Here is a complete guide to the newly opened River Safari with directions, maps, feeding and show times and what you can expect to see at the soft opening. The River Safari is part of the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) group who are behind some of Singapore's very best attractions - the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and Night Safari. Being a big fan of their parks, I was really excited to visit the River Safari. Being under WRS, this also means you can enjoy savings with their "Park Hopper" pass which you can buy there if you're looking to visit one of their other parks. 2 Park admissions are bundled at $39. This means you save $13 if you plan to go to the Singapore Zoo (+ Tram Ride) ($27) and River Safari ($25).
After much delay, their "soft opening" to the public began on April 3rd, 2013. This soft opening meant some animals were still missing from the exhibits and about 40% of the park was still closed. But this gave the eagerly awaiting public a sneak preview of what to expect.
Directions to River Safari
River Safari is located next to the Singapore Zoo so the easiest way by public transport is go to Chua Chu Kang MRT then take bus 927 from the bus interchange directly all the way to the Zoo. It is about a 20 minute bus ride. The entrance to the River Safari is on the way to the official Zoo ticketing counter and is impossible to miss - just follow the signs after you alight from the bus.
Opening hours are from 9am to 6pm and for those who are driving, their address is 80 Mandai Lake Road, Singapore 729826.
TSL Tip 1: Don't buy tickets from the "Official Ticket counter" at the main entrance above as the queue there is always very long. Even at 10am on a Thursday morning I had to wait for 30 mins! Instead, head straight down pass the River Safari sign (first picture of this article) and you will come across the "Visitor's Services" center next to the gantry. Its partly set up to help wandering people who missed the main ticketing booth purchase their tickets. Queuing time? Instant!
What to expect
For some reason I was under the impression it was going to be like the Night Safari, where you sit on a boat and take a tour around the different rivers. This is not the case, the Rivers basically act as "Zones" that display animals in water tanks from those zones. So its like a river themed Zoo where visitors walk their way through the different zones. The layout is more similar to the S.E.A aquarium, with the walking path being an A-Z route which comes full circle, unlike the Zoo which is more open ended. So instead of "Bay of Bengal" and "Straits of Malacca" like you have in the S.E.A aquarium, you have similar zones here called "The Nile River", "Congo River", etc. The River Safari's focus is on freshwater habitats. The majority of the park isn't air conditioned which I thought was great! Fresh air! The S.E.A aquarium was a bit too claustrophobic for me.
The park is divided into two areas, halved by the Upper Seletar Reservoir. The first area called Rivers of the World contains the 7 "Rivers" - it features mostly sea animals like fish and crocodiles. At the end will be a bridge that will take you to the second area, Wild Amazonia - which features mostly rainforest animals. There is actually heaps more to do in this second area of the park. More on that later.
The park is designed in such a way that you go through the first half through Rivers of the World, then make the return journey through Wild Amazonia and eventually return to where you started. The walking path is highlighted in brown in the map below.
River Safari Map
You can download the full PDF map from WRS here.
River Safari Video Highlights
We did a highlights video of what you can expect to see at the park.
River Safari Area 1 - Rivers of the World
At the moment, only the "Rivers of the World" area is fully opened. The zones are actually quite small and in each Zone there are 2-3 tanks which display one or two animal species from 7 famous rivers around the world.
The first zone, the Mississippi River was the longest. They had interesting looking animals like the Alligator snapping turtle and paddlefish.
Too bad the beaver wasn't here yet, but I am sure he's having the last laugh somewhere.
The Congo river zone was tiny, its star attractions the giant puffer fish and the African Dwarf crocodile were both missing. At the Nile River zone, I couldn't find the Giraffe Catfish which was supposed to be the most interesting fish there.
The Ganges River was by far my favourite zone. It had a pair of larger than life Indian Gharials - gigantic crocodiles with elongated snouts! It was also fun to see how the workers were cleaning the glass display windows with magnetized wipers, something which bemused the crocodiles!
The Murray River was supposed to feature interesting looking fish like the Lungfish or Murray cod but they were missing. The Mekong River zone was great! It had a huge tank with giant catfish swimming around. I heard someone remark... "These catfish are actually vegetarian... They must eat a lot of plants!"
The final zone, the Yangtze river had super cute baby Chinese alligators. And I got to see some of their predatory instincts first hand. While I was taking a picture, one of them was pretending to be motionless before suddenly snapping into the glass!
At the end of Rivers of the World was the much hyped up Giant Panda Forest exhibit. FYI guests are only allocated 15 minute time slots and your ticket for entry (for a specific time) is given to you when you first buy your river safari ticket. The staff will allocate a suitable time slot for you. There weren't that many people so the Giant Panda Forest staff were flexible with the timings and let us in early. I don't think it matters much if you come too early or late so don't worry about your ticket timing.
The first exhibit features a very active Red Panda also called the firefox, which will captivate everyones attention.
TSL Tip 2: I say skip that for now and go straight to the pandas before it gets crowded! You can always come back later when everyone is gone for a better view of the Red Panda.
Jia Jia and Kai Kai are actually kept separated in two different enclosures so if the first enclosure is too crowded, walk behind to see the second one. I did that and was lucky to be the first there and got some nice pictures during feeding time at the 11:20 am session. She followed a trail of carrots before munching on some bamboo right in the middle infront of everyone! Really clever WRS! The Panda's are a lot more active then I thought!
For those interested, here is the extended version of their feeding that was featured briefly in our highlights video. Its not very eventful i.e no kung fu.
At the end of the Panda Exhibit is a retail shop followed by a booth where you can take photoshopped pictures against a green screen available for purchase at $25. Then its Chinese fast food style eatery Mama Panda Kitchen where you learn Jia Jia and Kai Kai's favourite food isn't actually bamboo.
River Safari Area 2 - Wild Amazonia
TSL Tip 3: If you've brought insect repellent, this is when you should apply it. Because of the animals here, there are tons of mosquitoes in this area.
After crossing the bridge to Wild Amazonia, make a left turn and walk down. You will enter Amazon Square, where the animal show is held. Showtimes are at 11am and 4pm daily. This is also where the entrance to the "Amazon River Quest" boat ride is, which has mostly rainforest animals that can only be seen from this ride. It looks like a lot of animals here were brought over from the Zoo. The animal show is already available but the boat ride will only start much later this year.
You have to walk on the outer path of Wild Amazonia to return. Near the end of it is the Squirrel Monkey Forest, a free roaming netted enclosure with lots of tiny Squirrel Monkeys... and swarms of mosquitoes! It is quite decent but I wish there were other animals here too like what they have at the African Waterfall Aviary at Jurong Bird Park.
The last exhibit at the end of Wild Amazonia is the Amazon Flooded Forest. My first thought was, yes... air con! This place is like a mini S.E.A aquarium of its own. First you will run into an underwater world type of tunnel which is home to a pair of hyperactive Giant River Otters. There are a few more tanks, the most notable being the one with red bellied piranhas who look surprisingly calm from what you remembered of them in movies.
You will finally come across a gigantic viewing tank which rivals the one they have at the S.E.A aquarium. If you've already seen theirs your first impression won't have such of an impact. But what they have are giant majestic sea cows! Mooooooo! There are some great photo opportunities at the back of the tank if you keep walking down. After that there is a small stingray pond and you'll have reached the end and you've come back to where you've first started!
Tired of swimming? Relax one corner!
"River Safari Tea house" is a restaurant styled eatery located outside the park on the right of the River Safari entrance. It serves dim sum and over 60 Singaporean and Chinese dishes. For an indication of prices - Hainanese Curry Chicken and Hainanese Steamed Chicken both cost $10.80. Their Teochew Bak Kut Teh costs $14.80.
"Mama Panda Kitchen" is a fast food styled eatery that serves local Chinese fare. It is located within the park at the end of the Rivers of the world area.
Feeding and Animal Show Times
TSL Tip 4!: I find the best time to come to River Safari at around 2pm, after you've eaten lunch - as there aren't good dining options here. This should give you more than enough time to be ready for their 4pm "River Talk" Animal Show. Because making it for the 11am show is going to be a challenge. Also wear a hat and insect repellent as most places are outdoors.
I am a huge fan of WRS parks - they consistently make world class attractions Singaporeans can be proud of. However, at this point of time the River Safari is far from ready. Many key animals are missing from their exhibits and most of their second section - "Wild Amazonia" is closed. The ticket price of $25 is still hefty after the "discount" as you also have to factor in how its quite inaccessible and it takes quite some time to get here. My taxi ride back home to the central area cost me $22 off peak.
Despite all this, I still think its better than the similar S.E.A aquarium. This is like a semi-air con version of it with more variety (aquarium + wildlife), animal shows and pandas. If you loved the S.E.A aquarium then you will enjoy yourself here - even in its unfinished state. The river safari has heaps of potential and will easily be the better water animal attraction in its final form.
My recommendation is to wait till at least the river boat ride opens before coming here, so you can experience it the way it was meant to be experienced. Going anytime earlier may be a bit disappointing.
Final Score based in its soft opening state: 70 / 100
Read more TSL River Safari reviews.
River Safari Photo Gallery
Today I learned rafts need license plates.