Saturday, 20 August 2016

Lihpao Land - Home to the Craziest Coaster on Earth

When people think of Lihpao Land, one think comes into mind: the insane looking roller coaster called Gravity Max (地心探救). However, Lihpao Land is so much more than that. In fact, I dare say it is one of the best kids oriented theme parks I have visited. Of course, let us not forget the Taiwanese hospitality, clean park and...a rarity in theme parks..."normal" priced food!

About Lihpao Land (麗寶樂園)

Lihpao Land is one of 2 major theme parks near to Taichung, the other being Janfusun Fancyworld located further south. The name Lihpao Land refers to both the theme park itself and the resort as a whole. Currently, the resort has a theme park, water park and hotel though they are rapidly expanding and I saw a shopping district and a ferris wheel under construction.

[NOTE] Many staff members are only proficient in Chinese. When speaking English, try to speak slower and use simple words so they can understand you better. Also, for mainlanders (and Singaporeans), the Taiwanese Chinese is slightly different from Mainland Chinese, so don't be surprised if they don't understand a word or two. 

Theme park entrance. The staff refers to this as the "land park"

Fullon Hotel

The water park is across the hotel from the theme park. It is quite small as of 2016 and I did not visit
Shopping District under construction

Getting There

To get to Lihpao Land, the best way (for non tour group travellers) is to take a train to Houli (后里) station then change to a taxi. Basically, here are the steps:
  • From Taichung HSR Station, also known as Xinwuri Station, head to exit 3 of the HSR station. This will lead to the Taiwan Railway Adminstration (TRA) train station. Here, take a TRA train directly to Houli. Please do ask the staff on which train to take because TRA is a commuter rail and the services are not fixed like MRT lines. Journey time is 30 mins
  • From Taichung Railway Station, take a TRA train directly to Houli. Journey time is 20 mins
  • From Janfusun Fancyworld, Take a TRA train from Douliu (斗六) station, also towards Houli. Journey time is 90 minutes
  • If taking from the 3 stations above, look for LOCAL (區間) trains terminate at Keelung (基隆), Xinzhu (新竹), Sanyi (三義) or Houli (后里)
  • From Houli station, you can take a taxi straight to Lihpao Land for about NT200 (SGD9)
There is also a direct bus service from Taichung HSR Station, but I am not sure about this route.

[NOTE] TRA is a COMMUTER RAIL, not MRT, so the arrival times are not as frequent. Don't be surprised if you have to wait 30 minutes for a train.

[TIP] If you know Chinese, you can access the 生活行 smartphone app. One of the many functions in the app is the TRA timetable.

[TIP] Some taxi drivers will sell you local resident tickets to Lihpao Land. Take it. The price is NT550 which is 100NT less than the normal admission ticket.

General Impressions

The ticketing counters occupy the entire width of the entrance pathway, so you will pass through 2 entrance gate before reaching Lihpao Land. At the entrance, there are a few shops but they open quite late, and there is a very small arcade and some food stalls. There is also an escape room attraction to the right of the theme park entrance, though that is not my kind of attraction

This is the first gate you have to pass through. Its for purchasing tickets ONLY

Information board with all the ride opening time and maintenance information. This is a smaller theme park so expect 1-2 rides to be closed for servicing on any given day

You can't go anywhere (urban) in Taiwan and not see a small arcade like this

The landscaping of Lihpao Land is impeccable. If I just consider the landscaping and decoration, I think it is almost as good as Disney or Universal. Every single facility, from the Guest Services to the toilets have unique theme and decoration. Gravity Max is located on the right side but it is not so dominating that it will draw your attention from other areas. As we went on a weekday, the crowds are relatively light and the queue is rarely more than 15 minutes, except for Gravity Max which I shall explain later.

What? Am I at Disneyland?

Lockers are provided but not necessary since there are cabinets at all rides for you to put your bag

The toilets are very clean and have a whimsical theme. However, many of the toilet cubicles only provide squatting toilets. For example, at the entrance toilet, there is only 1 sitting cubicle in the male toilet apart from the handicap toilet. Water coolers are also provided but they are not as common as in USS or Disneyland (only some toilets). However, what I really like about Lihpao is that the food is quite competitively priced with snacks going for about NT50 and meals under NT200 (SGD10). Never got a chance to try them out, though.

POPA Kingdom (POPA王国)

POPA Kingdom is one of 2 kids themed areas in Lihpao World. The area is themed to Mascots of Lihpao Land, which includes POPA, YIMA, DUMA and DADA. Here, the colourful, whimsical architecture is balanced by the beautifully landscaped vegetation. In addition to several kids rides, there is also a small roller coaster (Vekoma Family Coaster 207m variant).

Quite a standard carousel. No seat belts needed. hehehe

Why queue 2 hours for Dumbo at Disneyland when you can ride this with a queue of just 5 minutes

This snail ride is really interesting. Apparently the parents can go onto the track and photograph the kids as it runs along.

Now this is a true classic. Strange that don't encounter chairswings very often nowadays.

There is also an indoor area with rides and a play area. However, many of the rides have a maximum height limit and cannot be taken by adults. For example, the mini drop tower has a maximum height of 140cm. I do wish they either added a full size drop tower.

The "less kick" version of the spinning teacups ride. The "more kick" one is at Magic Forest (see next section)

140cm maximum height limit for this? When even Legoland allows me to ride?

Lihpao is full of play areas like this. Just that this one is indoors so you can enjoy the aircon while your kids play

Now for the signature ride of POPA Kingdom: The Mine Express roller coaster. Although a kids coaster, the ride is surprisingly fast paced and there was also a moment of partial airtime. The G-Forces are very weak so even the youngest kids should not feel discomfort on this ride. However, I really don't like the seats. Unlike most other roller coasters that have individual seats, Mine Express has a single wide seat for 2 people and a single lapbar securing both people. This means I am constantly bumping into the person sitting beside me. So awkward!

Mine Express is a standard layout family coaster produced by Vekoma

Even the queue area is well themed and decorated

Loading area. Notice that the seats are actually double wide and there is no divider between the 2 passengers

Looks like a lot of track!

Magic Forest (魔法森林)

The next area, Magic Forest, is also a predominantly kids area though there are a few moderately thrilling rides like the river rapids and viking ship. Although there is a clear sign showing the start of magic forest, I felt that the theming is too similar to POPA Kingdom and it is hard to tell that I am in another land. The nicest part of the decor are the figures and miniature structures that line the side of the footpath. are these seats, helmets, balls or what?

These miniatures are very detailed and are dotted all over the Magic Forest area

The rides here are slightly more intense that those at POPA Kingdom. The most intense ride should be the pirate ship, and a close second is the Jungle Boating river rapids. However, I saw that you do get particularly wet on this rapids ride so I could not get on (I did not prepare to get wet). Personally, I think combining a river rapids experience with a magic/enchanted theme is a very innovative as most river rapids rides are themed to jungle expeditions.

[TIP] The most convenient way to ride a wet ride like the Jungle Boating is: 
  • bring a pair of slippers/sandals and a big plastic bag
  • Change your shoes to sandals before you ride, and put all your belongings in one plastic bag. 
  • Your clothes will get wet but the weather will dry you out real fast, and you don't have to deal with soggy socks as you change back to shoes after the ride
I also went on the ferris wheel. The wheel offers quite a good view of the park, but Lihpao is currently building an even bigger one just outside the theme park. However, the cabins are very hot!

As will get wet! Ironic that the name of the ride Jungle Boating as the actual theme is not jungle at all!

Be warned...this teacup spins faster than usual!

View of the hotel and new Ferris wheel under construction from the existing Ferris Wheel

The most intense ride at Magic Forest!

Opps...just managed to catch a photo of Jungle Boating as it passes in between 2 bars in the cabin.

The kids play area of Magic Forest is located near the entrance of Jungle Boating. This playground also comes with a sand pit. 

Wait...I thought 化妆堂 means makeup hall rather than toilet (厕所/卫生间)? Well, Taiwanese Chinese is actually quite different from mainland/Singapore Chinese, so BEWARE!

Exciting Paradise (冒险天堂)

For the thrillseeker, this is the place to go. There are several flat rides, a big drop water ride, and of course, the star of the whole theme park: Gravity Max Tilt Coaster! The area is loosely themed to sci-fi and space exploration, so you may see some elements that look like Tomorrowland in Disneyland.

[TIP] Most familes and school groups will turn left towards POPA Kingdom at the start of the day, so on peak days you may want to turn right and start from Exciting Paradise to get a shorter queue.

This is a beautiful landscaped log flume. The drop is moderately sized but you will still get soaked!

And if you are worried your camera gets wet, why not take your photo on this mock up instead?

The Galactic Spin is closed on the day I visit...but who cares...I don't like this kind of ride anyway!

But the scrambler is open.

Just to sidetrack a bit, Lihpao actually has a few shows that are not bad. However, the shows are not open when I visited. The teen stunt show is particularly promising as it combines youth oriented music with acrobatics, something I don't see often (most acrobatic shows are either the Western style or the traditional Chinese type).

Too bad this is closed
This play area is a good place to occupy your kids while you go on the big scary rides. However, you still need someone in your group to supervise as there is no staff stationed here!

If not, just tell your kids its mealtime and the adults can take turns to go on the big rides :D
Finally, it appears that there was meant to be a ride at Exciting Paradise. I think it is a mid sized roller coaster because I saw stairs extending out of the main structure and protruding struts that can support some ride track. However, the half built structure has been replaced with a small cactus garden. Such a waste!

Gravity Max Tilt-Coaster (探救地心)

Gravity Max is probably the icon of the theme park. In fact, more people know about the roller coaster than about the theme park itself. It is the ride of choice for game shows like the old 食字路口 and Taiwanese edition of running man, and is deemed as one of the most extreme roller coasters in the world by many not-so-credible (ie. news) sources.

This ride looks very indimidating. I thought I wouldn't be intidimidated now that I have taken a 20 storey dive coaster. I was wrong. It was not because the ride is very tall. Not because if is very fast. But because of the impressive sight when the entire track tilts from a horizontal to a perfectly vertical position. Like really, the track moves really fast. Suddenly, the highest point of the ride has risen from about 10 stories to over 12 stories...and clank...the ride vehicle hurtles downwards at 95kph into an abyss with 24 unfortunate souls on board.

Imagine the entire red section at the top flipping down a full 90 degrees!

I will be lying if I told you I was not nervous when I entered the ride. I was actually very nervous. Also, I was doubly worried because I only saw 1 train every 15-20 minutes or so. Is it because the ride is so scary that so few people even dare to ride it?

Not exactly. When I reached the loading platform, there were still about 30-40 people queuing. There was a long interval between trains because the ride had just "finished annual maintenance" and "cannot operate at full capacity". In fact, only 5 out of the 6 cars are available for riding, further reducing capacity. Oh yes did I forget? They were playing modified Star Wars soundtrack in the queue so for the rest of the day the Star Wars theme was looming in my head.

Finally they dispatched a train...2 more to go....but that means 30 minutes to contemplate my doom!
When it was my turn, I instinctively went for the middle seats. Honestly, I was quite concerned because if was more than 3 months since my last roller coaster ride. I kind of forgot how big drops, etc will feel like. Then, a staff approached me with bad news: I have to move to the back row as there is an odd number group there. Man! That means the tallest drop!

Strangely though, I stopped feeling nervous the moment the ride starts moving. I don't know, its like my body saying "forget it, it is useless to be nervous anyway". In fact, I remembered this same (loss of) feeling when I took Dive Coaster at Chimelong Paradise last year as well. Now comes the most nerve wracking part: the tilting. The highly charged soundtrack is supposed to make us more nervous but it actually distracted me from the horrors ahead.

The first like 75 degrees of the tilt was quite uneventful. However, from that point onwards, I find myself falling forward out of my seat. Then, restraint loosened by 1 notch (I guess I didn't push it down tight enough at the station) and I slipped forward further. I was falling out...falling out...out.......CLANK! When the drop happened, it just felt like a burden lifted off my shoulders. For the first time I can actually enjoy the ride. I must admit, the drop was not as intense as it looked from the ground and the remaining elements (loop and helix) are quite standard.

I also got the take the ride on the front row. The front row is a lot less scary as the drop is very short compared to the back. Also, this time I learnt my lesson and locked the restraint really tight!

The seat on this roller coaster is a standard seat, but I advice you to push in a big tighter because you will really feel like you are sliding out of the seat if the restraint is loose.

On a side note, remember I told you about Gravity Max and TV? Well, there was indeed filming going on that day. It is quite interesting how the hosts/participants were like feeling very bored behind the camera then suddenly the camera points to them and they said "我二十年没有坐过这么可怕的东西" (In 20 years, I never experienced anything so scary before). So now you know that how (un)scared your favourite celebrities actually are!

The Verdict

Lihpao Land is good compact park with excellent theming and lots of surprises. I love how the balanced between the whimsical of the decoration with the sophistication of the greenery. In spite of Gravity Max, I dare say that this park is more targeted towards kids and families. In some ways, I feel that this theme park is what Legoland aspires to be: a wide range of classic family attractions with a couple thrill rides to keep the teens/adults interested.

Although Gravity Max is a very intimidating coaster, I think having just 1 big roller coaster is never enough for a thrillseeker's park. Also, I honestly felt that the tilt coaster is a ride with style but little substance. The visually impact of the tilting track is really stunning but the drop was quite short and loop was normal. The ride duration is also very short. Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable, smooth and I rate this coaster a respectable 8.3. You also get bragging rights out of this ride!

The ride operations are generally okay, but I was genuinely impressed by the passion and energy of the staff. You really made this beautiful theme park exceptional!

Overall for Lihpao Land:
  • Roller Coasters: ☆☆☆
  • Thrill Rides: ☆☆☆
  • Shows: [cannot rate, not open that day]
  • Family Rides: ☆☆☆☆
  • Theming: ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Operations: ☆☆☆☆
  • Overall: ☆☆☆☆

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