8 highlights from the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari
After all, they’re some of Singapore’s staple attractions for both tourists and locals alike. The Singapore Zoo has won countless awards (including TripAdvisor’s top 5 zoos in the world), and the Night Safari was the world’s first-ever nocturnal zoo.
You may have visited these places as a kid, and are looking to make good use of your SingapoRediscovers Vouchers to make a return trip and spend the day with family or friends.
Having visited all three attractions in the last few months, here’s what I thought were the most memorable experiences.
There’s a small cost of $5 to feed the animals, but it’s one of the best ways to get up close and personal with them. Do take note of the feeding timings so you can better plan your visit.
There are goat, white rhino, elephant, giant tortoise and giraffe feedings. I would highly recommend the giant tortoise feeding over at the Reptile Garden. Having such long life spans (averaging 80 to 120 years), these gentle ‘giants’ are some of the oldest residents at the zoo.
The feeding allows you really close contact - you can step into their enclosure, pet their necks and shells and even take selfies with the friendly creatures! Just be careful they don’t step on your feet, as a fully-grown tortoise can weigh up to 250kg.
Hand-feeding them the cherry tomatoes is great fun too. Like myself, the one I fed was a really messy eater.
I also tried out the giraffe feeding, though that was less interactive as you can’t actually pet them or step into their enclosure for safety reasons. We were given a cup of carrots to feed them, and they gulped down the food in one mouthful so you have to be really quick with pictures. I still enjoyed the experience, but the feeding was over really fast.
When I was young, the polar bear enclosure used to be my favourite. Now that the last polar bear Inuka is gone, my favourite animal exhibit has to be that of the Hamadryas baboons.
Located at the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, the enclosure is fairly large and houses countless Hamadryas baboons along with a waterfall.
It's fascinating to see their social habits and characteristics too. The adult males are identified by their silvery mantle-like manes, and are double the size of females. The females are characterised by very prominent swollen red bottoms.
We saw some males grooming the females and also piggybacking them. Each male also has a clan of females, and even chases them and bite their necks if they stray too far. We’re lucky human males don’t exhibit the same behavior.
Whilst the baboons were the highlight, they weren't the only animals that I enjoyed seeing. The Asian elephants were a hot favourite, and there’s a sizeable seating area so you can take a break from walking around and simply observe these magnificent creatures.
Also, the delightful chimpanzees, whose exhibit resembles a jungle gym and high elements course. If you're lucky, you’ll spot them while they are particularly active and climbing up and down the multi-tiered structure.
It was thrilling to be so close to one of the orangutans too. He was sleeping soundly right next to the glass enclosure! The zoo also had a Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife activity where you get to meet them and 'dine' with them, which is currently suspended because of Covid. Do look out for it when it re-opens!
Even though this zone was designed for kids, I’m pretty sure the whole family will have a blast! Just like the animal feedings, you can really see the farmyard animals up close here.
The falabellas are particularly adorable, as well as the sociable goats. We even saw people feeding them leaves, though I’m pretty sure that isn’t actually permitted (you can pay to feed them actual food as part of the animal feedings) .
Unfortunately, some activities have been suspended due to social distancing measures, such as the pony rides, the falabella grooming and rabbit petting.
This is the very obvious highlight of the night safari - and for good reason. The iconic tram ride is complimentary, and trams come very frequently so we didn’t have to wait too long in queue.
I was quite disappointed that live tram commentary has been replaced by a recorded one though! Although it was still informative, it’s nice to have an actual tram guide who can build rapport with visitors and offer a more personal experience or insightful anecdotes regarding the animals.
The ride is around 35 to 40 minutes, and we took one of the first trams of the night at 7pm. I’d recommend that timing as there is still some daylight and you can better spot the animals.
Admittedly, some are really hard to see in the dark, even with each habitat being illuminated. Highlights were the Nile hippo, Asian lion and Malayan tapir. The friendly tapir is able to roam free, and we spotted it right next to our tram!
If you want more time to observe the animals, embark on the various walking trails after your tram ride.
Some of the trails cross paths with one another too, so you can cover all the ground easily. The fishing cat trail was particularly memorable. Whilst we didn’t get to see the fishing cat in action, we entered an indoor exhibit with the fascinating Malayan flying fox- which is actually a bat.
Another fascinating animal that was part of the trail was the Indian gharial. This endangered crocodile isn’t the man-eating kind. In fact, it consumes fish, and its jaws are so fragile that you could hold it together with a rubber band!
The east lodge trail is another must-go. The spotted hyena exhibit was particularly popular. They were running about and chasing each other, and you can also head to an elevated platform to watch them up close.
We also liked observing the sloth bears, with their unique sickle shape claws and cream-colored snout.
Kai Kai and Jia Jia
These pandas are undeniably the star attraction of the River Safari. As such, we had to queue about 30 minutes to see them due to capacity restrictions in their exhibit. The queue really depends on luck and whether you’re visiting on a weekday or weekend.
Just a heads-up: whether or not you do spot these shy creatures is a matter of luck too. The don’t always like to come out of hiding.
Fortunately, we managed to spot Kai Kai in the large, air-conditioned exhibit. He was busy chowing down on biscuits and didn’t show his face at all, but I managed to snap a shot of him from a distance.
As for Jia Jia, she was sleeping in her cage - we saw her on CCTV camera having her afternoon nap.
It was interesting to read the fun facts about these pandas at the exhibit, like the fact that females are only fertile one to three days in a year. Jia Jia's hormone levels are regularly monitored in the lab as well to determine ovulation.
Amazon River Quest
The other star attraction that can’t be missed, designed to replicate a journey along the Amazon river.
Obviously, you can’t compare it to an actual boat ride on the Amazon, but it was fun nonetheless. The first “drop” into the waters was a small thrill too, though don’t expect it to be an adrenaline-inducing flume ride.
The relaxing boat ride is around 10 minutes, and we spotted animals like the jaguar, giant anteater and Caribbean flamingos.
The ride is chargeable at $5 for adults and $3 for children.
Manatees and catfish
It’s always fascinating to watch large sea creatures glide through the water, like the Mekong giant catfish. In fact, I’ve never seen such big fish before! Catfish in the enclosure weigh around 40 kilograms and those in the wild can weigh up to 300 kg!
The manatees are particularly adorable too - we loved watching them rolling over and over in the water. They’re also known as sea cows, due to the fact that they spend up to 8 hours a day feeding on aquatic vegetation.
General tips for visiting all three attractions
Get there at least 45 minutes early for shows or pre-book online. If you’re wondering why I didn’t include any shows in my highlights, it’s because I didn’t get to watch them! I was hoping to catch the Splash Safari show featuring the seals at 10:30am, but the queue was already pretty crazy at 10:15am and seats would have been filled by the time it got to us. Same goes for the Night Safari’s Creatures of the Night show. You can now book tickets in advance for Splash Safari, but Creatures of the Night tickets can’t be pre-booked online. If you want to catch a show, I’d advise arriving in the queue at least 45 minutes in advance.
Adjust your phone to night mode or get a good digital camera for taking pictures at the Night Safari. I didn’t do both of the above, and thus couldn’t capture many photos on my iPhone 7as it was too dark.
There are several eateries at all three parks. I ended up eating at KFC at the zoo and Ulu Ulu Safari Restaurant at the Night Safari. The “restaurant” is more of an open-air food court though, with a safari-themed design. Whilst food is thankfully edible, there was nothing particularly memorable. I’d recommend the Indian food at Ulu Ulu as opposed to the beef teppanyaki though, which wasn’t particularly tender or flavourful.
If you’re up for it, all three parks can be visited in one day. We arrived at the zoo around 10am and spent about 4 hours there. Depending on your pace and how long you spend at each exhibit, the River Safari would take around 2 to 3 hours ( depending on the queue for visiting the pandas and the Amazon River Quest). The Night Safari, which we visited on a separate day, took us around 2 and half to three hours. If you don’t want to burn yourself out or are visiting with young kids, consider visiting the zoo and River Safari in one day, and the Night Safari on another.
To my best knowledge, you can’t currently show up and purchase tickets for the wildlife parks on the spot, due to capacity restrictions. You can book slots for all three parks online and select timings to visit. There are quite a number of promos for booking online, such as discounts for local residents or visits to more than one park.