Admission: 300B for foreigners (100B if you can show you live in Thailand), 70B for Thais and 50 baht for the car. Children go free. There’s plenty of parking space. Opening times: 8am-6pm, plus a night safari (200B Thai, 400B all foreigners)
Khao Kheow Open Zoo is more than just a collection of cages. Here, the animals’ habitats are cleverly merged with stunning natural surroundings, so that at times it’s hard to know where the zoo ends and the outside begins.
Living up to its name as an open zoo, it makes life easy for the animals by providing them with 2,000 acres of space to explore, while allowing visitors to get as close as possible to the creatures. Launched in 1978, Khao Kheow was established as a part of the Zoological Park Organisation of Thailand. It is now one of the largest open zoos in Thailand, with more than 200 different kinds of animal.
Away from the main collections of elephants, hippos, and penguins, there is a wilder side to the park, which includes a nature trail. A chocolate-coloured lake is home to some herons, while the land around rises smoothly upwards until the domed-tops of the hills are reached. In the middle of all this is the cats’ complex. Created as a little village of its own, it is home to jaguar, cougar, fishing cats, and of course, tigers and lions. The white tigers are particularly impressive, not just for their sheer size but also because of their rarity. They barely exist in the wild anymore, and seeing one in captivity is hardly common.
Each area has signs in Thai and English to explain what you’re looking at, and there are several hands-on features for youngsters and longer explanations for adults. The cats’ complex is particularly well presented, with lots of detail about each animal’s natural habitat, diet, and life expectancy. In addition, there’s information about man’s relationship with cats, and why they were held in such high regard.
It’s possible to walk around the main zoo section (although you’ll need to use your car or the visitor bus to see the cats), and an easy-to-follow map is provided when you arrive. Although it’s not quite a safari park, the animals all have plenty of space and the bigger beasts are surrounded by moats, so there isn’t the feeling that they are hemmed in. Asiatic elephants will appear in an instant at the sight of bananas or bamboo sticks, which you can buy and then place into their reaching trunks. You can also take a short ride on them for a few baht.
Over in the African kingdom, zebras, giraffes, antelope, and ostrich, stroll past each other in their pseudo-savannah. At night-time it’s possible to go on a night safari and see the animals after dark, which is when most of them come to life.
The hippo section allows visitors to walk across a wooden bridge and look down on the giants as they wallow contentedly in pools of mud. There’s usually a handful of baby hippos playing, or fighting, with each other. Of course, animals are naturally recalcitrant beasts that would rather laze in their little hut out of view than perform for the visitors. To rectify this, several of the animals are put to work in shows, including the hawks and macaws.
Birds are a large part of the zoo, and Khao Kheow’s largest structure is reserved purely for them. The walk-through aviary is an enormous dome of mesh that houses hornbills, peacocks, ducks, and dozens more birds. Looking around involves climbing up and down several sets of stairs, so be prepared for some physical exertion.
The whole experience can be tiring as the entire route stretches for 6km, so taking a car or the visitor bus is advisable. If you don’t have transport, you can hire a private golf buggy or jump on a tram. Refreshments are available at any of the multiple stalls throughout the zoo, and you’ll be grateful for them.
It’s possible to see everything in a day but you’ll have to keep moving. I stumbled across the Nocturnal Garden which, as you’d expect, was hard to spot, and away from the main animals. Amid the gloom were snakes, lizards and other things that you wouldn’t want to find in your bathroom.
Other attractions include a walk around the deer park, a chance to watch gibbons languish in trees, a beautiful flamingo pond near the entrance, and a couple of crocodiles, who idly warm themselves in the sun.
Khao Kheow is one of Thailand’s best zoos as it lets its animals roam freely and is a thoughtfully-designed, environmentally-friendly attraction.
* For more ideas for days out, visit www.pattaya24seven.com