Asian Adventure Part 1: SuốI Tiên & Đầm Sen

Discussion in 'Your Trip Reports and Plans' started by BenC, 31st Dec 2014.

  1. BenC

    BenC TowersStreet Member

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    Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be travelling around Asia for a couple of months (a mini gap-yah, if you like), and took some small detours from the standard tourist path to visit some Parks. This is the first part in a series of posts about my Asian Adventure, covering the following:
    • SuốI Tiên, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    • Đầm Sen, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    • Siam Park City, Bangkok, Thailand
    • Dream World, Bangkok, Thailand
    Hopefully the series will highlight some slightly different - and definitely non-Merlin! - Theme Parks that are on offer just 6,000 miles away. On with the tour!

    Park 1: SuốI Tiên

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    SuốI Tiên is located just outside of Ho Chi Minh City; a 45 minute taxi ride despite being only 16 miles from the centre of town. It's the biggest Theme Park near Ho Chi Minh City and city planners are clearly invested in the Park, given that Ho Chi Minh's first metro line is having a station built right outside the entrance of the Park (a $2.8BN project, estimated completion 2017). Despite this, and having been open since 1995, my taxi driver had no idea where it was I wanted to go... so thank goodness for Google Maps and Smartphones.

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    SuốI Tiên is one of the most unusual Theme Parks you are likely to visit: it is a Buddhist-themed Park where the attractions and landscaping illustrate Vietnam's history and legends. So as well as Buddhist-themed rollercoasters and dark rides, there are also plenty of Buddhist temples and statues located within the Park walls. And as you'll see in the photos below, the attention to detail in the themeing is second to none. Just take a look at the entrance...

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    Entry is 50,000 Dong (£1.47) and then each attraction is at an extra cost, from 5,000 Dong (15p) to 60,000 Dong (£1.75). For 2014 the Park trialled a one-price admission for entry + all attractions at 350,000 Dong (£10.26) - quite reasonable really, but I went for the pay-per-ride option nonetheless.

    Before we go any further, it's worth saying at this point that the Park was absolutely dead. I counted maybe 50 guests inside it throughout my whole day, and the Park is not that small - roughly half the size of Alton Towers' sprawling grounds. There were at least 5 times as many staff visible as there were guests in the Park - so either this was an "off" day and the Park recoups the cost from much busier days, or the Park is otherwise propped up by the state... anyway, the Park felt even more deserted than my visit to Lightwater Valley on a rainy April Sunday in 2012, and that's saying something.

    Onwards with the tour: once through the entrance gates, the elaborate themeing continues. Move over Mickey and Pluto: this Park's mascots are the dragon, unicorn, tortoise and phoenix:

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    It's a very pretty Park, with nods to Buddhist culture at every turn. Alas I never once saw this Ferris Wheel (CốI Xoay Của Thần Gió / Rotating Wind Spirit) move during the day - highly likely due to the lack of riders...

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    This elaborate entrance leads not to any attraction, but rather a large Buddhist shrine (Long Hoa Thiên Bảo).

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    And here's the temple itself, Long Hoa Thiên Bảo.

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    This dragon looks like it could be the centrepiece to a flat ride or similar, but is actually just another elaborate themeing setpiece for the Park (Tứ Linh HộI Tụ / 4 Sacred Animals) that guests can walk around.

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    SuốI Tiên also contains a saltwater waterpark (Biển Tiên Đồng / Fairy At Sea), which includes slides and a kids area. As you can see, it wasn't open...

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    OK, enough with Park overview - onto the Trip Report. I started the day by doing the Vương Quốc Cá Sấu / Crocodile United Nations, which was unashamedly a lake filled with crocodiles with a walkway positioned slightly above it. Completely safe.

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    The Park advertise this as the "territory of the swamp lord", with over 100 crocs in the water. Mostly they were escaping the 30°C heat by chilling out on the sides or submerging themselves underwater.

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    And as it was a Vietnamese Park, for 20,000 Dong (59p) you could dangle a piece of chicken over at the crocodiles to feed/bait them as desired. I didn't do this, but did watch the only 2 other Western tourists in the Park have a go. Needless to say the crocodiles got a little fiesty.

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    Having escaped the territory of the swamp lord, I decided it was time to give the Park's signature thrill ride a go - Tàu Lượn Siêu Tốc / High Speed Roller Coaster. This was a large sit-down coaster with a non-inverting track that shuttled around the Park's main lake. I'd only seen a train complete the circuit once in my time at the Park so far, and now understood why - the ride required at least 4 people to operate. I have no idea whether this was a commercial or safety-based decision by the Park, but it meant that I needed to find 3 others willing to get on with me in order to get the train dispatched.

    Alas, I couldn't find anyone. Honestly. I even offered to pay the ride operator (in my best Vietnamese) for 4 tickets (60,000 Dong / £1.76 each) myself, but she insisted that I needed 3 others. Thankfully at this point the 2 guys from the Crocodile United Nations were walking past the ride, and after a quick negotiation agreed to join me. We later found a fourth rider near the Dolphin Show / Cá Heo và Sư Tử Biển (which never put on a performance due to - you guessed it - a lack of audience) and we were set for a spin on Vietnam's longest rollercoaster.

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    The trains for the ride were a little odd - the seats looked like they'd been taken from a second hand car, and the restraints included both an over-shoulder seatbelt and a silver OTSR. Only after the train had left the station and was ascending up the lift hill did I check the OTSR to find that it didn't lock - I could both fully lift the silver harness up and unbuckle the seatbelt. Excellent.

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    The lift hill itself took a good 2 minutes to climb, thanks to the tyre-powered mechanism trying its best to get the train to the top. It was clear that the tyres were so worn that the train wasn't being gripped tightly enough to pull it up quickly, resulting in a lot of slippage and a very slow ascent!

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    The ride itself was good fun, although I spent most of it hugging my OTSR with both arms hoping that I wouldn't fall out. It was a relatively smooth affair though, and even included a fun shuttle through an artificial mountain.

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    Having disembarked, I saw that the Park were making some pretty bold claims in their advertising for the ride - a 200kmph top speed! I'm no expert, but I highly doubt if it topped 80kmph to be honest...

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  2. BenC

    BenC TowersStreet Member

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    Onto coaster #2 - Bí Mật Rừng Phù Thủy / Secret of Sorcerer Forest. There are few hints that this building houses a coaster - it was only because I asked around that I came to find it. The beginning part of the attraction is a short walkthrough, which was actually quite unnerving as a solo traveller in a deserted Theme Park. To the right of the entrance below is a long pitch-black pathway, themed around a forest. Hidden sensors trigger various noisy animatronics, which light up out of nowhere. Further on in the walkthrough is a surprising shuddering floor effect, which in the darkness made me scream involuntarily. And once you get to the station of the ride itself, you see that after all of this buildup, it's actually just a basic powered Dragon ride. Talk about anti-climax!

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    The ride itself was - as the rest of the Park - themed very impressively with trees, foliage and sorcerers, which more than made up for the fact that the track layout was a standard oval.

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    Other attractions around the Park included this large aircraft-hangar filled with kiddie rides.

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    And larger thrill rides are hidden next to the Rotating Wind Spirit Ferris Wheel, including a Disk'O which I'm fairly sure isn't a Zamperla original...

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    This facade looks innocent from the outside, but houses Kim Lân Sơn Xuất Thế / Palace of Unicorns, which is a walkthrough attraction depicting the many stages of Buddhist Hell. The two crocodile-baiting Westerners from earlier told me that the attraction is immaculately themed but really quite violent and disturbing inside, using animatronics to portray gory Buddhist punishments for various offences, including drug addiction, gambling, and adultery. Think dismembered body parts and occasional jump-scares. I gave it a miss.

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    And new for 2014 was - wait for it - Lâu ĐàI Phép Thuật Harry Potter / The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Yes, in the middle of Vietnam's authentically Buddhist Theme Park sits possibly the most incongruous new attraction they could have built. I think they just threw away the concept for this one and went for a crowd pleaser...

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    Does Universal know that this exists? Do they care? Probably not. The attraction was hardly a competitor to the real Wizarding World, being just a glorified haunted house walkthrough with Daniel Radcliffe's face stuck on the front. And although the exterior was substantial, the inside was less impressive. I walked through 7 rooms in total, one for each of the books in the Harry Potter series, with standard ghost/witch/goblin statues popping out from all sides. There may have been an actor in there as well grabbing legs and shoulders as I walked past - who knows. Very little connection to the Harry Potter stories overall; the most startling moment came from a noisy dementor (possibly?) that flew overhead on a wire at great speed and nearly clocked me on the head.

    My overall feeling was that it was a shame that SuốI Tiên spent money on this, given how out-of-place it looks compared to the rest of the Park. Last time I checked Harry didn't have a whole lot to do with the Buddhist tradition. It may have yet saved itself if the quality was in line with the rest of the Park, but alas...

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    Remember book 5? It's the Oder of the Pheonix!

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    As you can see, just like the films...

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    That said, it's good to see the Park continuing to invest - especially given that I have no idea where they're getting any money from. And it was clear that there was more to come both this year and next, with more construction happening by the indoor kiddie area. Notice that there is little to no protection of the public from the building work - I could just walk right on through!

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    Also in the pipeline is Đĩa Bay Hành Tinh Lạ / Alien Flying Disk...

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    ...and Phât Địa Mẫu / Buddha Model, another Buddhist themed setpiece.

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    And with that, it was nearing 6pm and the Park was shutting down for the day. I'd had a really unique experience here - nothing like any other Park I'd been to. Exquisitely themed (for the most part), strong religious themes running throughout and with some genuinely different attractions. It was just a shame there wasn't a higher gate figure; at times walking through the Park was a bit like touring an abandoned school - a bit creepy.

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    So how to sum up SuốI Tiên? "Buddhist nirvana"? "Disney on acid"? "Plain strange"?

    SuốI Tiên is - at least in my experience - pretty incomparable as a concept. It's clearly taken a huge pot of cash to develop the Park in such an elaborate and large scale way, and I would encourage anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City to take a trip out to District 9 to have a look around, because it's just so different. You can't help but smile at the colourful bizarreness of the place!
     
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  3. BenC

    BenC TowersStreet Member

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    Park 2: Đầm Sen

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    Đầm Sen is located much more centrally in Ho Chi Minh City vs. SuốI Tiên, and could be reached in only 25 mins via taxi from my hotel next to the Sông SàI Gòn river. And unlike SuốI Tiên, it's much more of an Amusement Park than a Theme Park: there is comparatively little in the way of style and decoration vs. its extensive Buddhist-themed brother.

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    That said, the Park is far from ugly, with lily pads and flower themeing being the order of the day. This is the entrance to the Park - the Towers Street equivalent, if you will:

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    And there's a very good reason for all the flora themeing - Đầm Sen is a circular Park built around a large lake, filled with lily pads, lotus flowers and other plant life. All very pretty - and this view across the lake provides some perspective on scale. Connecting the small pagodas is a walkway across the lake.

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    Đầm Sen operates a pay-one-price entry model, with tickets at 130,000 Dong (£3.79). As with much of Asia, it was all exceedingly cheap for a Western tourist. I came for the afternoon and whilst not quite as low as SuốI Tiên attendance levels, the Park was pretty empty the whole time I was there. How do these places survive financially on such low gate figures, with such low entrance prices...?!

    As you can see, there were very few people around to enjoy the topiaries:

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    And now onto the rides: the biggest of them all being Tàu Lỏn Vông Siẻu Tồc / Roller Coaster. This coaster is tucked away in dense foliage in the top-left hand side of the Park, and is quite a walk from the main entrance - I suspect some visitors don't even find it...!

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    It's certainly a bigger ride than any at SuốI Tiên, and until a larger version was later built at nearby ĐạI Nam with 4 inversions, Tàu Lỏn Vông Siẻu Tồc / Roller Coaster held the record for having the most inversions in Vietnam with 3 - vertical loop, corkscrew, corkscrew. The ĐạI Nam coaster - built 10 years (2008) after the Đầm Sen version (1998) - is near identical, save for a second vertical loop after the first.

    Merlin take note: black / brown / grey / white are not the only colours available when painting a roller coaster! This one had green rails, red tubular spine, blue supports and yellow supporting structure.

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    If you hadn't already guessed, the ride is an Arrow clone - you can see the corkscrew inversions bearing more than a passing resemblance to the classic Arrow corkscrew designs, with yellow "arch" supports holding the inversions in place. The layout is near-identical to the actual Arrow-designed Corskcrew at Cedar Point; the offending manufacturer at Đầm Sen is likely to be Hebei Zhongye Metallurgical Equipment (although RCDB doesn't know), given that HZME built the later version at ĐạI Nam...

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    So how did it ride? Early impressions were not encouraging, with a lengthy wait in the station for the train to completely fill up - the ride operators refused to send the train off without it being completely full. Health and safety or cost saving? I assumed the latter. The waiting time did give me a good 10 minutes to inspect my surroundings though, where I found that the screws holding the back of the seat in front of me in place were so loose and wobbly that they were close to coming out altogether. +1 for maintenance!

    The ride itself wasn't bad at all - quite intense in places (especially the vertical loop) and not so rough as to be unenjoyable; serious bracing helped a fair bit.

    I was sat next to a guy from Cambodia - who can't have been any older than 14 - who told me on the lift hill in broken English that this was his first ever roller coaster and he was very nervous to ride. He came off grinning from ear to ear!

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    Đầm Sen is also home to Tàu Xoay Cao Tồc / Spinning Coaster, which continues in the great tradition of Asian-clones by emulating the classic Maurer Söhne spinner. I am a big fan of the Maurer spinners - the excellent Tarántula at Parque de Atracciones de Madrid is one of my favourites - so was interested to see how this one would ride.

    It was built by the almost-ubiquitous Chinese manufacturer Golden Horse, who appear in most Asian Parks with cheaper clones of classic Vekoma, Zamperla and Maurer rides. Alas for Golden Horse, in recent years the original manufacturers have been fighting back, with trademark infringement lawsuits aplenty.

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    The ride itself is a pretty standard spinner layout - there are currently 77 standard Golden Horse ZXC-24A models in existence, 76 in Asia - with flat hairpin turns in the first half, and more drops and longer curves in the second half.

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    The ride wasn't bad, with a decent amount of spinning and some good drops. However, it all felt a little bit more rattly and unsteady than the Maurer originals, and special mention must be given to the car design: almost identical, save for added seatbelts and the usual Maurer "loop" handle bar having been swapped with a t-bar handle bar, akin to those on a bicycle. When seated in the car, this t-bar sits at about knee-height for your average grown adult, and proved to be very painful indeed...

    If you've ever ridden Dragon's Fury or Spinball, you'll know that the end of the ride features a fairly brutal "kick" from a long horizontal bar just above track-height which steadies the car and straightens it up. Tàu Xoay Cao Tồc / Spinning Coaster does likewise, although if anything in a more brutal fashion and with little warning, which resulted in both of my knees smashing into the t-bar handle in the centre. I still had brusies days later. Top tip for future riders: do try to sit with your legs as far apart as possible - pinning your knees against the side of the car may help. One go was enough!

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    And I've read a few ride restriction boards in my time, but never one that informs guests that "no gamboling... is allowed while riding". Which is a shame, because I was quite keen on starting up a game of blackjack whilst on the hairpin bends.

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    Walk further around the lake and you'll find Trò ChơI Rồng Bay / Flying Dragon - a standard Dragon ride much like the indoor Bí Mật Rừng Phù Thủy / Secret of Sorcerer Forest I encountered in SuốI Tiên. However, approaching the station I couldn't find an operator anywhere nearby; not wholly surprising, given the gate figure.

    After a minute or so of looking around, I found a staff member relaxing a short way from the ride leaning against a tree. She motioned for me to get into the dragon car. Once I was sat down - her still leaning against the nearby tree - she started the ride off using a remote control in her hand! No bar checks or anything, just a press of a button on her remote to set the train in motion. Bizarre.

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    The layout itself was a standard Dragon oval, but the train did pick up some decent speed and I got a few goes around the track - pretty fun in all!

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  4. BenC

    BenC TowersStreet Member

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    Now time for a bit of a tour around the rest of Đầm Sen. I should say at this point that the Amusement Park is only one half of the attraction: the other half is a Water Park, with a separate gate and separate entry fee. If taking a taxi to Đầm Sen, make sure your driver knows to drop you off at the right entrance...!

    Whilst I didn't venture into the Water Park, it did look good fun, complete with Kamikaze drop slides, lazy river and recently-installed Boomerang ring slide. It apparently gets very popular at the weekends!

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    Other notable structures on Park included this large theatre, which could seat ~300 people. No activity here during my visit, though!

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    Đầm Sen also features this colourful (knock-off) Magic Carpet ride - a travelling version permanently installed in the Park...

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    ...as well as the world's least-scary-looking Haunted House: Lâu ĐàI Kinh Dị / Castle of Horror. Save for the gargoyles and iron gates at the front, this looked more like Cindarella's Castle than Haunted Mansion...!

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    There was also a set of marine-themed dodgems: Chính Phục ĐạI Đường / Conquer the Ocean. Alas these were not operational...

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    ...as was the case with the Park's log flume.

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    Onto the last coaster of the day: Vòng Xoáy TuổI Thơ / Childhood Spiral, which was operational! Points go to Đầm Sen for giving the ride a slightly more inspiring name than Roller Coaster or Spinning Coaster.

    Yes, it's a Big Apple, but it's a Big Apple that shuns the typical, erm, apple - for a watermelon! It was actually quite fast and enjoyable, although fairly rough even though it was just a Big Apple. Further points go to Đầm Sen for letting the foliage around the ride grow to such an extent that the bushes hanging over the base of the lift hill attack even the smallest of riders. Great entertainment.

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    Colourful large grasshopper themeing was also a highlight.

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    Perhaps the biggest surprise - and highlight - of the whole trip though was Bằng Băng / All Ice, which was an unexpectedly large ice-sculpture house at the top of the lake. Standing / sweating in the humid 30°C Ho Chi Minh heat, even if the sculptures turned out to be unimpressive, I figured this was a very welcome installation indeed.

    Given that the building had to be kept under sub-zero temperatures, and that most visitors (especially tourists) would not be wearing a great deal, the Park had the sense to provide warm puffer-jacket-style overcoats for guests to put on before entering.

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    The sculptures were very impressive indeed: really quite large, nicely lit, and very detailed. This section included a lighthouse and Titanic-style cruise liner. To give some context on size, I'd say the lighthouse was at least twice the height of me - 12ft+!

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    Other sculptures included the Greek Parthenon, a Roman Centurion, and a Chinese temple.

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    After 10 minutes in Bằng Băng my nose and ears had decided they'd had enough of being in a freezer, so I took the cue to leave and stepped out again into the close evening air. By this time the sun was quickly going down, and the Park showed itself to be very pretty at night, with light installations such as the one below dotted around many of the walkways.

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    Only at Đầm Sen: a purple pathway to love.

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    A quick shout out to the attractive Ferris Wheel sporting a jazzy lighting package...

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    ...and a final parting shot of the lotus flowers I had passed on my way in - this time lit up like a Disney parade float!

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    And with that, I left Đầm Sen and grabbed a taxi to the newly-opened first McDonalds in Vietnam a few km away. Incidentally, McDonalds was absolutely heaving with locals, such that an extensive cattlepen queue had been erected outside the entrance to the restaurant and marshalls were struggling to take orders from the crowds over the noise. It seems as if communist Vietnam is slowly seeing Western (capitalist) brands creep into their culture...!

    As I chomped down on my regional McPork™ burger, I reflected on my time at Đầm Sen: a nice little Park, if a little quiet and under-developed. With some TLC and investment it could really thrive: it has the space to expand and growing affluence in Ho Chi Minh City could provide a customer base with increasing disposable income to tap into. It has been reported recently that some of the rides from the now-defunct Freestyle Music Park in South Carolina, USA, could be heading over to Vietnam: could Đầm Sen be the lucky recipient of the goods...?! That'd do nicely.

    ~

    Thanks for reading - comments welcome! For more, the second half of this (extended!) trip report can be found here.
     
    Last edited: 31st Dec 2014
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  5. Mattmash

    Mattmash TowersStreet Member

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    Really enjoying these trip reports, many thanks for sharing them with us. It's great to see some parks that I know absolutely nothing about, and I'm really quite surprised with the quality in places. Although just lol at the Wizarding World rip off!
     
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  6. BenC

    BenC TowersStreet Member

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    Thanks Mattmash!

    Quality in South East Asia was certainly variable to say the least, but there's certainly a lot there for the Theme Park enthusiast to enjoy :). Some aspects (say, the Bằng Băng ice house at Đầm Sen, or indeed most of the theming at SuốI Tiên) were very impressive indeed!
     
    Posted 1st Jan 2015
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