The global success of live physical puzzling has arrived in Vietnam. By Simon Stanley.
The door locks closed with a thunk, rendering the four of us silent as our eyes adjust to the dim light. A tiny room, an office maybe, a century or so before our time. Old, musty, a few books and ornaments scattered about. A chalky outline of a body laid out on the wooden floor.
“The timer!” my girlfriend and appointed Chief Inspector exclaims. We turn and look up at the large, illuminated countdown on the wall. The clock is indeed ticking.
With less than an hour remaining to identify the killer and escape from this shadowy world of sin, the space is suddenly alive with activity as we scour every shelf, cupboard and upturned flowerpot for clues.
“What’s in there?” I enquire, pointing to an as-yet-unopened drawer in the dresser, twirling the tips of my imaginary moustache.
“We don’t know,” comes a muffled reply. My friend’s head has vanished beneath the heavy oak desk as he searches for more fragments of the jigsaw he’s assembling. “There’s a combination padlock on it… four digits. Here, take this…”
A leather-bound journal appears in my hands. Written in elaborate cursive script, the last entry is cut short, ending mid-sentence. Something about a jealous lover, an illegal business deal gone wrong. And so it begins…
A Global Phenomenon Turns Vietnamese
This summer, an international phenomenon arrived in Saigon, bringing with it daily spates of murder and deceit, crimes too heinous even for these pages. But fear not, dear citizens, it is but a game, and quite possibly unlike any you’ve played before. Global entertainment franchise The Escape Hunt Experience invites you to flex your finest Sherlock-esque lexicon (deerstalkers optional) and test your crime-solving, code-cracking and lateral-thinking puzzle skills in this, Vietnam’s first live room-escape gaming adventure.
Similar to popular online point-and-click room-escape games such as The Crimson Room and MOTAS (the genre having first leapt from the virtual environs of the internet to the real-world in 2011 via an abandoned Budapest basement), players are transported back to early 20th century Saigon to be ‘locked’ inside a room and presented with a crime scene. From here, by solving a series of interlinked clues and challenges in the one-hour time limit, the key to the door, the identity of the culprit and a well-earned cup of English tea in the opulent reception area can be yours. Your team photo may even make it onto the prestigious wall of fame.
The Escape Hunt arrived in Bangkok in July 2013, in Southeast Asia’s first exposure to the concept, and quickly became the city’s number one-rated attraction on TripAdvisor. Not surprisingly then, the Saigon branch has also just landed itself the top spot after a flood of highly positive reviews. With three unique games available in English and Vietnamese, the semi-secretive District 3 location (ideal for impressing your friends) has drawn in scores of tourists and locals alike since opening, with high schools and corporate groups also making use of the team-building, cooperative elements of the challenges within.
“When groups of people come here,” says Ngan, the branch’s cheerful overseer, “they may be backpackers who just met in their hostel or colleagues from a local business, but after playing our games they leave like old friends. It brings people together.”
Ngan is clearly proud to be part of such a unique attraction in Saigon, a city where a few days of exploring museums and markets can leave visitors feeling a little underwhelmed… and sweaty.
“People want something else to do — a cool place to visit,” she says. The Escape Hunt is definitely that, in both senses of the word. — Simon Stanley
Since this article was published, The Escape Hunt Experience Ho Chi Minh City has closed.
Published December 2014 – Word Vietnam