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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney

access_time Jun 03,2016 chat_bubble_outline 310 views

After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael Turtle left Sydney to travel the world and write about his discoveries, Suoi Tien themed park in HCM City is one of them. Below is what he wrote.

In Vietnam, there is no Disney. When you want to head to the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’, your best option is the Suoi Tien Theme Park, on the fringes of Ho Chi Minh City. It is a burst of fun, terror, humor and angst – all at once.

The theme for the whole park is Buddhism, the predominant religion here in Vietnam. A giant golden dragon is the first thing you see as you go in and it sets the scene. As you explore a bit deeper, you’ll find gardens full of Buddha, a lake with a statue of a turtle supporting the world – and, of course temples. Plenty of temples.

Some of these temples are what you might expect and follow the traditional model. Incense is burning and people are praying.

The most interesting temples are those that have been turned into attractions. It’s probably not fair to call them ‘temples’ and the park actually has different names for them – usually they’re a ‘palace’. But there’s no avoiding the dominant theme inside.

I climb up the steps to go into the ‘Unicorn Palace’. It all sounds so magical and colourful. Wrong! As soon as I am through the entrance, it’s pitch black. I have to hold onto a handrail as I go down a set of stairs and descend underground. You might think I was being melodramatic if I said that it felt like I was descending into hell – but that’s the point. Underneath the temple is a journey through the various levels of Buddhist Hell.

This ain’t no small world after all. The path you walk along is still pitch black – the only light comes from the displays behind bars. Men are being ripped apart, eaten by animals, dumping into boiling pots. There’s a soundtrack of terror and every so often, without warning, a bloody mannequin will swing at you screaming. I scream back a few times.

Back outside, in the sunlight, it is zen again and the wind rustles the trees carrying the prayer flags. You would think that one hell on earth would be enough for me but I foolishly go into two more houses of horrors. In one, the path shakes at various points, throwing me slightly off balance. The point I decide to hurry to the exit, though, is when a hand comes out of the wall and grabs my ankle in the dark.

The other house of horrors is Harry Potter themed. Again, it’s dark with lots of screaming and creatures jumping out of nowhere. I am not positive, but there’s no way this could be officially licensed. The real owners of the Harry Potter trademark would not allow Dobby the elf to be turned into a ferocious demon with glowing red eyes.

Like any good theme park, there are also rides. They could probably be described in one of two ways. Lame or lamer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun on them!

Most of the rides are quite small – a good size for kids. You swing a bit, go around a bit, maybe rise up and fall down slightly. The mini roller coaster goes quite fast but only lasts for about 20 seconds.

I get the feeling the rides are part of the fun but not the main reason the locals come here. It’s about the whole experience and having a bit of everything – rides, games, gardens, shows, food.

I like to think they don’t come for the zoo… but they may. Unfortunately it casts a dark shadow over an otherwise colourful day out.

The zoo is at the back of the park and it promises a collection of exotic animals. But rather than be impressed, it makes me angry. The animals are kept in tiny cages, with almost nothing inside to amuse or comfort them. There are different types of monkeys, for example, staring wistfully out through the bars. Most upsetting is a small bear in a space that gives it just enough room to pace around in a circle.

The zoo is on the edge of a large complex of lakes filled with hundreds of crocodiles. I don’t feel so sorry for them – I’m convinced they’re just looking at me as a potential meal. I wonder why there are so many of them until I see the gift shop selling handbags and purses. This is a factory farm, just one where you can pay to feed the product.

All of this seems rather contrary to the Buddhist ethos so I try to put it out of my mind and focus on everything else on offer. It really is a rather well designed park and the different areas with their lakes and rivers and statues and pagodas are quite beautiful and peaceful.

Bizarre, though? Yes. To me. Everything just seems a little bit surreal. Things I think are hilarious are probably wondrous to the local Vietnamese families who come here, though.

They would probably think a theme park with a talking mouse and spinning teacups would be strange. So I shall not judge, lest I end up in Buddhist Hell for eternity.


Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Michael Turtle từng làm việc trong ngành báo chí trong hơn 10 năm ở Australia. Sau đó, anh rời Sydney, bắt đầu du lịch vòng quanh thế giới và viết về những khám phá của mình. Suối Tiên ở TP HCM là một trong số đó.

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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Phật giáo là chủ đề đặc trưng bao trùm toàn bộ Suối Tiên. Ngay từ lúc bước chân vào cổng, du khách sẽ thấy một con rồng vàng khổng lồ, tiếp đến là khu vườn với rất nhiều tượng Phật và các ngôi đền khác. Một trong số đó có đền thờ Đức Phật Bà Quan Âm.

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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Khu vực khiến Michael cảm thấy sợ nhất là lối vào cổng địa ngục với nhiều cấp độ khác nhau. Đây là địa ngục mô phỏng theo các truyền thuyết Phật giáo, chuyên trừng phạt những tội lỗi của con người. Lối đi chỉ có ánh sáng lờ mờ, đủ khiến du khách cảm thấy kinh hãi với những cảnh tượng như đàn ông bị cắn xé hay nhúng vào những nồi nước sôi. Âm nhạc vang lên rùng rợn và thình thoảng có những con ma-nơ-canh đẫm máu đột nhiên xuất hiện khiến không ít người phải hét lên kinh hoàng. “Tôi cũng nằm trong số những người phải hét lên một vài lần”, anh chia sẻ.

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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Một căn nhà kinh dị khác có chủ đề về Harry Potter với bóng tối bao trùm, tiếng la hét chói tai và những sinh vật thình lình nhảy ra khiến bất kỳ ai cũng phải cảm thấy đáng sợ. “Nhưng không thể phủ nhận rằng nó rất vui”, Michael cười nói.

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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Vườn thú nằm ở phía sau công viên, nhưng thay vì trở nên ấn tượng, nó khiến anh cảm thấy tức giận. “Các loài động vật chen chúc nhau trong những cái lồng nhỏ và không có bất kỳ thứ gì giúp chúng cảm thấy được vui vẻ hay dễ chịu. Nhiều loài khỉ khác nhau nhìn ra ngoài song sắt với ánh mắt buồn bã. Điều đáng buồn nhất là một con gấu nhỏ loanh quanh trong một không gian chỉ đủ cho nó quay vòng tròn”.

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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Hồ nuôi với hàng trăm con cá sấu hấp dẫn sự hứng thú của khá nhiều du khách. Michael tâm sự: “Tôi tự an ủi mình rằng đừng cảm thấy tiếc cho chúng. Chúng chỉ đang nhìn mình như món ăn ưa thích mà thôi”.

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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Theo anh, công viên được thiết kế khá đẹp chia thành từng khu vực khác nhau một cách rõ ràng có sông suối bao quanh. Những ngôi đền được thiết kế cầu kỳ nhưng tạo cảm giác bình yên trong tâm hồn.

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Australian tourist compares Saigon’s Suoi Tien Park to Vietnamese-style Disney
Michael cho biết: “Có lẽ với người nước ngoài, họ sẽ cho rằng những thiết kế ở đây có phần hơi kỳ quái và phi thực tế. Nhưng tôi nghĩ điều này lại phù hợp với phong tục của người dân Việt Nam. Biết đâu một công viên với con chuột biết nói và cốc trà xoay vòng trong mắt họ mới là thứ kỳ lạ? Tôi sẽ không phán xét bất kỳ điều gì, bởi sợ việc phải kết thúc cuộc đời trong Cổng địa ngục mãi mãi”.

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Photo: Michael Turtle

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