I don’t usually bother with going to zoos in most places I visit unless they’re somehow extraordinary. I was told that Singapore Zoo was definitely worth seeing, and it really was! Locals Miss J and her friend Miss Z offered to come along with me. As we were going to the Night Safari (a separate park next door) in the evening I assumed we’d just want the afternoon at the zoo – Miss J insisted we start out early, which turned out to be a good idea with how big the place is! The zoo is a fair distance from the city – we found the fastest way was a direct bus which took around 30 minutes.
Just a warning – there’s pictures of all sorts of animals below, including spiders and snakes, so if that’s a trigger for anyone I’d uh, stop scrolling now.
There’s a little train that goes around the zoo but you can’t actually see anything without getting off it, so it isn’t really worth bothering with unless you missed an area and want to go back – the zoo is pretty massive, so it takes a lot of walking to get anywhere! We ended up seeing pretty much everything (even Kiddy Land, mainly to see the ‘giant rabbit’) and staying several hours, so towards the end of the day we just rode the train to get off our feet for a bit! The zoo is definitely not something you want to do on a rainy day, and if going on a really warm day like we did it’s definitely a good idea to bring sunscreen, a hat and some water.
Singapore Zoo specialises in primates, so if like me your first stop is always the monkeys and apes, you’re in luck – they take up something like a third of the zoo, and the enclosures are the best that I’ve seen. I always have doubts about how happy such intelligent creatures can be in a zoo environment, but if you’re an orangutan in a zoo I’d say that this is probably the one you’d want to be in. The orangutans have a large enclosure but it isn’t actually enclosed – they’re able to get to the neighbouring trees via ropes and wooden structures and are sort of ‘free roaming’. I didn’t see any of them come down from the trees so they must be trained against it (or just aren’t really interested) but it’s still much closer than you’d normally be able to get.
Apart from the primates and some very cool walk-through enclosures, the zoo is quite similar to what you’d see in other zoos. I always feel a bit sorry for the big cats, which always seem to be sleeping or pacing. In the morning and early afternoon most of the animals were sleeping (probably wiser than us, out in the heat of the day!), but in the late afternoon they were a lot more active.
Overall, Singapore zoo is absolutely worth seeing! We were very much enamoured with the teeny sugar gliders (too fast for me to photograph), the beautifully patterned snakes, and the adorable tapir (no spotted baby ones though). The shows are about as cheesy as you’d expect (very much so), but if you don’t mind that it’s worth checking out at least one. Food was surprisingly not too bad for a tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere – my $6 laksa was actually pretty good, and there was a good variety of options.
After all day at the zoo, we moved on to the Night Safari, which is actually a separate park next door. The zoo closes at 6pm, and Night Safari doesn’t open until 7pm… apart from the restaurants and gift shops. It’s pretty clear that the idea is you go there at 6pm, eat some dinner and buy some overpriced souvenirs before the park opens. There’s not much of a variety of food options, and they’re all insanely overpriced – we absolutely refused to pay $17 for chicken rice (I paid $3.50 for chicken rice in a food court the day before!) and settled for overpriced burgers instead. What we should have done was walked back to the zoo and eaten dinner there – so if you’re doing both the zoo and Night Safari in the same day, I recommend doing that instead!
Crappy food options aside, the Night Safari is also very much worth seeing. We started with the tram tour, which (unlike the zoo tram) was actually very informative and takes you through areas that you can’t actually get to by foot. As all the animals are nocturnal there were strict instructions to turn off camera flash, but some people either didn’t understand or didn’t know how to use their cameras because there were still flashes going off all over the place. Poor animals! Of course without flash it’s very difficult to take photos, even with a wide open aperture and slow shutter speed, so I gave up taking photos for most of it and just enjoyed the ride.
Some people who have asked me about it seem a bit confused by the name Night Safari – it isn’t like an African safari where you drive around a natural habitat and animals aren’t enclosed at all – it’s more like a nocturnal zoo, with animals separated from the people with moats, fences and cages. The exception is a couple of walk through enclosures, which were the highlight of the safari. In one were flying squirrels, which obligingly ran and glided from tree to tree right in front of us – so amazing to see! Another housed a large number of bats, which I’m sure would give some people pause. Being night they were all flying around, and even though you know they’re such good flyers that there’s no way they would fly into a slow, lumbering human, I couldn’t help flinching slightly every time one flew sort of near me. They’re fascinating creatures though, and I’ve never been able to see them up so close.
I think if you only had time for one park, then Singapore Zoo has a lot more to see and much better opportunity to take photos. On the other hand the Night Safari runs in the coolness of the evening and is much less crowded, so if it’s a really hot day then that might be preferable – and the bat enclosure seriously was the highlight of the day for me. If you’re planning on doing both properly, plan on starting out early and returning late – our bus left 10:30am, and returned close to midnight. If you’re not nature parked out from an entire day of it, Jurong Bird Park is supposed to be excellent as well (and I think you can get special combo deals if you’re seeing more than one of the three parks). Best day of the trip for me!