Two months on and I thought it was time to find out a little more about Vietnam’s only rink with real ice, now that Ho Chi Minh City’s miniature counterpart has closed down. Had the standard improved? And what did the residents of Hanoi think about gliding on ice?
A New Form of Entertainment
According to Vinpearl Ice Rink manager, Nguyen Linh Son, it was Mr. Vincom himself, Pham Nhat Vuong, who came up with idea of bringing an ice rink to Vietnam. “He wanted to combine a new kind of entertainment with the shopping.” So far it seems to have worked.
A maximum of 150 people can skate for a session, which lasts just under an hour, and if you turn up at evenings or weekends, you’re likely to find the place fully booked. Hai, an instructor, says, “More and more people are coming, it’s definitely becoming more popular.”
Although people are flocking from as far afield as Nam Dinh, Hai Phong and Ho Chi Minh City to take to the ice, it’s also proving popular with international visitors. Hai adds: “We get people from everywhere, especially Canadians, Europeans and Koreans.” There’s now even a children’s hockey team who come to practise every Wednesday.
The standard also looks to have improved with a lot less wobbling replaced with a bit more skill. The two instructors on my session have only been on the ice for two months, but they look as though they’ve been skating since childhood.
“They’re really good, they learn fast here,” says Elya, who’s been drafted in from Ukraine with her figure skating partner to train the local staff. They also perform shows that have drawn large crowds on the weekend. With all this talent and the exposure to skilled skaters from around the world, I asked if we might see a Vietnamese representation at the Winter Olympics some day. “We’re a long way off right now, but you never know,” jokes Elya.
For the majority on the ice, it was their first time visiting the rink. I approached someone in their late teens who looked like he had tried it before. “Oh no,” he laughed. “It’s my first time, but I like in-line skating, it’s very similar.” He wasn’t alone in showing off some technique. “I’ve only been skating for 40 minutes, but I haven’t fallen over and I’m getting the hang of it,” boasts another young man.
A group of girls were also finding their feet well. They came to check the hype. “Everyone is talking about it, so we wanted to come along and practise.” They added: “It’s a popular place to hang out with friends, but it’s slightly expensive, so it’s a once in a while treat.”
Manager, Son, agrees that the price is a little steep for most Vietnamese, but he attributes the high demand to the novelty factor, leaving people keen to try. The cooling system uses convection technology through coils 10cm below the ice, and has environmentally friendly ventilation that is unlikely to be cheap to maintain.
But the international-standard ice rink certainly offers great value for money. There’s plenty of room to skate and achieve some speed or, if you know what you’re doing, pull off some tricks, which the instructors were trying and succeeding in, impressing the untrained eye. Phuong, the other instructor, who was sporting a bandage on her wrist proving her dedication, says, “I was scared at first, I only applied because I spoke Russian. But now I love my job — it’s a great place to come, everyone has fun.” And she’s right, judging by the wide grins on everyone’s face, it’s an energetic and fun-filled hour that will leave you smiling for some time after.
The instructors are also on hand to offer free coaching and guidance, if you’re new to the sport, using plastic Arctic animals to steady the novice — or, if you’re lazy, you can be pushed around by a willing volunteer on the seals; a great deal of fun.
This is a picture of the changing face of Vietnam, a mall that mixes shopping and entertainment that’s bigger and better than what existed before. It’s also been done remarkably well, rivalling any skating I’ve done on a temporary rink at Christmas time. The experience is smooth, well-organised, the staff properly trained, and with a bit of commitment from budding youngsters, it could be the start of a long relationship with Vietnam and the ice, perhaps even spawning a future gold medalist.
Watch this space.
Want to Skate?
Vinpearl Ice Rink can be found inside Vincom Mega Mall Royal City, 72A Nguyen Trai, Thanh Xuan.
Monday to Friday
VND100,000 for children and VND170,000 for adults
Weekends and holidays
VND150,000 for children and VND220,000 for adults
VND 50,000 per pair
Lockers are provided free of charge
For more information go to vincomshoppingmall.com/vi-VN/Vincommegaroyalcity