Friday, August 4, 2017

August 3 – Vinpearl Land



Throughout this trip we have not done much for “kid-centric” activities. We’ve dragged them through busy markets, Buddhist temples, genocide museums, war museums, had them sit with us in gritty bars, and gone for long, hot walks though congested, polluted, busy city streets. We’ve kept them up late, woke them up early, and pushed them well past the breaking point at times. At restaurants they order the local food, some of which they like, and some they do not, but there are no chicken nuggets, burgers, hot dogs or nachos. And they never complain.

So today we had the chance to take them somewhere special. There is a place here called Vinpearl Land and it is located on an island just off of Nha Trang – in fact, we could see it from the beach yesterday. It is Vietnam’s premier theme park and I had previously read about in the Lonely Planet and done some research online. The reviews of it were not great, saying it was worn and dilapidated, a far cry from Disneyland, a rip-off, an OK option if you have already exhausted all others, and so on.

Well, as we learn time and time again, you can’t plan your trip around what the guidebooks say, or what your friends say, or what the internet says – they are all just opinions, which are as different and varied as people are. Simply put, this place was AWESOME. For a person living in Ontario, if you combine Marine Land, Canada’s Wonderland, the Toronto Zoo and Ripley’s Aquarium, and then cut the admission price in half, you get Vinpearl Land.

We flagged a taxi at 7:30 am and he took us to the cable car station. Because Vinpearl Land is on an island, you have to either get there by cable car or high speed ferry, so we took the first option. We went into the station and found an ultra-modern gondola and a very short queue. The kids have never been in one before so were a little apprehensive at how it worked, but when those high speed cars came charging into the station, all of a sudden they dropped into the loading area and slowed to a snail’s pace, allowing us to easily step into the 8 person car. The car was dropped back onto the main cable and we were off! We were lifted up into the air and had an instant view back to the beautiful, white beach of Nha Trang and the backdrop of mountains. The car was hoisted up and over the bay and ran for over three kilometres to the island, some of which appeared to be under construction.

The cable car entered the station and slowed to a crawl, allowing us to get off. We walked out of the station and into the heart of the theme park rides. Now, I am going to say that this is not Six Flags or Cedar Point or Disneyland. But they did have a few smaller roller coasters, a Sky Drop, a Pirate Ship, bumper cars, and a few other larger rides that you would see in a typical theme park. But there were no line-ups, so we were able to go on all nearly all the rides in the park in only a couple of hours. In fact, I think I went on more rides than I ever have at a park, simply because we didn’t have to wait.

We then moved onto the aquarium. We visited Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto last year and this place essentially had all the same things, right down to the moving walkway that takes you through a tunnel underneath the giant aquarium. There were a couple of interesting differences, though. One huge tank was filled with multi-coloured moray eels, and inside the tank was a man in a wet suit holding a hose vacuuming off the surfaces of the tank. All around him were these huge eels with their mouths wide open showing off their teeth. We were anxiously waiting for him to back into one and have it latch onto his butt, but no dice. He was clearly an expert.

One part of the aquarium had a large viewing area and seating out front and we arrived just in time for the feeding show. A scuba diver swam into view carrying a plastic bucket and was being trailed by an army of fish, sharks and manta-rays. He reached into the bucket and started removing fish. He would toss a fish into the cloud of creatures and create a feeding frenzy. He would hand feed a fish to a shark, that would grab it away and swim off into the distance with its prize. But the best part were the rays. He used his hands to turn the ray so that the crowd could see its underside and then he would feed it a fish and we could watch its smiley-face mouth gobbling up the morsel. The funny thing about the rays is that their eyes are on the topside of their body and their mouth is on the bottom side so they can’t actually see what they are eating and must feel around for it. We sat mesmerized for the longest time, watching all the action in the tank – very cool. On the way out of the aquarium we found a long line of super massage chairs in a nice air conditioned room, so we grabbed four of them and sat down for the greatest mechanical massage ever, as these chairs even had leg holds that gave you a nice leg squeeze as it was kneading away on your back and shoulders.

At the centre of the park was a huge castle and village surrounding it with retail and food outlets, a huge water fountain and a 4D theatre, so we went to the theatre for the short, 15 minute show. This was another new experience for us - as the 3D animated film progressed, at certain points you would be shot in the face with water, or an air blast, or there would be a strange rumbling in your seat. There were also props in the theater such as talking statues and these big squids that were suspended from the ceiling and dropped down at certain points of the movie, scaring the crap out of people.

Next up was the dolphin show.  I’m not big on dolphin shows but I guess it was okay. The kids seemed to like it. There certainly must be quite a bond between the dolphin trainers and the dolphins for them to become so well trained. Or maybe they are just in it for the free fish.

Lunchtime at the amusement park is always a shit-show. And today was no exception. We first went to the fast food burger joint and stood in line for far too long, fighting off the Chinese tourists trying to butt in line, and when we finally reached the front the clerk told us via hand signals that they didn’t have any more hamburgers, or really much of anything besides fried chicken. So we found a different place and did get some burger combos and seafood pizza that were reasonably good.

We started the afternoon with exploring the water park, and what a water park it was. There were quite a few of the huge, adrenaline junkie slides like that high speed one where you get a gallon of water and half your bathing suit jammed up your sphincter, and that one where you blast through in a dark tunnel  and then get dumped, spinning into a giant toilet bowl. They also had a bunch of slides for tubes and that’s were we spent most of our time. Besides the slides, there was a huge lazy river and a giant wave pool. And, again, there were hardly any queues at any of them so I think we rode more slides than we ever have in a water park.

Directly beside the water park was a beautiful, sheltered bay with white sand, brown bodies and blue skies. There was also a floating dock leading out to a series of inflated, floating obstacle courses. We all walked out there and started horsing around on the equipment. The brand name stamped on it was “Wibit” and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was an inflatable sports park, full of obstacles and challenges, suitable for both children and adults and a hell of a lot of fun. I did a bit of research at the end of the day, found their website (
www.wibitsports.com), and discovered that from the air the waterpark spells out the word “VINPEARL”. I imagined having this sort of thing at Port Dover and how wildly popular it would be, at least on the Saturdays and Sundays in the summer with great weather, outside of that it would probably be empty, so not much of a business plan there. Ana bailed out early and left to float around in the gloriously warm ocean while we punished ourselves on the contraptions.

So what more could this park have to offer? How about a zoo with monkeys, baboons, gibbons, rhinos, hippos, tigers, lions, giraffes and an enormous aviary with thousands of birds. It looked like the zoo was a more recent addition to the park as everything looked very new and very modern. In addition, behind the zoo was a massive construction area where they were building a brand new section of the park – the showpiece of which must have been the massive Ferris wheel, nearly completed, overlooking the entire park. To get to the zoo we rode three incredibly long outdoor escalators up a cliff to an elevated part of the island that overlooked the entire complex with the Nha Trang bay behind it. We only had an hour until the zoo closed so we walked through at a brisk pace and saw the majority of it. During the walk back to the amusement park we stopped and took some photos of the amazing sunset over the bay and the park castles in the foreground.

As the sky darkened, the lights came up and the park was aglow. There were still many, many people there, but the queues for the rides were still short or non-existent so we went on a few more rides, made slightly scarier in the darkness. The kids absolutely loved it and went on a couple of rides on their own. By this time we were really running out of gas so we convinced the kiddies it was time to call it a day and head back into the city for dinner.
We found a restaurant around the corner from the hotel that had a menu three inches thick, but if you didn’t want to go through all that, you could just look at the walls because they were wallpapered with pictures of the various dishes. Stella has her first pho soup and loved it. Magnus ordered something else, but once he tasted our pho he was kicking himself and vowed to order it every meal from here on in.

We stopped at a dive shop on the way back to the hotel and booked a diving and snorkeling trip. The next day was a busy one, so the owner told us if we booked the day after that we’d get a great discount so we went with that. It’s probably been at least 2 or 3 years since I’ve done a dive so I’m pretty chuffed about the trip. The others will be able to do some snorkeling on the reef while I’m diving so that is sure to be great fun. The owner also gave us a tip on a better place on the beach to rent beach chairs as it includes access to their pool, so that will be the plan for tomorrow.

We were back in our room by 10 pm and completely exhausted by the day’s activities so collapsed into sweet unconsciousness.

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