade that we'd be better off putting our spare local currency in a charity bin, which indeed we did.