Singapore’s Best Attraction: The Zoo

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Lemurs at the Singapore Zoo.
Lemurs at the Singapore Zoo.

Singapore Sling: A Wild Time in Singapore

By Lauryn Axelrod

Breakfast at the Singapore Zoo. photo: Lauryn Axelrod.
Breakfast at the Singapore Zoo. photo: Lauryn Axelrod.

Singapore was a 3-day layover: another stopping point in which to recoup and relax for a few days before heading to Bali for the next month.

But the real reason for stopping in Singapore was the zoo: the Singapore Zoological Gardens is one of the finest zoos in the world and one of the few places you can see the famed Komodo Dragons outside of Komodo Island.

That was reason enough for a few days’ visit. We arrived late after a long flight from Tokyo and checked into the Robertson Quay Hotel, a clean, budget hotel with a pool, Internet café, and “beach” bar right on the bank of the Singapore River steps away from Chinatown and the seafood restaurants of Clarke Quay.

We took a short walk along the moonlit quay to stretch our legs before hitting the hay early: tomorrow morning, we were having breakfast at the zoo with the orangutans! A Wild Time At 8:00 am, we were up and moving; breakfast was scheduled for 9:00 at the zoo.

At the shaded, jungle pavilion deep within the zoo’s grounds, we helped ourselves to fresh fruit, noodles, eggs, pastries, and juices and waited for the monkeys to arrive. At 9:30, two zookeepers began setting out fruits on the platforms by the dining area: the animals’ breakfast.

Then the show began. Our first guest was a huge python ceremoniously wrapped around Josh’s shoulders, while the zookeeper explained how pythons squeeze their prey to death. Good thing it had already eaten! Then came the stars of the show: a mother orangutan and her four-month-old baby were brought to the platforms for breakfast.

While they ate watermelons, bananas and other fruits within inches of our own plates, we watched in amazement, fascinated by their every move. The zookeeper explained how orangutans live and breed and also talked about the zoo’s conservation efforts with the monkeys and other animals: it was just a taste of what the rest of the day would bring. After everyone – monkeys and humans – was sated, it was time to explore the zoo.

The Singapore Zoo is unique in that it is an open-concept zoo; there are no cement and metal cages for the animals. Habitats are built and bordered with natural barriers like streams, and with the exception of dangerous or difficult animals, which have glassed-in viewing areas, the wild things are free to roam within their boundaries.

Some are even free-roaming, and you are likely to be accompanied on your visit by peacocks and other birds. Humans are also free to wander shaded, well-marked paths past the various animals, and from inches away, watch as they go about their business.

Animal feedings and lecture-demonstrations take place at regular times, and in some cases, visitors can help feed the animals, too! Josh and I spent five hours exploring the zoo: the most time I have spent in a zoo since he was a baby.

We marveled at the colony of more than 50 Hamydras Baboons in the newly completed Rift Valley habitat; laughed at the antics of the white-handed monkeys swinging above our heads; fed and rode elephants; giggled at the otters; stood in awe before the lions, tigers and other big cats; clapped for the seals and penguins; and were amazed by the various forms of reptile life that lives in the tropical jungles of Asia, including the famed Komodo Dragons! Hundreds of animals, from near and far captured our attention, many of which we had never seen before.

We stayed for lunch at one of the jungle restaurants, and it wasn’t until the animals started settling in for their afternoon naps that we decided we needed one too, and headed back to our hotel, exhausted, but happy. It had been a fascinating, wild day: a highlight for both of us.

Night Safari

Most zoos are only open in the daytime when many animals are sleeping. But the Singapore Zoo is unique in that it is also open at night for Asia’s only Night Safari!

Also an open-concept zoo, the Night Safari takes place in a different part of the zoo’s grounds and offers visitors the chance to observe the antics of different, nocturnal animals in their cage-free habitats. Animals are grouped by region – Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, etc. – and can be observed by walking the well-lit paths or taking a 45-minute, informative tram ride along a different route.

Josh and I arrived at 7:30 pm when the park opens, and until midnight, we prowled the paths, getting face to face with giraffes, Malayan Tigers, Bongos, hyenas, leopards, rhinos, wolves, sloth bears, wild boars, and even gigantic fruit bats that hang inches from your face!

On the tram ride, we learned more about the different animals, and each time we turned a corner, were surprised by what might be lying by the road. It really does feel like being on safari, as you cross suspension rope bridges across jungle ravines, or watch lions and lionesses play with their cubs while a tiger roars into the night.

It was the best evening entertainment we had had in a long time, and as we sipped our fruit juice in the East Lodge café, watching the silhouettes of ibex and giraffe in the moonlight, we were glad we had come to Singapore for the zoo: it was worth the layover!  It turned out that the zoo wasn’t the only kid-friendly attraction in Singapore.

Singapore Zoo.
Singapore Zoo.

From the streets of Chinatown and the colorful markets of Little India to the busy restaurants of Clarke and Boat Quays, and the theme-park attractions beaches of nearby Sentosa Island, there was more to see and do in Singapore than we had time for.

We did, however, dine on cheap seafood along the river, wander the alleys of Chinatown, soak in the old colonial atmosphere at the Raffles Hotel (where the Singapore Sling was invented), and even catch the latest Jackie Chan movie at an Orchard Road mall with a bunch of local kids! When it came time to leave, we felt as if we hadn’t been in Singapore long enough.

Even though it is known for its somewhat Draconian laws, the lush, clean and colorful island country had captured our hearts. But Bali was our next destination, and we would have a whole month to play on the beaches, explore villages and volcanoes, and learn Balinese dance, music, and other crafts.

Where To Stay

Robertson Quay Hotel
15 Merbau Street

A budget hotel with small, functional rooms with A/C and TV, outdoor pool with waterslide, fitness room, room service, Internet in the lobby and a “Beach” Bar with lounge chairs overlooking the Singapore River. Internet rates as low as $45/double with breakfast.

Where to Eat

Eating in Singapore is a highlight, and everything from Chinese to Malay to European food is cheap and easy to find. For atmospheric seafood, try the restaurants on Clarke and Boat Quays. For cheap, fresh and tasty food, day or night, Hawker Centers — basically Singaporean food courts beloved of locals– are located in shopping centers, Chinatown, Orchard Road, and other areas. USD $5 could fill you up for the entire day!

To taste the original Singapore Sling, the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel is the only place to go. Put on some nice clothes and sip beneath teak fans.

What to DoScreen Shot 2018 04 06 at 10.04.58 AM

Singapore Zoological Gardens and Night Safari

The zoo is open daily from 8:30 am to 6 pm. Night Safari opens every night from 7:30 pm to midnight. There are fast-food outlets and inexpensive, but tasty sit-down restaurants at both attractions.

The best deal is to buy a combination day/night ticket, which enables you to visit the zoo and then come back another day for the Night Safari.

Wild Breakfast or Tea with the Orangutans is held daily at 9 am and 4 pm. Tickets are available at the zoo.