Travel Note

10th November 2019

I arrived into Singapore on Saturday afternoon following my usual seventeen hour slog through Dubai. I'd hoped to get some sleep on the overnight flight, but it wasn't to be; steady low level turbulence caused something in the depths of my seat to rattle, and the regulation earplugs had virtually no impact on the noise. Worse yet, an incipient head cold that had been bothering me for a few days took a distinct turn for the worse in transit, leaving me with a throat like sandpaper and a continuously running nose. There was nothing to be done other than drug up and attempt some sleep. I generally prefer not to go to bed until after nightfall in whatever time zone I happen to be in, but that would have required more will power than I had available to me; as it was I turned the light off just after 6:00pm.

I got around three hours of sleep on my first attempt, followed after an interval by three more, but that was apparently the limit; from 1:00am onwards I was staring at the ceiling and sneezing explosively every few minutes. I thought very seriously about aborting my planned day trip to Ipoh, but the bookings I had were non-refundable and on reflection it seemed better to feel miserable in a theme park than in a hotel room. At 4:45am I got up, took a quick shower, and caught a cab to Changi Airport. I was probably the only person in the entire place (if not in south-east Asia) wearing a coat.

My flight was my second experience with Scoot, a low fare airline that confiscated my bottle of water at the gate in Tokyo Narita a few years ago because outside food and drink was not allowed on board. There were no searches today, though I was quite miffed to discover that the airline precludes the use of headphones of any kind during taxi, take-off, and landing – effectively forbidding me from listening to my audiobook for virtually all of the short flight. I asked a member of cabin crew about the reason for this policy given that in-ear headphones are allowed at all times on many (if not all) European airlines, and was told that it was for safety reasons. Why things are deemed safe in one part of the world and not others is anyone's guess.

No western car hire brands operate in Ipoh, but I was able to arrange a one day rental from a local operator using Argus. I'd expected the paperwork to take some time given the lack of a preferred agreement, but things were remarakably efficient, taking less than five minutes including a quick damage check on the local equivalent of a Fiat Uno. This may have been in part because the car was almost entirely worthless; it had six figures on the odometer, and any suspension that it may have come with had long since worn out. That said, it was more than adequate for the short distances involved. Refuelling on the way back to the airport cost me RM11 (~€2.41). Those retracing my steps should ensure that they have local cash to pay the RM2 (~€0.43) charge to enter the airport car park; this charge is not waived for rental vehicles.

As things turned out I had over an hour to burn before my first park, which I used to visit the Ling Sen Tong and Nam Tian Tong cave temples adjacent to the airport. A third temple nearby was also open, but I decided to pass on it in order to get to the Lost World of Tambun in time for opening.

 

Lost World of Tambun

10th November 2019

The Lost World of Tambun is the centerpiece of a tourist complex operated by Sunway Berhad, a Malaysian conglomerate that also operates Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur. The web page rather generously describes it as ten theme parks in one, which is marketing taken to breaking point; a more honest description would be a theme park and zoo with ten distinct areas. The main draw for the majority of visitors is a water park that features a wave pool, a lazy river, and a collection of slides; virtually all of the guests today were concentrated in that area.

Lost World of Tambun

My visit started off on a distinctly sour note with the discovery that foreigners pay roughly twenty percent more than locals for gate admission. While the amount involved was not large it set the stage for what turned into a bit of a Six Flags day. Nowhere was this more evident than at the food and beverage counters, which did not open with the park despite the fact that many had staff present. I tried to buy a bottle of water from three different locations, but was unable to do so. One cashier told me to come back after 11:00am while standing within three feet of a fridge full of beverages; a somewhat irriated enquiry as to why he couldn't just take my money was met with a blank stare. This asinine policy might have been easier to forgive if there had been water fountains available, but I didn't see any – a major failing in a park located in an equatorial climate.

Given the temperatures I thought it might be good to start my visit in the air conditioned comfort of the Haunted Chambers walkthrough, a RM20 (~€4.39) upcharge, but this turned out to be impossible as it was not due to open until noon. Instead I made my way to Lupe's Adventure, a Zamperla powered coaster with a train themed to resemble a white tiger. I knew almost nothing about this ride ahead of time, which is probably because there's almost nothing to say; the layout is unimaginative, consisting of two helices connected by long angled straights that are just crying out for airtime hills. The one moment of interest is a tunnel with a waterfall, though even this is understated as the top speed achieved in this area is well below what the hardware ought to be capable of. The train did pick up some speed, putting it well ahead of the embarrassment at GrinPa, but it wasn't fast enough to be thrilling; at the risk of being a little grumpy I've had better rides on off-the-shelf powered dragons. I did the obligatory pair of laps in front and back, and that was ample.

I spent some time exploring the remainder of the park, taking in the truly spectacular landscaping and a few of the animal exhibits. Unfortunately it was quickly apparent that there really wasn't a whole lot else for me to do since I'd already decided against the water park. After brief contemplation I decided to cut my planned two hour stay to just forty minutes, figuring that I could use the reclaimed time more profitably elsewhere.

 

Movie Animation Park Studios

10th November 2019

At the start of 2014 a number of media outlets carried the announcement of Movie Animation Park Studios, a twenty-one hectare theme park planned for the northern suburbs of Ipoh. The project, a joint venture between state-owned Perak Corporation Berhad and the Sanderson Group, was divided into six distinct areas: Animation Square, Fantasy Forest, Lakeside Zone, Live Action, Space Zone, and the highlight, a DreamWorks Zone featuring characters from animated movies such as Mr. Peabody and Sherman, The Croods, Megamind, and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Development was due to be completed within eighteen months, and the finished park was expected to attract 1.4 million visitors in its first year. Unfortunately things didn't quite go to plan.

MAPS

By early 2015 it was obvious that the development timeline was optimistic, resulting in a three month delay into the first quarter of 2016. The opening was pushed to July, then October, then December, and then finally to Q2 2017. The gates opened with just four days to spare, though the park was far from finished and the DreamWorks Zone was off limits due to a intellectual property dispute. After more than a year of back and forth management decided to terminate the license and rebrand the area, but the damage had been done; the original RM390 million (~€85.6m) construction budget had ballooned to RM607 million (~€133.2m), with the state picking up almost the entire overrun.

In March 2018, park management acquired what should have been their star attraction: an Intamin ten inversion coaster that cost just RM20m (~€4.39m). The ride in question was originally purchased by Hopi Hari, but its installation there was cancelled in the aftermath of a serious accident. It was shipped to Ipoh, but after a year in situ it was sold on at a significant loss. Though the reason for the sale has never been published it seems likely that it was taken to provide some working capital for a park that at one point was apparently attracting just two hundred visitors per day. It's worth noting that the reported price of RM11.48m (~€2.52m) is a very different figure to the STG £25m (~€29.2m) that Flamingo Land claims to have paid for their new star attraction; one suspects that that their marketing people may have moved the decimal point for dramatic effect.

In March 2019, the original flat rate admission was dropped in favour of free entry and individual ride pricing. Huge signs at the entrance advertise this fact, and I walked past them figuring that I'd build up a target list before handing over any money. This turned out to be a tactical error; while it was possible to top up an existing ride card inside I had to go back to the front in order to purchase a new one. The brisk ten minute walk was a very long way indeed in thirty degree heat; readers retracing my steps are advised to take the RM5 (~€1.09) hit on the way in as all unused credit can be refunded in full. (As a side note, the "cards" are actually QR codes on paper provided in plastic sleeves, which staff appear to scan using mobile phones; presumably this was done for cost reasons.)

I'd hoped to start my visit with Zugo's Crystal Quest, a standard model two loop figure eight spinning coaster from SBF Rides, but it was immediately obvious that that wasn't going to happen. A sign at the entrance said that the ride was under maintenance, and another on the front car said "Do Not Use". When I looked more closely I spotted a layer of dust on the track and one missing drive motor, suggesting that the ride hasn't operated in months. A nearby SBF family tower ride named Whirling Wizard was also out of service; I found myself wondering whether both machines might be awaiting spare parts that the park cannot afford to pay for.

Zugo's Crystal Quest

Instead my first attraction was the imaginatively named Dark Ride, a top notch target shooter manufactured by Sally Corporation. The experience was originally envisaged as Casper's Birthday Blast, perhaps explaining the slightly abstruse theme of a haunted house during a birthday celebration. The first room had a soundtrack of the famous song being played at slow speed in a minor key, which set things up rather nicely. The targets were large green blobs of slime, witih each successful hit being recognised by a satisfying splat. The final room featured bright lights, hundreds of gift-wrapped presents, and a much more upbeat rendition of the song acknowledging the fact that a suitably large quantity of slime had been expunged.

While it was good to find the ride open it would be remiss of me not to record the fact that it was clearly not being maintained properly. A sizeable number of targets failed to register when hit, and some were not illuminated at all. One room had no soundtrack, with the only noise coming from the whirring of the drive motors. LG-branded television displays at the exit, presumably intended to show scoring information, instead displayed a rotating manufacturer logo subtitled with the words "no signal". I've no idea how many cars were on the track, but it was telling that I had to wait ten minutes to board in an almost completely empty park.

There were many other signs of budget constraints during my visit. The Starship, a restaurant in the shape of an airship, had streaks of dirt running down its exterior that suggested it hadn't been washed in the recent past. There were a number of attractions closed for the day beyond those mentioned above, including the Coral Kingdom, Evolution, Space Xplorers, the Stunt Legends Arena, and Under the Sea. Even some of the shops were closed, and a look through the doors of one indicated that it had been stripped bare. The park reportedly has debts of RM500m (~€109.7m), and given that it will be interesting to see if it manages to survive in the longer term.

On a happier note, the park's star attraction was fully operational, and as far as I could see all effects were working. BoBoiBoy Cattus Coaster (#2843) is an enclosed family coaster that can be thought of as a hybrid of a Flitzer and a Wild Mouse; individual four seat cars with faux stone trim follow a route that features three long straights followed by a series of angled descents and climbs. None of the drops are particularly steep, but they are fast enough to be good fun. The theming inside the ride area is based on a popular local television series, and it is top notch, comprising a mixture of animatronics, screens, and sound effects. The experience would be worth a ten out of ten were it not for a pair of trim brakes, the second of which (at the bottom of a drop) throws riders into their lap bars. The comfort level is fine otherwise, though; I enjoyed three laps at RM15 (~€3.26) a go.

BoBoiBoy

My other hit was The Sacred Riana, a walkthrough haunted house with actors. This was a mixed bag; there were a number of really good scenes inside, but there were others that were haphazard at best. A broken rotating barrel and two rooms with all the ceiling lights on added nothing to the overall experience. One of the actors on duty today looked decidedly bored, to the point that I was half expecting her to pull out a mobile phone and log on to social media.

With plenty of spare time before my flight I decided to explore around the edge of the park, and in so doing found a previously undocumented double helix powered coaster in the late stages of construction. The train had a dragon figurehead and boxy rectangular cars that reminded me very much of the ride at Navoiy Park, though the power rail was somewhat different and there was no visible manufacturer plate. The track had a layer of rust and cracking paint, indicating that it was a few years old at least; my guess is that it was/is a travelling machine brought in to bolster the ride offering for the end of year school holidays.