I’m in paradise. Ashleigh and I are in an amusement park. You pay one flat fee to go in and then everything is free. It’s almost empty, even though it’s been open for hours. It’s a beautiful, sunny day. There is coffee and ice cream everywhere. And there are almost no children. This is the best amusement park EVER.
We leave for the park in the morning from the city of Nha Trang, a beach town famous for its diving spots on Vietnam’s eastern coast. VinPearl Land, an idyllic resort opened up by a Vietnamese billionaire on an island that used to be a prison, is accessible only by cable car. And except for the sounds of people screaming, no trace of the island’s origins as a detention centre can be detected.
We are the only ones in the cable car line and so get on immediately, taking in pleasant views of deep blue waters and heavily forested islands. The cable car eventually descends towards the station below, rocking perilously from side to side. From here, we can make out the white VinPearl sign nailed into the mountain, imitative of the HOLLYWOOD sign, but kitschier and more awesome on the coast of Vietnam.
We get out of the shaky glass box that has been carrying us and decide that the first order of the day is to get some coffee into our bloodstreams. After caffeinating ourselves at a Lotteria with perpetually smiling servers seemingly casted from The Stepford Wives, we are ready to begin our adventure.
The outdoor park
“Let’s do the swings first! They’re my favourite!” I charge over to the old-fashioned, gaudily-decorated carousel with the colourful plastic chairs, even though there’s no line. It’s closed. The rides operate in 15-minute shifts, since they don’t employ enough staff to keep all rides running at the same time.
“Christine, calm down! We have all day!”
We get in line for the next run of the merry-go-round. I scan the assortment of animals and inanimate objects in search of a worthy mount. I spot the lion as it goes around.
“I call the buffalo – obviously!” Ashleigh is from Buffalo, New York.
The ride stops and the three people who are on it disembark. There are two kids in front of us, and one of them looks like he has his eye on the lion too. Oh no, child. You are waaaay to young to ride the lion. There’s a fuzzy white bunny up ahead with your name on it. I push past the child, and claim the lion for myself, while Ashleigh jumps on the buffalo. The ride begins. The familiar tinny music starts up and the poles start to move up and down. Yep. Just as fun as when I was five.
We make our rounds through the park’s offerings, including the swings, a couple of roller coasters, a ride that spins you around in a circle until you vomit, and a Viking ship.
The water park
After doing all the rides at least three times, we decide it’s time to venture over to the water park, which is a little busier. The first slide we try out is the Spiral, a giant UFO-shaped slide that spits you out into a pool. I go first. After a normal slide down, I’m suddenly swept into a pitch-black tunnel. I pop my head up to try and see how far the slide goes and smack my forehead on something. Okay, fine. No more going against gravity. I’m now in a dark funnel. After spinning around and around, getting water up my nose and in my ears with no end in sight, I’m violently thrown down a hole and I plunge deep into a freezing cold pool. Today, I discovered that almost drowning in the dark with a minor concussion is not very fun. You learn something new every day.
Next, we get in line for the Rainbow Slides, a set of six slides which you go down head-first. While generally not a fan of using my face to protect the rest of my body, I decide to give it a try anyways.
“I’ll race ya!” I yell at Ashleigh.
With gross over-enthusiasm, I push off from the launch point, gripping the handlebars of my mat tightly. I throw myself down the skinny half-tube that is much too narrow for an adult. I am happy to see that I am winning! I am less happy that water is clogging up my nose and blinding me. I am holding the handlebars too high up, and suddenly, a gush of water catches under my mat, bringing me to a complete halt halfway down the slide. Ashleigh goes flying past me as I smack myself in the throat with the handlebars. I am too winded to move.
“The handlebars hit me in the face!” Ashleigh tells me indignantly as soon as I land in a heap at the bottom of the death slide.
“Yeah… I can’t breathe right now.” I’m still trying to decide whether I’ve fractured something. But either way, we have to get out of this abusive water park while we still can.
Needing some air conditioning and a quiet place to recover from the ass-kicking the water park gave us, we head to the aquarium. Giant tanks abound, all filled with marine life, mostly of the Southeast Asian variety. A group of Vietnamese women take turns posing for selfies in front of some sad-looking moray eels. Children tap the glass of the turtle tank, right beside the giant multilingual sign that says DO NOT TAP THE TANK. Couples share a moment in front of the jellyfish tank, the soft colours and slow movements of the jellyfish perhaps adding a romantic mood to an awkward date.
The aquarium is beautiful, with a wide array of inhabitants; but most look traumatized, wondering how it is that they ended up in a glass box while alien creatures with weird teeth smile creepily at them all day long.
The indoor park
“Christiiiine, we have to go at some point. I can’t stay here forever!” Ashleigh pleads with me. It’s only 5 pm, and I am so hopped up on ice cream and sugar, and the happiness of having lived out my childhood dream, that I feel like I could stay here another four or five hours at least.
“Okay, okay, but we haven’t done the indoor park! I want to ride the mechanical bull! Then we can go!”
I run inside the games park, which is made up to look like the Batcave. One kid is on the bull now, and he lasts almost the entire ride without falling off. I am determined to beat him and stay on for the full ride. I jump on the second he gets off, and the Vietnamese teenager running the ride grins at me. Uh-oh.
It begins. The animal bucks and rears, twisting and turning every way in its determination to throw me off. But it is no match for me. Also, the kid who rode before me is now watching, and I am determined to best him; there is NO way I will be shamed by a ten-year-old. With extreme perseverance, I dig my knees in and grip the bull’s plastic handle with all my might. Ashleigh takes photos half-heartedly, hoping it will be over soon so we can go home. I also hope it will be over soon, because my knees are sore and my thighs are shaking.
The ride slows to a halt, and the teenage boy applauds me.
“Do I get a prize??”
“Ha ha ha. NO!”
Ashleigh grabs me. “Ok, great, can we go now??”
“Wait, there’s a karaoke booth!! Look!” I drag her into a clear plastic booth that’s been decked out for karaoke. We choose Alanis Morrissette (of course!) and belt out the words to “You Oughta Know.” Terrified Vietnamese children pass us by and pretend not to stare as the two giant sunburnt foreigners scream: “AND I’M HEEEERE… TO REMIIIIIND YOU…”
Finally, after more karaoke, a few games of air hockey, and one last ride on the swings, I let Ashleigh drag me to the exit. We both have minor concussions from the Spiral. My throat is aching from the handlebar attack on the Rainbow Slides. I’m way too full from all the French fries, burgers, and ice cream I’ve eaten. I’ve lost my voice from screaming all day and from karaoke. And my legs are aching from gripping onto that wily mechanical bull. This was the best day of my life.
To see photos from Vietnam, check out my album on flickr!