NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
It’s the 8th day of my Vietnamese adventure and I’m starting to feel at home. I say xin chào to anyone I meet and I’m preferring a steaming bowl of pho over a Whopper. Although crossing the street remains a challenge, I’m getting used to the local flow. Traveller Glenn is enjoying every minute, but coaster enthusiast Glenn is missing something. Although the Da Nang theme parks turned out to be better than expected, I didn’t encounter a breathtaking roller coaster yet. That’s about to change. Vietnam may not be the most coaster-loving nation on Earth, but they do have a roller coaster manufactured by coaster gods Bolliger & Mabillard. That’s quite a big deal and of course, I’m dying to add that B&M to my counter.
I was on a cruise in Ha Long Bay for the past few days. This natural wonder with stunning mountains and emerald green waters is world-famous. The bay amazed me with its unparalleled beauty and it should not be missed during a trip to Vietnam. Most cruise passengers immediately head back to Hanoi after disembarkation, but I decided to stay in Ha Long City for one extra night. My main reason to stay here is Sun World Halong Complex, a huge entertainment resort at the shores of Ha Long Bay. I quickly order a taxi to the Novotel, which is a 10-minute walk from the park entrance. My hotel room on the 12th floor even treats me with a visual preview. Nice!
Sun World Halong Complex is operated by the Sun Group, Vietnam’s largest theme park brand. In Da Nang, the company is responsible for Sun World Ba Na Hills and Sun World Danang Wonders, but their biggest resort is located here in Ha Long City. This resort consists of two theme parks, a gigantic cable car, a water park and a huge retail zone. The catering and shopping area extends over several streets and most restaurants are open, but there’s literally nobody during the early afternoon. That results in an unusual atmosphere.
Unsurprisingly, Typhoon Water Park remains closed in winter, but it’s also low season for the resort’s other parks. Queen Cable Car and Mystic Mountain don’t open until 4 PM, while Dragon Park Halong is only operating between 1 PM and 6 PM. This seem strange opening times for a theme park, but the ticket price is even stranger. On weekdays, a ticket for Dragon Park costs 50,000 dong, less than 2 euros. Two euros to enter an amusement park, I’m serious. I’ve visited many cheap amusement parks, but this beats everything. You’re probably paying more for a bottle of water at most European parks!
That super-cheap ticket grants access to Dragon Park and all its attractions. So let’s check the park, shall we? The B&M is still running some test cycles, so I decide to start with a smaller roller coaster. Little Dragon’s Flight is already open and staff are literally waiting for passengers. This Suspended Family Coaster’s lay-out is identical to that of Kvasten at Gröna Lund and that’s a good thing. Kvasten is an excellent family roller coaster which runs very smoothly, and the same goes for Little Dragon’s Flight. However, I don’t like the ride’s unsubtle colours and the station wasn’t themed at all.
Skies are grey, but it’s quite hot in Ha Long City today. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to cool off with a water ride. During the winter season, both the shoot-the-chutes and Dragon Park’s rapid river remain closed. I don’t think I’m missing awesome experiences, though. Elephant Falls has a relatively simple lay-out and Mystic River looks like a classic rapid river. However, I’d like to compliment the park for the decoration. They built a beautiful temple for Elephant Falls and Mystic River flows through a jungle-like setting. Thanks to its animal animatronics and the tropical vegetation, this rapid river looks amazing. I would’ve loved to take a ride, but probably next time.
Mystic River is closed, but there’s an alternative. Dragon Park actually has a second boat ride with fake animals. That attraction is called Garden Cruisers and it looks like a budget version of Disney’s Jungle Cruise. The decor is less impressive and the Skipper has been cut, but the legendary joke about the back side of water didn’t entirely disappear. You could also describe this attraction as Farm Cruise, because it involves plastic cows, water buffaloes and chickens. Not bad, but may I suggest Dragon Park to increase the speed of these boats? The route isn’t exceptionally long, but the ride lasts more than 20 minutes. Yup, it goes on for Niles and Niles…
Dragon Park Halong is a stunning theme park. Nature is beautiful and theming is of high quality. One of the nicest rides is Mine Train Coaster. Despite its uninspiring name, this coaster’s loading station wouldn’t feel out of place at a Disney park. It’s sculpted as a Cambodian temple in a very elaborate way. The ride isn’t only beautiful to look at, but it’s also surprisingly fun to ride. I even think that this could be one of the world’s smoothest Vekomas. Dutch quality in Vietnam.
Any idea what I’m desperately missing at Vietnamese amusement parks? Dark rides! Sun World Ba Na Hills had Adventure to the Center of the Earth, but I haven’t seen a single dark ride since that day. That’s a pity, because these are usually my favourite rides at any theme park. Sun World Halong Complex isn’t able to fulfill my needs, but the park does have an outdoor train ride. Ha Long Railway is a classic steam train and looks quite pleasant. Unfortunately, theming only consists of a few dinosaur bones. My local fellow passengers seem to be just as underwhelmed as me.
Dark rides are impossible to find, but Dragon Park has an abundance of flat rides. There’s a nauseating ride called Rhino Swing, an elaborately decorated Top Spin, two (!) pirate ships and Crazy Crane. Did you think El Volador at Bellewaerde was the only remaining Topple Tower on Earth? It is not. In fact, Crazy Crane once stood in Europe. It used to be at the French Walygator Parc where it was known as Tang’Or, until it disappeared some time ago. Did Walygator get rid of this attraction due to technical issues? It’s quite possible, as it’s also experiencing lots of downtime here in Vietnam.
Speaking of second-hand attractions… The Sun Group bought many attractions from Freestyle Music Park. After the park went bankrupt, loads of flat rides and five roller coasters were shipped to Vietnam. Four family roller coasters ended up at Sun World Danang Wonders, but Sun World Halong Complex got the jackpot. B&M’s Time Machine (formerly known as Led Zeppelin – The Ride) moved to Dragon Park and it’s now called Dragon’s Run.
Dragon’s Run is only twelve years old, but it has already had 3 names and 2 different locations. Will its time in Vietnam be more successful than its limited run on the American east coast? I hope so. Dragon’s Run was built next to a lovely pond, it’s got a monumental entrance and the station is beautiful as well. Unfortunately, operations are poor: staff members dispatch only one train every 15 minutes. And although this doesn’t bother me with these low crowds, it may be disappointing to those wanting to ride again and again. The actual ride is quite nice, by the way. Dragon’s Run features a solid 45-metre descent and some powerful inversions. Especially the zero-g roll is worth mentioning. This is a rather brutal element in many B&Ms, but in this case it creates the most perfect sense of weightlessness.
Dragon’s Run is the best roller coaster in Vietnam, that’s for sure. However, this is mostly due to poor competition. In fact, I must admit that Dragon’s Run definitely isn’t the best B&M machine on Earth. It turns out to be a little rougher than expected, the lay-out is predictable and the second part lacks some power. Don’t get me wrong… I’d commit a crime to get a ride like this one in Belgium. But B&M has built many better rides.
Dragon Park treated me to great family roller coasters, a fine B&M, numerous flat rides and excellent decoration… and it cost less than a sandwich. For the purposes of comparison, a day at Dragon Park with 67 friends costs as much as a day ticket for Disneyland Anaheim. That’s what I call value for money. But of course, there are other options to spend my money at this resort. So after a re-ride on Dragon’s Run and the Vietnamese Kvasten, I’m buying a ticket for the resort’s second park. To be continued at Mystic Mountain Halong.