on December 1, 2008
Zoos are not high in my list of priorities while visiting a city. Usually I skip them unless – as in Beijing – there is some point of special interest. That was the case with Bangkok; despite my long stays in town I had never visited the zoo. Something in the way I had seen Thais treating animals told me I won’t enjoy the event. Until one day I got stuck by the closed gates of the Vimanmek Mansion. The most natural step under the circumstances was to walk to the nearby Dusit Zoo.Dusit Zoo was created in 1938 on a premium location donated by the king; before that it was the Royal Private Garden within the Dusit Royal Garden of King Rama V. He introduced a herd of Axis Dear from Java, hinting at the future role of the place. Later, King Rama VIII donated the garden to as a public zoo to the prime minister and to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority. The City of Bangkok operated the zoo until 1954. Since then it has been transferred to the state Zoological Park Organization, which also operates other zoos in Thailand. Nowadays is one of the largest zoos in Southeast Asia, hosting more than 2000 species of animals, among them 800 species of birds, 300 of mammals and 200 of reptiles. It attracts more than two million visitors per year.At the time of my visit, the main entrance was being reconstructed and hinted of a kitschy approach; I almost gave up on the spot, but knowing that later curiosity would bring me again especially, I entered. To my surprise, I spent there the rest of the day.The Only IncidentBeing in an unplanned visit, the battery of the camera I brought run out around noon. I began searching for a charging point but couldn’t find one. All the restaurants and coffee shops refused me; Thais have a deep fear of electricity fees. Finally, I found an outlet used by service people near a public toilet and for the next hour or so looked at humans in the zoo.AccessLocated next to the Old Parliament and Throne Hall, the Dusit Zoo enjoys a central location in Bangkok; a visit there can be combined with visits to the Throne Hall, the Vimanmek Mansion and the Grand Palace. The zoo is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM; the entry fee is 100 baht. A convenient parking place is next to the main entrance.Dusit Zoo has lush green surrounds and many flowering shrubs and trees with large ponds complete with foot-paddle boats, play - grounds for the kids and shady picnic areas. FoodHosting mainly Thai visitors, few international food joints are within the Dusit Zoo, with the exception of a small Burger King and a 7 Eleven branches. There are several kiosks offering snacks, but by far the most exciting option for eating while there is the large Thai food plaza. The prices are a bit higher than in similar establishments located in the city, but not excessively so and the variety of food is remarkable. Placed near a birds' enclosure, the place remains connected to its surroundings, especially since I saw the cleaning workers feeding the birds with the leftovers.AttractionsOne of the main attractions is the large lake, which offers some of the greenest (and bluest) views in Bangkok. On a big island are placed many of the birds in the zoo. In the big lake it is possible to rent pedaling boats, the experience allows seeing the gardens from a different angle as well as experiencing close encounters with fish and turtles.Next to the three gates of the zoo are stops of the tram that allows seeing the zoo quickly.There is a Zoo Museum specializing on animal taxonomy, classification and ecology. A special exhibit is the one about the bombing of Bangkok during the WWII; it includes an air-raid shelter of the era. Despite being a bit out of place, it is almost the only opportunity in Bangkok to learn something about this period in the history of Thailand.Special exhibits in the zoo include white tigers (they are not albino, their stripes are black and white instead of orange and black), and the only albino barking deer in the world.Other areas of interest are the African Zone, hosting anything between giraffes and pygmy hippos, the Walk through Aviary, the Nocturnal House and the Reptiles House. Being a symbol of Siam, the elephants occupy a special place in the zoo, with many of them having their names and histories displayed.In the BeginningI had arrived very early, no other visitors were in the park; the wide paths among the lush vegetation took me to the lakeshore. Spotting a small kiosk, I approached it; it wasn’t open yet, nonetheless a gentle Thai gave me a cup of coffee. From there a small path flanked by tall palms and shaded almost into darkness, led me to the shore. Captivated, I advanced through it until I found a bench by the shore. While sipping the coffee and waiting for the place to wake up, the flying denizens landed nearby, in an attempt to inspect the intruder.
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