Hydro-powered fun

Water parks are always popular in the summer months, and northern Taiwan offers two facilities that rank with the best in the world

By Michael Kearney  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Fri, Aug 17, 2007 - Page 13

Sitting in my inflatable tube, I knew Mala Bay's Magician Airship was going to be a good water slide because I couldn't see over the edge and, to protect themselves from falling off the top, the lifeguards were harnessed in.

Shaped like a half-pipe, sliders go back and forth a number of times before finally coming to a rest at the base. "It feels like you're going to land on your head. Then you hit the bottom, and it's smooth sailing from there," said George Kresina, a water slide enthusiast.

During the summer, northern Taiwan's two largest water parks, Taichung County's Mala Bay (馬拉灣) and Taipei County's Formosa Fun Coast (八仙海岸), are crowded with people trying to escape the sweltering heat for a day.

Located in Bali (八里), Formosa Fun Coast is the largest water park in Taiwan. Walking into the park, one is immediately taken aback by the variety of water slides, tube rides and other water-based activities that are crammed into the nine-hectare facility.

Looming over the rest of the rides is the Bermuda Forbidden Ground tower. It includes the Free Fall and the Extreme Challenge, two pairs of water slides that, at 21m high, are the tallest speed slides in Taiwan. In the landing pool are timers that give sliders their times to the nearest hundredth of a second.

Races are held daily from 2pm to 3pm on the Free Fall and the Extreme Challenge. Daily winners are invited to compete in races on Sunday of the same week to determine the weekly winners, and championship races for weekly winners will be held on Aug. 26. The winner on each slide of the championship race will receive NT$10,000.

Last year's winner for the men, Jesse Douma of Australia, still relishes in the glory of his winning slide. Douma used what he describes as a "Bruce Almighty" form to claim victory. "Once on the slide, I shaped my body like the character in the movie. I arched my back, stuck out my chest and raised my arms above my head, thus leaving only the bare minimum of my well-tuned body touching the slide," Douma said.

Douma took home NT$30,000 and a trophy that is "the size of a five year old." The money was spent on a trip to the Philippines and the trophy is sitting on his mantelpiece in Australia. He won't be making the trip back to Taiwan for this year's competition and is "tragically disappointed" he can't compete.

Inside the tube

Besides the speed slides, Formosa Fun Coast also features the UFO Expedition, a four-person tube ride that was completed last September. It's 220m long and 22m high, which, according to Ivy Wang (王懿君) of Formosa Fun Coast's ticketing services, makes it the longest and tallest family slide in Asia. Riders are tossed about through a series of twists and turns before finally reaching safety in the landing pool.

Taichung County's Mala Bay features the Big Wave, a 110m2 wave pool that is one of the world's largest. Waves reaching 1.8m regularly crash into the hundreds of people who are crowded into the enormous pool.

"It's like being at the beach during a typhoon," Kresina said.

In the afternoon, the waves subside periodically to give waders and swimmers a chance to rest and listen to the bands that play on a stage sitting in the shallow end of the wave pool.

Volleyball competitions are held at Mala Bay weekdays from 2pm to 4pm. Teams of three people (two of whom must be female) compete to become the daily champions; daily champions are invited to compete the following Saturday at 3pm to become the weekly champion. Weekly champions are able to compete in the finals on Sept. 2, and the winning team will take home NT$30,000.

Next to Mala Bay is Discovery World amusement park; a combo ticket can be purchased which offers admission to both parks.

Swimming caps are required on the rides at Mala Bay and beer is sold at the park. Formosa Fun Coast doesn't require swim caps, but beer is missing from its concession stands.

"We don't sell beer because people's reaction times become slower after drinking alcoholic beverages. It's difficult to predict what will happen after they get off a water slide, so we worry about accidents happening," Wang said.

Visitors at Mala Bay can store money on a waterproof band, which can be swiped at concession stands to purchase food and drinks. Any unused money is refunded when the band is returned. It's more convenient than Formosa Fun Coast's system that requires visitors to carry around cash.

If the weather is good, lines are long at both water parks, especially on weekends. Formosa Fun Coast does a better job of shuttling people through the rides - many times on the speed slides at Mala Bay the rider before me had exited the ride and had already begun to dry off before the lifeguard allowed me to slide.

Getting there

To get to Formosa Fun Coast on public transit, ride the MRT to Guandu (關渡) then take bus 22 red or 13 red directly to the water park. Until Sept. 2, park hours are from 9am to 9:30pm Monday to Friday and 8:30am to 10pm on weekends. After Sept. 2, park hours are from 9:30am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 9:30am to 5:30pm on weekends. Tickets are NT$620 and concession tickets are available. More information is available at www.fww.com.tw.

To get to Mala Bay on public transit, take a train to Fengyuan (豐原) and then a bus to Yuemei (月眉), or take a train to Houli (后里) and then a taxi to the park. Until Sept. 2, park hours are from 9am to 9pm. After Sept. 2, park hours are from 9:00am to 5:30pm. Tickets are NT$600 and concession tickets are available. The combo ticket for both Mala Bay and Discovery World is NT$790. More information is available at www.yamay.com.tw.