Throughout the course of our trip, we have focused more on immersing ourselves as deeply as possible in the local culture of wherever we happen to find ourselves rather than bopping around obvious attractions that seem geared more toward pleasure-seeking holiday makers and vacation takers. We don’t have a hardline policy that eschews popular, well-known activities, it’s just that I have found that I tend to learn the most about the world by simply being out in it, wandering the streets and observing the locals living their lives, than I do when we seek out museums and similar diversions. I suppose I simply like my history alive, watching the eddy of time culminate in whatever is unfolding before my eyes in the here and now.

But Singapore is chockablock with enticing diversions that really tell you nothing whatsoever about the country (save for the fact that whatever Singapore does, it seems to do so with gusto and an eye for excellence, if not perfection) that we nevertheless found impossible to ignore.

We rounded out the triumvirate of Singapore’s premier animal attractions that include the Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park with a visit to the one that is arguably the best, the Singapore Zoo.

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I’m not going to bullshit you: I didn’t experience any life-changing lessons or moments of transcendence at the Singapore Zoo. It is, after all, just a zoo. But, it’s a really good zoo, quite likely the very best zoo I have ever visited. Given all the sad stories you hear about most Asian zoos, the Singapore Zoo is certainly a testament to how great zoos can be when done right, regardless of continent. I think the best zoos are the ones that celebrate the diversity of the animal kingdom and foster a happy, healthy environment where their occupants can thrive; there’s no question the Singapore Zoo does both of these things incredibly well.

The number and variety of animals on display is really impressive, ranging from your traditional offerings of tigers and elephants, to more unusual offerings like tapirs, proboscis monkeys, and the increasingly threatened but always loved pandas (both giants & red, the latter being our personal favorites. Quick bit of trivia: did you know that red pandas are pretty pugnacious and when they are cornered they stand on their hind legs and box? As if they couldn’t be any cuter!). I’ve been to my fair share of zoos, and yet I still saw a few creatures that were completely new to me and was really impressed with the number of animals on offer.

Otter hug!! There are no words. Also, his tongue is sticking out, squee!
Otter hug!! There are no words. Also, his tongue is sticking out, squee!

But by far, the very best thing about the Singapore Zoo, and surely the thing that sets it apart from any other zoo I’ve been to, is its sense of spaciousness and attempt at making the park feel more like a nature walk than an animal jail. For obvious reasons, most zoos involve heavy chain-link fences and cages or suffocating, claustrophobic glass enclosures to pen their animals in, but—much like the Night Safari—the Singapore Zoo seems to try its utmost to avoid this wherever possible. Instead, the animals have large compounds that have deep, wide gulfs with steep walls to keep them separate from each other and from visitors. This gives the sense that most of the animals can just freely roam, and indeed, some of the less ferocious animals are seemingly given free reign of the park: upon entering the zoo, we came across a copse of trees right in the middle of the entry plaza where several adorable teeny tiny Cotton-top Tamarins (pictured in this post’s lead image) were hanging out. It would have been so easy to stretch out a hand and ruffle a fluffy head or two, but not wanting to incur a horrifying Arrested Development-esque “No Touching!” moment, somehow we managed to restrain ourselves.

I think an added benefit of the zoo’s open-concept, naturalistic setting is that not only does it delight human patrons, but the animals seem to really appreciate and flourish within this kind of setting as well. I think we’ve all had experiences where our zoo visit has largely involved watching animals sleep, but the ones at the Singapore Zoo were remarkably active (even ones that were supposedly nocturnal, if the Night Safari is to be believed) and it was very rare for us to approach an enclosure and not catch sight of its occupants.

We were in Singapore during the rainy season and unfortunately experienced the worst weather of our time there on the very day we chose to visit the zoo. As a result, we didn’t manage to see the whole thing and even had to put our camera away halfway through our visit; at one point the rains became so torrential, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see an ark go sailing by to round up all the animals. But even with pretty much the worst weather conditions you can imagine, we both thoroughly enjoyed our time at the zoo and would happily return to check out the parts that bad weather forced us to miss on our next visit to Singapore.

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When it comes to broadening our horizons or learning more about this beautiful world we live in, I can’t say that the Singapore Zoo taught us very much at all, but I’m glad we visited it all the same. It was a pure pleasure outing that happily turned out to be very pleasurable indeed.

If you are planning to visit multiple animal attractions in Singapore, you will undoubtedly save money if you get a Park Hopper pass. Getting the 2-in-1 pass will save you S$13, while the 3-in-1 pass (which we purchased) saves you S$18. You have 30 days to use your pass, which means you shouldn’t feel rushed. The parks are pricey, no doubt, but they are all excellent. If you enjoy animals, then you will likely find the parks excellent value for money.

Tell us: What’s the best zoo you have ever been to? What was an activity or attraction you visited during your travels that was purely for fun?

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (13)

  1. October 7, 2013 at 5:32 am
    Oct. 7, '13

    Very nice and cute pictures guys! I love animals so much but we didn’t go to the zoo while in Singapore, unfortunately I’m not a fan of zoos.
    Franca recently posted..LOCATE CAVEY – Noci

    • October 9, 2013 at 1:28 am
      Oct. 9, '13

      I have been to some really nice zoos, though I don’t really make it a habit of visiting them. We have a friend who spent some time in Singapore and raved about how unique the zoo was so we knew it would probably be one worth checking out. I’m glad she was right! 😀

  2. October 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm
    Oct. 7, '13

    Hi Steph,
    Aww…they all look so adorable! You know I skipped this zoo when I was in Singapore basically because I hate to see animals in “jailed in” condiition and prefer to see them in their natural habitat. But I’m glad to hear from you that they’re actually in a good, comfortable environment.

    P.s. Thanks so much for your email! Will get back to you soon 🙂
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..The Journey into Bhutan, the Last Shangri-La

    • October 9, 2013 at 2:17 am
      Oct. 9, '13

      We have been really careful about visiting any animal attractions in Asia because so many of them are done so poorly and you read reviews where people talk about the terrible conditions and how unhappy the animals were. The Singapore zoo, however, really seems focused on promoting happy, healthy environments for their animals. I realize that in an ideal world, these animals would live in the wild, but with habitat destruction and hunting/poaching being what it is, I honestly believe a life spent in this zoo is far better than what most of these creatures would otherwise experience.

  3. October 9, 2013 at 1:01 am
    Oct. 9, '13

    Amazing adventure Steph. The animals look so cute and lovely. I just can’t stop looking at pandas, my favourite animal ever! <3 I have a few questions. How much did you pay for the tickets? Did you stay there a whole day? I might visit this place soon and I'm planning my budget right now for Singapore. Thanks x
    Agness recently posted..Travel Under $25 a Day in Derawan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia

  4. October 9, 2013 at 1:03 am
    Oct. 9, '13

    I found the info, silly me! Just ignore it. I’ll probably get the Park Hopper pass, sounds much cheaper. Thanks for sharing x
    Agness recently posted..Travel Under $25 a Day in Derawan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia

    • October 9, 2013 at 2:41 am
      Oct. 9, '13

      Yes, if you are planning to visit more than one park, definitely get the park hopper pass. None of Singapore’s attractions (save for the Asian Civilizations Museum) are cheap, but the park hopper will definitely save you a bit of money.

  5. October 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm
    Oct. 9, '13

    Before I met my wildlife geek of a husband I had a really negative opinion of zoos, until he started to explain the conservation and breeding role that most of the world’s top zoos have. We’ve since visited a huge number (including San Diego just this week!) but we think Singapore is up there with the best. Great exhibits and information and absolutely huge enclosures, such a wonderful experience. Love your photos as always 🙂 You managed to capture my favourite animal, the ridiculously cute red panda.
    Maddie recently posted..The greatest thing I have discovered while travelling

    • October 10, 2013 at 11:30 pm
      Oct. 10, '13

      Yes, I think that a lot of people who love animals feel like zoos are necessarily a bad thing because they remove the animals from their natural environment. But as you point out, the shortsightedness of that thinking is that many of the animals we see in zoos we likely would not see at all if zoos did not exist either due to hunting, habitat destruction and many other issues. I’m glad to hear that you and Paul enjoyed this one too; I’ve not been to the San Diego zoo (haven’t been to San Diego… yet!) but I’ve heard it’s an excellent one as well. One day!

      And: all hail the red panda! It’s our favorite too! 😀

  6. October 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm
    Oct. 10, '13

    This was without a doubt my favorite attraction in Singapore. We went early in the morning and ate breakfast with orangutans playing on a nearby platform. It was absolutely amazing! The zoo itself was beautiful and I loved the peacocks wandering the grounds!
    Heather recently posted..A Brief Introduction to Yunnan Cuisine

    • October 10, 2013 at 11:48 pm
      Oct. 10, '13

      Yes, I really loved how certain animals were allowed to roam freely here. At the Toronto zoo (which is also a great zoo, though nowhere near as good as this one), the only animals that wander about are Canada geese. And NO ONE wants to get close to those aggressive jerks. Peacocks are infinitely better! 🙂

  7. October 11, 2013 at 9:28 am
    Oct. 11, '13

    I generally dislike zoos because they feel so unnatural, but mostly because the animals are just asleep (and in Oregon, it’s either raining or blistering hot with a million kids running around). But this looks ok. Still not totally convinced, but I do like pandas quite a bit…

    • October 14, 2013 at 1:08 am
      Oct. 14, '13

      The panda exhibit was new (was still actually doing a soft-launch) so it was by far the most crowded area, but well worth the masses in our opinion. The zoo is really expansive and feels about as close to a “nature walk” as you can possibly get in an artificial environment. I don’t go out of my way to visit zoos, but I’m glad we went to this one.

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