NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
During the past few weeks, the coronavirus has been in the news almost continuously. Wuhan became a famous place, China was virtually unreachable and face masks became valuable trade goods. If you happen to travel to Asia during such a crazy period – hey, they’re talking about me! – that may cause some doubts. Is it safe? And should I really wear a face mask? The most heard advice I’ve heard over the past three weeks is: perhaps you’d better avoid places with many other people. And although that doesn’t seem easy on vacation, I managed to find such a place on February 1st. This sunny Saturday brought me to… an amusement park!
Wait a second. Visiting an amusement park on a sunny Saturday without crowds… that seems nearly impossible, doesn’t it? Visit any European or American amusement park on a Saturday in Summer and you’ll undoubtedly face big crowds. That rule doesn’t apply to Vietnamese theme parks, though. Today I’m going to VinPearl Land Nam Hoi An, a leisure resort approximately 15 kilometres south of Hoi An. Hoi An is a must-see destination in Vietnam, as it’s literally the most scenic spot I’ve ever seen. Cute facades and hundreds of coloured lanterns make Hoi An look like a place that belongs in a Disney movie.
Hoi An attracts thousands of visitors each and every day. The VinPearl Group, operator of several tourist resorts in Vietnam, thought it was a good idea to build a gigantic leisure complex near this city. The word gigantic isn’t exaggerated, by the way: VinPearl Land consists of a golf course, a villa resort with private beaches, an amusement park, a safari park, a water park, a retail zone and an area dedicated to local culture. Except for the golf course and the villas, you’re able to visit all those things with one single ticket. That ticket costs 550,000 VND, just under 22 euros. This is not expensive by European standards and VinPearl Land even arranges free shuttle buses to and from Hoi An. Not bad, right?
It’s about 1 PM when I reach VinPearl Land. The park looks like an oasis in a huge no man’s land. Grass is green and the entrance looks very modern. That entrance is located between huge boat-like structures. The visual entertainment continues beyond the entrance gate: the park’s main square is large and offers great views of the main street. That main street is called Harbor Corner and it’s a combination of European facades (to the right) and Vietnamese facades (to the left), separated by a beautiful canal. Harbor Corner is practically empty today and that’s not ideal for the overall atmosphere, but I thoroughly enjoy the views. Perfect first impression.
I grab a quick bite at Lotteria (fast food chain of the conglomerate Lotte, the company that’s also responsible for Lotte World in South Korea) and I then decide to explore this colossal park step by step. First, I end up in an area called Water World. Despite a wonderful temperature of 27°C, just a few people found their way to this water park. I’m not a water lover and I prefer to stay on land, but I may conclude that Water World looks great. There are lots of slides and the Tiki theme is simple, yet effective. This is not a deeply themed experience like Typhoon Lagoon or Rulantica, but I don’t think local tourists really need that.
The next part of the VinPearl Resort is the River Safari. This section is advertised as the main reason to visit the park, but zoos usually aren’t my thing. Honestly, I often find those experiences rather passive. However, modern zoos are increasingly making attempts to create a more attractive/interactive experience. Kolmården, for example, has that amazing cable car and Kilimanjaro Safaris remains one of the must-dos at Walt Disney World. VinPearl Land Nam Hoi An doesn’t use cable cars or all-terrain vehicles. Here, you encounter all those animals while seated in an expedition boat. Imagine an enlarged version of Jungle Cruise without corny jokes, but with real-life animals.
VinPearl Land attracts a predominantly Vietnamese crowd, but the park doesn’t forget its international visitors. I’m even assigned a private boat with an English speaking guide, together with a young Korean couple. Nice touch and it’s quite unusual to experience this ride with only two other guests. The trip is surprisingly long: we are on board for approximately 35 minutes. This is partly due to the fact that there are two stops along the way. The first time, you’re able to take selfies with a group of giraffes, the second time you may hand some snacks to the elephants. These kinds of experiences make the ride considerably more unique. River Safari truly is a hidden gem, if you ask me.
The House of Parrots near River Safari looks pretty cool, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the boat trip. That also applies to the next zone, called Land of Folk & Culture. It consists of many beautiful houses, in which craftsmen do their jobs. It looks like a Vietnamese version of the Russian village at Europa-Park, in which you can witness how Matryoshka dolls and other art are made. This Land of Folk & Culture looks stunning and it evokes an authentic Asian atmosphere, but it also seems to be a place where some activity is needed. And with today’s non-existent crowds, it feels rather dead.
The eye-catcher at Land of Folk Culture is a bizarre brown building. Should I describe it as a fortress or as a giant turd? Look at the photo above and decide for yourself. This so-called Hall of Wishes is unfortunately closed during the afternoon, but there’s another striking castle nearby. VinPearl Land apparently wants to be a Vietnamese version of Disneyland, because that building is suspiciously reminiscent of Disneyland Anaheim‘s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It’s less detailed and it’s got a boring name (4D Movie Castle), but at least it’s bigger than the one in California.
The name Adventure Land also reminds me of Disney. However, in this case we aren’t talking about a jungle-like area. Here at VinPearl Land, Adventure Land is the name of the amusement park section. Unfortunately, this zone isn’t themed as well as other parts of the park. The greenery looks nice, but Adventure Land mainly consists of classic fairground attractions. There’s a merry-go-round, a bumper car ride, some swinging thrill rides and an old-fashioned slide that reminds me of Roller Coaster Tycoon. No effort was made to decorate these rides and that’s a bit of a shame.
Fortunately, there are some exceptions. VinPearl Land’s 2 biggest roller coasters, for example, are themed quite well. Interestingly, both rides were decorated with similar rock formations and the queue lines look nearly identical. That’s strange, but hey… I prefer copied theming over no theming at all. The first coaster is called Lost Valley. This is a Vekoma Mine Train which is similar to Calamity Mine at Walibi Belgium. Such mine train rides are never sensational, but they’re not bad either. And that seems to be exactly what Vietnamese people need. When I hear the screams of my 4 fellow passengers, it seems as if they’re having the times of their lives. I’m less overwhelmed, but it’s a splendid coaster.
The second roller coaster is Desert Twister. I already mentioned that the decoration is similar to Lost Valley’s and it was even designed by the same manufacturer. This is once again a Vekoma ride, but this one’s a Suspended Family Coaster. The layout is identical to that of Orkanen (Fårup Sommerland) and Dragon Roller Coaster (Energylandia). If you’ve ever ridden this type, you may know that it’s fantastic. These rides are extremely smooth and they generate some strong G-forces. They’re more intense than you might expect and the rocky environment gives Desert Twister some extra thrill. Great ride!
Yesterday I visited Sun World Ba Na Hills and that wasn’t a success for my roller coaster counter. Sun World’s 4 credits were all closed. However, today I’m able to get my first Vietnamese coaster bingo. VinPearl Land has the same amount of roller coasters and they’re all in operation. Admittedly, the 2 remaining coasters are everything but sensational. Riding a Big Apple to achieve a coaster bingo still feels somewhat pathetic to me. Fortunately I’m supported by a few local people who also want to ride Speed Coaster. Crazy name for a Big Apple, I know, but a credit is a credit. Next, I take a seat in Spinning Coaster, an 8-shaped fairground ride with rotating vehicles. You may ask yourself if this ride is worth to be called a roller coaster, but oh well… coaster-count says yes, so I agree.
The biggest show venue at VinPearl Land is the Musical Water Fountain Amphitheater. At 7.30 PM, this outdoor theatre houses a spectacular performance with water, lights and music. Or at least, that’s how the lady at the entrance described it. This sounds like an Asian version of World of Color, which could be pretty cool. Still, I don’t want to stay at the park until that time, so you’ll have to check YouTube to check whether her description was correct or not. I jump on a free shuttle bus to Hoi An around 5 PM. The fact that I left the park this early doesn’t mean anything negative. Solo visits to theme parks are always shorter and I wanted to spend my evening in the picturesque Hoi An anyway.
VinPearl Land was a very last-minute addition to my itinerary. I had heard about the Sun World parks in Da Nang and Ha Long before my trip, but VinPearl was uncharted territory. Only after clicking RCDB’s parks nearby button, I noticed that VinPearl Land was actually easy to combine with a weekend in Hoi An. And wow, that was a great discovery! VinPearl Land is a brand-new resort (it was inaugurated in April 2018) and this becomes clear in multiple ways. The buildings are modern and every corner of the resort looks fresh and clean. Staff members also seem genuinely proud of their park, which creates a wonderfully positive atmosphere at VinPearl Land.
Although I somewhat missed a dark ride or water ride, VinPearl Land amazed me with its very wide range of entertainment. I regret the fact that crowds don’t seem to find their way to the park (yet). Is this due to the rather specific tourism of Hoi An, which mainly consists of backpacking youth? Or is 22 euros just too expensive for an average Vietnamese family? No idea, but I sincerely hope that VinPearl Land will attract more visitors in the near future. This park really deserves it.