Taiping Zoo: probably one of the best attractions in Malaysia

The first time I heard about Taiping Zoo was working on the feasibility study for Movie Animation Park Sudios, Malaysia. We had to proceed with a review of key attractions in the Malaysian state of Perak (between Kuala Lumpur and Penang) and Taiping Zoo came as one of the most popular ones. And yet Taiping is a rather small town between Ipoh and Penang. How special can their zoo be?

I have to admit I didn’t bother visiting at that time. But a few days ago I took advantage of a trip to Penang to make a proper and long-awaited stop in Taiping to visit the zoo and adjacent lake gardens. Little did I know I was about to experience on of the best attractions not only in Perak but probably in Malaysia!

It all started with a delicious noodle soup with sambal at Restoran Kakak, which came highly recommended on google. After a short walk in Taiping old town, which looks a lot like a mini Ipoh, I got back in the car for a mere 5min drive to the zoo.

The experience starts as you drive through the beautiful lake gardens to reach the entrance of the zoo. Everything is carefully thought-out with ample (and reasonable) parking on the other side of the road and a small underpass to reach the main building in all safety.

The entrance ticket is reasonably priced at RM17 (US$4) for adults and RM8.5 (US$2) for children including access to the tram; that is more than three times cheaper than Singapore Zoo!

The visitor mix was very diverse with a few large Malaysian Indian families (including grand parents, cousins, etc), lots of Malay and Malaysian Chinese families with young kids and even a few foreigners. It seemed everyone was having a good time and it resulted in very well behaved visitors, who were even engaging discussions or helping out other visitors. It was a rare experience seeing such behavior in Malaysia.

I have to say it is hard not to enjoy the day in such a setting with beautiful tall trees, lots of water bodies, lush foliage protecting from the sun while cooling off and the amazing sound of the rainforest everywhere you go. The layout is very good with a central hub flanked by a small café, kids play area and big shaded area, and to and from the central hub a number of wide paths taking visitors to the various exhibits. The way finding is good, so is the information displays at the exhibits.

Now this is where Taiping Zoo surprised me; the animal exhibits are truly world class although the zoo is more than 55 years of age. You can hardly see any cage and the enclosures are very generous; sometimes a bit too much and it’s hard to see the animals among the overgrown plants. Thanks to a good maintenance and what looks like a real passion for wildlife Taiping Zoo delivers one of the best zoo experience with a much appreciated patina of age, which provides almost an Avatar kind of feeling!

The highlights for me – and visibly for most of the visitors – were the very entertaining monkey exhibits where animals were visibly having fun, playing and singing.

Taiping Zoo is a great family day-out activity with just the right amount of walking surrounded by nature and adjacent to the beautiful Taiping lake gardens, which are also worth going to Taiping for.

 

It is such a contrast with Bukit Gambang for which I wrote a very harsh review a while back. And this is the difference generosity makes. It is clear that the owners and operators of the Taiping Zoo have been and continue being very generous with space, landscape, maintenance, not only for the visitors but also for the animals. And this extra mile they are going is resulting in a complete buy-in from the visitors who have been patronizing and respecting the zoo for many years. No wonder it is the pride of Perak!

What’s happening in water parks in SE Asia?

This article was originally published in blooloop.com

I was recently approached by one of the big fives looking at putting together a report on water parks in SE Asia.

I realized a lot had happened in our region in the last two years, from the opening of Cartoon Network’s first branded water park in Thailand to the opening of Yangon’s first water park in Myanmar.

It certainly does look like something big is going on for someone sitting in Europe or the US. So here is a quick overview for you.

First we have to go back to the why of water parks in SE Asia. It’s actually very simple. It starts with an all-year warm weather. To which you need to add good value scalable equipment, which allow owners to start small and charge very little, and gear up and eventually charge more when they can. I have seen many small neighborhood water parks in Indonesia that would cost less than USD1million to build and still provide a good return for their owners.

The development of sizeable water parks in SE Asia is almost exclusively driven by property developers, who see them as ways of anchoring their residential/resort communities at no loss.

  • Jakarta alone has 13 water parks in its greater urban area, almost all as part of new townships. The latest in date was developed for a whopping USD13.4million by developer Sinarmas Land in Bekasi
  • In Malaysia property developer Sentoria has developed a business model selling condos in resort cities anchored by water parks (Bukit Gambang and coming soon in Morib and Kuching)
  • In Thailand, developers of resort condos in Hua Hin, south of Bangkok, have also used water parks to pull buyers in resulting in 3 highly themed water parks (Black Mountain, Santorini and Vana Nava) all competing for the same weekend/short break business

Whilst traditionally water parks in the region are either not themed or themed after local myths and legends e.g. Suoi Tien in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam or Pandawa Lima in Solo, Indonesia, the trend is for IP-based water parks, which command a significant price premium.

  • In Malaysia LEGOLAND water park opened at a price of MYR120 (USD30) and achieved 630,000 visitors in its first year of operation, making it a much more profitable investment than the next door LEGOLAND theme park
  • Still in Malaysia Sunway Lagoon finally opened its new Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon expansion and used it to increase its price to MYR150 (USD37.5)
  • In Indonesia the developers of Jogja Bay Pirates Adventure Waterpark decided to develop their own pirates-based IP commissioning a local animation studio to create a multimedia show as part of the offering, which also includes a beautifully themed pirates ship
  • Still in Indonesia Bakrieland, the owner of The Jungle water park, is planning to further develop the Jungle IP with an animation series featuring the park’s mascots and new water park locations throughout the country as part of an IPO for its leisure division
  • In Thailand Cartoon Network Amazone water park is proving to be a hit with both Thai residents and International tourists flocking and willing to pay up to THB1,590 (US$45)
IMG_3909

Jogja Bay Pirates Adventure Waterpark

Now what’s next for water parks in SE Asia? Here are a few trends we might be looking at in the near future.

  • Hybrid: it’s all about being more than just water park, from a combination with a safari park with live animals roaming the water park to a combination with an adventure park with aqua maze, etc for team building
  • Indoor: with more shopping malls being developed and always bigger it wouldn’t be surprising if developers decided to look at indoor water parks combining ‘spa’ areas for adults and kids play areas similar to Korean water parks
  • Gamified: video games are coming to theme parks, so why not to water parks too; manufacturer WhiteWater is already in the ‘game’ with its Slideboarding ride
  • Luxury: with the emergence of a strong upper middle class we see the potential for a luxury offering, which would bring the experience of an exclusive beach club to demanding families
  • Crystal Lagoons: this giant lagoon pool technology developed by a Chilean company is possibly the next big thing; it’s already in Bintan, Indonesia and Hua Hin, Thailand and expanding fast

Bukit Gambang Safari Park: probably the worst zoo / safari park in the world

I have been visiting various zoos and safari parks in the region for a project I am working on and this took me to Bukit Gambang Resort City (BGRC) over the long Chines New Year weekend to check out their safari park, which recently opened. BGRC is the vision of local Malaysian developer Sentoria to build an “integrated” resort city on the East Coast Highway. Mostly based around real estate for sale, it offers a water park, small adventure park and a safari park to create the sense of a destination (there is not much around!).

Access is made very easy from the highway, which puts BGRC within less than 3-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and within 1-hour drive of popular Cherating beach on the East Coast. BGRC was very busy because of the public holiday. In terms of crowd it’s quite mixed half Malay half Malaysian Chinese from a mid to low income bracket.

BGRC car park

Car park FULL!

The two ticketing counters for the water park and the safari park are in the main building on 2 separate floors. The queue was much longer for the water park; maybe because of the high price of the safari park. I paid RM68 (USD20), which is as much as I would pay for the Singapore Zoo!

The safari park is essentially a zoo with a small safari ride at the end. By the title of this post you would have guessed I was less than impressed and actually very upset by the very poor quality. In a nutshell is is very poorly designed (long walks, bad indications, etc), animals look miserable, no theming, concrete everywhere, fences in your face, etc.

Here are a few pictures I took of the zoo part, where they seem to have gone opposite directions from all the new zoo trends (no cage, playful enclosures, etc). I personally did not feel safe at all and could barely see any animal (either missing or just not visible).

So far so good

So far so good

Going through a banquet hall overlooking lion enclosure as we start. Really!?

You make me go through a banquet hall overlooking a lion enclosure first. Really!?

Animal enclosures around a snail atrium

This is it. Basically a huge concrete block with animal enclosures around

An example of very sad enclosure

One of many very sad enclosures

Probably some of the saddest bears I ever saw

Probably the saddest bears I ever saw

Food anyone? Not for me, thanks

Food anyone? Not for me, thanks

Sorry we're not quite finished

Sorry we’re not quite finished

That tops it off. Sleeping (dying) bears and attendants feeding a tiny monkey held in leash

That tops it all. Sleeping (or dying?) bears and attendants feeding a tiny monkey held in leash

After walking quite a bit in the heat I finally get to the safari ride. The queue was quite long but I have to give credit to the staff who managed it quite well given the very poor planning of the loading area. The 30-min ride is done in AC trucks with a staff commenting on the different animals (mine – Ain – was very nice, smiling and accommodating). But there is nothing safari about it! All the enclosures are very bear, full of concrete and again quite sad looking.

Quite a long queue to wait for the safari ride

Quite a long queue to wait for the safari ride

In the truck

In the truck

Underwater hippo

Underwater hippo

Elephants with no grass

Elephants with no grass

All I can see is a fence!

All I can see is a fence!

By now I think you get it too. I can’t describe how upset I am. If one has the money to build such a big facility why go for such low quality, ignore all the learning from zoos around the world and show animals in such conditions? This is what mid to low income families in Malaysia get to see on a holiday? Wait till you see what Indonesian families see on a holiday when I write about Taman Safari; there’s a world of difference. I say, wake up Malaysia!