Singapore’s River Safari is underwhelming

One of Singapore’s newest attractions is the River Safari, which is located right outside the Singapore Zoo, making it a good choice for a double-header. Kids will love the park, but I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the whole thing.

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One thing I remember most about my recent trip to Singapore’s River Safari was the awful weather, as in the early part of the day there was a huge storm, which made walking around in my plimsolls a little awkward! It also meant that the Amazon River Quest boat ride – which some might say is the key attraction at the River Safari – was not in operation due to the risk of lightning strikes. I was looking forward to experiencing this boat ride, but I guess I saved S$5, as it is not even built into the admission price of S$39 to enter the park.

River Safari Map 2014 (courtesy of Wild Reserves SG)
River Safari Map 2014 (courtesy of Wild Reserves SG)

The River Safari is billed as being “Asia’s first and only river-themed theme park”, and focusses on seven rivers making up the Rivers of the World section of the park. These rivers are as follows: the Mississippi, Congo, Murray, Nile, Mekong, Ganges, and the Yangtze. In addition to these seven rivers, there is also an entire area of the park dedicated to the Amazon River, called Wild Amazonia, which is where you will find the Amazon River Quest boat ride, and another very popular section known as the Giant Panda Forest, which I happen to think is the highlight of the whole park.

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Pretty much the first thing I did in the River Safari was take a look at the manatees. I thought this enclosure was very impressive, as almost as satisfying as the Giant Panda Forest. The manatee’s area was very well themed, with even an underwater viewing panel to see the animals up close. You can certainly notice the effort that Wild Reserves Singapore (who own and operate River Safari, as well as Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, and Jurong Bird Park) put in to make this a place to remember. However, I did not see the same level of detail in all other areas of the park, to be honest. For example, the Nile, the Congo, and the Ganges had virtually nothing in their respective areas to show at all, and compared to the theming of other rivers in the park, these were very disappointing.

I was, however, impressed by the Mississippi River section, which had a lot of nice information of beaver dams, and also had a nice props and music to suit the area of the American mid-west. Likewise, the Yangtze and the Mekong sections, which are both very well-presented, and I enjoyed watching the giant Mekong Catfish, which I learned are critically endangered in the wild.

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At the northern tip of the River Safari, as you cross the bridge from the Wild Amazonia side to the Giant Panda Forest side, you can see parts of the Lower Seletar Reservoir, around which the River Safari and the Zoo are situated. The Lower Seletar Reservoir represents part of ‘Wild Singapore’ and I wouldn’t want to fall in, as who knows what may be lurking in the depths. Thankfully, I didn’t see any crocodiles but what I did notice was lots of wild cranes in the trees in the distance. Those birds looked huge!

From August, 2014, there is a new attraction at the River Safari called the “River Safari Cruise”, that takes visitors around the Lower Seletar Reservoir to spot some wild birds (maybe the cranes that I saw?) and animals – and you may even get to see a giraffe or two as the boat sails past the boundaries of the adjacent Singapore Zoo! This new cruise will cost you an extra S$5 per adult on top of your admission to the park itself.

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I think the selection of animals at the River Safari is very fair indeed. You do not get replicas of what you see over at Singapore Zoo or even at the Night Safari. For example, at the zoo you will see the famous white tigers, whereas in the Night Safari you will see the Sumatran Tiger. Here at the River Safari you can see the inimitable panda bears, whereas over at the zoo you can see the Asiatic bears. So, all in all, it is clear that you could spend at least two or three full days exploring these wildlife parks of Singapore. In fact, that is clearly what the owners want you to do as they promote their Park Hopper tickets quite aggressively online (which allow you cheaper entrance fees the more parks you visit, but you are paying more overall because you may have only wanted to visit one park initially, anyway).

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Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The Yangtze River leads up to the Giant Panda Forest, which is undoubtedly the highlight of the River Safari. You are always reminded to be very quiet when inside the exhibit (known as a climate-controlled biodome), as the pandas are very shy and react negatively to noise. There are also red pandas and golden pheasants here too, but unquestionably the stars of the show are Kai Kai and Jia Jia, who even have merchandise dedicated to them in nearby gift shops! I was very impressed with the Giant Panda Forest, and while all the pandas do is sit casually and munch on bamboo (I didn’t even see Kai Kai move position – and Jia Jia was nowhere to be seen!), it is still almost worth the admission cost alone to spend 10 minutes or so here and marvel at these wonderful – if lazy – animals.

I am a huge fan of Singapore Zoo, and also like Jurong Bird Park very much. Those attractions are undoubtedly worth their admission prices. In fact, I consider Singapore Zoo to be the finest zoo in the entire world – and many people will agree with me! However, the other two parks owned and operated by the Wildlife Reserves of Singapore group – Night Safari and River Safari – just seem a bit flat in comparison. Of course, they each have a good brand, with the Night Safari in particular being a great way to see nocturnal animals in an almost-free-roaming environment (the tigers are definitely not free-roaming, but I am told everything else is separated from you by just a powerful electric wire or two). But the River Safari didn’t really impress me too much, aside from the pandas and the manatees. I expected a whole lot more education on each of the rivers, and certainly more exhibits and theming in the Rivers of the World section of the park – and the fact that the Amazon River Quest does not operate in the inclement weather is another unfortunate truth.

Photo courtesy of ZooChat.com
Photo courtesy of ZooChat.com

Overall, the River Safari may be worth checking out if you have time, especially if you have young kids, but if you do catch a taxi to the Mandai Lake Road area of Singapore in which these parks are located, then I would clearly advise you to prioritise the Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari over the River Safari.

For another account on Singapore’s River Safari, plus some amazing photos on the exhibits within, check out this article from Jimmy View.

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