Equal parts Disneyland, Buddhist fantasia, historical homage and national propaganda piece, Dai Nam Theme Park is a fantastically cheesy experience. About 30km from HCMC on Hwy 13, it's split into four constituent parts sheltered behind giant walls (guarded by life-size model soldiers).
Local bus 18 runs from Ben Thanh bus station to Dai Nam daily. There’s plenty of car parking on-site.
The amusement park has a serious roller coaster with corkscrews and loops, a log flume, an indoor snow world and plenty of rides for smaller kids. Most hilarious is the Ngu Lan (Five Unicorns) Palace, a Buddhist take on Disney’s ‘It’s a small world’, where inflatable boats glide through tableaux representing life, death, reincarnation, a descent into hell (a splatterfest of body parts, torture and sadistic demons) and an eventual arrival in nirvana; it’s definitely not suitable for small children. Its counterpart, the Ngu Phung (Five Phoenixes) Palace ‘makes tourists feel like being lost in the heaven’. Each ride is charged separately (20,000d to 100,000d).
Dai Nam’s 12.5-hectare zoo is the only one in the greater HCMC area we’d recommend visiting. The menagerie includes tigers, lions, white rhinos and bears. The neighbouring beach (adult/child 100,000/60,000d) has large fresh and saltwater pools and is a good place for cooling off the kids.
Best of all for Disneyland kitsch on a monumental scale is the temple complex. Set behind a vast plaza, there are artificial lakes, mountains, walking paths, towers and pagodas. In the mammoth temple every god, goddess and personage of importance in Vietnamese history gets a look-in, with Ho Chi Minh taking pride of place.