NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
Xin chào and good morning from Vietnam. Welcome to a country full of scooters, conical hats, spring rolls and steaming bowls of noodle soup. Five years ago, it seemed unlikely that I’d ever travel to this Southeast Asian land. To me, it looked like a country of war and rice fields, but definitely not a trending holiday destination. However, Vietnam has made huge progress when it comes to tourism over the past decade. In recent years, loads of new hotels, sights and theme parks have been added. And of course, I’d like to see those theme parks with my own eyes.
The Sun Group is one of the largest entertainment companies in Vietnam. They’re actually doing what Wanda and Fantawild do in China: Sun Group is opening theme parks and resorts in the most diverse places. In Da Nang (a modern city in Central Vietnam) the group has two branches. These are Sun World Ba Na Hills and Sun World Danang Wonders, resorts that opened in 2009 and 2015 respectively. Of course we plan a visit to both parks, but we’ll start with Ba Na Hills on Friday January 31st. A taxi takes us to the foot of the mountains in about 40 minutes. A 12-kilometre long driveway with perfectly maintained greenery suggests that Sun World Ba Na Hills isn’t just an amusement park. I’m excited already.
Getting to Sun World Ba Na Hills is an attraction in itself. A shuttle bus picks us up at the parking lot and then a 20-minute cable car ride is necessary to reach the actual park. The cable car leaves from a huge complex with shops and restaurants. It feels like a Vegas-style mall that was themed to Hoi An, a picturesque Vietnamese town. It all looks fantastic, but it comes with a hefty price tag. A ticket for Sun World Ba Na Hills costs 750,000 VND, approximately 30 euros. That’s low by European or American standards, but that’s quite an astronomical amount in Vietnam.
Cable cars are impressive machines. I have no experience with cable cars in ski resorts, but I found the versions in Singapore and Hong Kong quite amazing. The Ba Na Hills Cable Car isn’t any less majestic. The gondolas are modern and the total height difference is immense. Unfortunately, weather isn’t great this morning. At the time we approach the final station, we end up in dense fog. Our first look at the Golden Bridge – the ultimate eye-catcher of the park – is therefore rather underwhelming. We hope that visibility will get better, so we postpone our visit to Golden Bridge to the afternoon. A second (shorter) cable car transports us to another part of the park.
Sun World Ba Na Hills isn’t an amusement park as we know it. It should rather be described as some kind of Instagram park. The entire resort is filled with photogenic locations. One of those locations is the French Village in Gothic style. It’s a bit fake and it lacks real rides, but local tourists seem to enjoy this simulated version of France a lot. The park also features a hill with Asian temples and these look considerably more authentic to me. But then again: you shouldn’t look for roller coasters or merry-go-rounds here.
Although the French Village and the temple mountain don’t feature any roller coasters, Coaster-Count mentions a total of 4 coaster credits at Sun World Ba Na Hills. Unfortunately, the coaster god (should I call him Coaster Buddha?) isn’t exactly in a good mood today. The park has four Alpine Coasters and none of them are operating. Two of them are currently under annual maintenance, the other two remain closed due to fog. I have to admit that an Alpine Coaster isn’t my favourite attraction type, but I really hoped to get some new credits at this park. So look what you’ve done, Coaster Buddha… no Vietnamese roller coasters for Glenn today.
Those Alpine Coasters are outdoors, but most other rides can be found in an indoor area called Fantasy Park. The eye-catcher is a free fall tower that cuts through the 3-storey building, but the most popular ride is a bumper car. I don’t know what Vietnamese people find so cool about bumper cars (after all, the experience doesn’t differ much from usual traffic in this country) but this ride’s queue is huge.
As a dark ride lover, my eye is caught by an attraction called Back to Jurassic. I expect some kind of dark ride through primeval scenes, but unfortunately it turns out to be just a walk-through. Although the doom buggies are missing and lighting is rather unsubtle, Back to Jurassic isn’t bad at all. The highlight of Fantasy Park, however, is Adventure to the Center of the Earth on the lower floor. The name reminds me of a world-class ride at Tokyo DisneySea, but obviously this Vietnamese version isn’t on the same level. The ride vehicles look like they belong on a fairground and the station is very simple. Besides, theming isn’t consistent: this attraction combines zombies, the wild west, carnivorous plants and laser guns into one chaotic story line. But still, I should conclude that Adventure to the Center of the Earth becomes my favorite Vietnamese dark ride. Because well… it’s the only Vietnamese dark ride I get to experience.
The Vietnamese amusement park business is still in its early years and that’s noticeable here at Sun World. Decoration is okay, but the park definitely lacks some blockbuster rides. Fantasy Park, for example, is mostly filled with 4D, 5D and 360° movies. These attractions may be interesting for families, but I don’t feel the need to visit them. However, Golden Bridge can’t be missed during a visit to this park. This isn’t a roller coaster, a water ride or a dark ride, but it is undoubtedly the park’s main attraction. In fact, most of the guests are here solely for the Golden Bridge. Every tourist in Da Nang wants a selfie with this pedestrian bridge that seems to be carried by giant hands. Ideally, you should take this selfie with a clear blue sky in the background. But even with today’s grey skies, it’s pretty busy on the iconic bridge.
‘Did you go to the Golden Bridge?’ is one of the most frequently asked questions among foreign tourists in Vietnam. But despite the fact that this has become a world-famous landmark within record time (the Golden Bridge only opened in June 2018), many tourists still seem confused when it comes to this sight. They often think that you can just pop in here during a trip to Da Nang, but that’s not true. First of all, Sun World Ba Na Hills is quite far from the city centre, making a visit to the Golden Bridge a time-consuming activity. Secondly, the bridge is in the middle of the theme park. Even if you just want to take that one selfie, you’re required to pay the full admission price.
Should you visit Sun World, just because of Golden Bridge? It really depends on your expectations and on the amount of time you have to spend in Da Nang. Thirty euros isn’t cheap and you’ll never have the bridge to yourself (understatement of the year), but it sure is an impressive sight. If you’re lucky with the crowds, you’ll certainly be able to make some nice photos here. Those crowds vary per minute: sometimes we can have a quiet stroll, but 20 busloads of tourist may arrive just a moment later. By the way: on the other side of the bridge are some large flower gardens. Asians seem to get crazy over these sunflowers and tulips, but for a European it’s everything but extraordinary.
If you were hoping to read about incredible B&M Mega Coasters, dazzling thrill machines or Disney-esque dark rides in this report, I’m sure you’re disappointed. Please don’t put the blame on me, because that’s simply not what Ba Na Hills stands for. I had also hoped for more rides, but Sun World focuses on other things. That strategy seems to work, though. This is a very popular place and it gets busy, even on weekdays. A significant percentage of those crowds are mostly here for the Golden Bridge, but admit it… A theme park is doing a great job when it’s able to attract tens of thousands of tourists thanks to an overcrowded bridge. So I admire Sun World Ba Na Hills, but I’d gladly skip it during a next trip to Da Nang. On the one hand, the amusement park area is too small and there aren’t any exceptional rides. On the other hand, the French village is quite beautiful, but there’s not much to do. Sun World Ba Na Hills is a bizarre place, but still it may deliver a great new profile photo.
The bad news: Sun World Ba Na Hills doesn’t impress me much. The good news: some other Vietnamese theme parks do. I’m travelling through this country for the next 12 days and during that period I’ll discover many beautiful places. And fortunately, Coaster Buddha will be on my side during the other theme park visits. To be continued in Da Nang, Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay. See you soon!