I have a love/hate relationship with zoos. When I go to a bad zoo, a little zoo, a run down zoo, I am left feeling hopelessly depressed and find myself vowing never to return to a zoo. This was the case when I went to the zoo in Okinawa. It wasn’t terrible terrible… but I will never go back. The Taipei Zoo left me with the opposite feeling.
I’ve been to some pretty fantastic zoos. The Taronga Zoo in Sydney was one of my favorite stops in the whole country. Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world. I loved everything about Berlin, but again, one of my favorite, and one of the most memorable things I did there, was visit the zoo. The Berlin Zoo… I mean– wow. When I had a free day in Bangkok, I checked out the zoo. When I didn’t know what to do on my last day in Saigon… you guessed it: zoo.
When a few hours got freed up during our A Day In Taipei schedule, the zoo was at the top of my list on ways to fill them. The Taipei Zoo or Muzha Zoo is the largest zoo in Asia. (And we have some mighty big zoos over here!) It is also one of the top conservation and research centers in the world. Well done, Taiwan.
I was excited as we approached the zoo gate. I had never seen a panda before and I had visions of myself snuggling up to one and maybe a nice zoo worker looking on and suggesting that I take him home to Okinawa.
“How much for a panda encounter?” I asked the woman at the information desk. She looked at me blankly, and only half because of the language barrier. In my defense, (if there is really any way to defend this) the last major zoo I had been to had charged me an exorbitant fee, but had allowed me a “Koala Encounter”. Shannon and Nathan looked at me like I was crazy. I rephrased. “Do you have any kind of animal encounters here? Like where you can hold an animal or get close to one?”
No. They didn’t. And I was an idiot.
Later, when I saw Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, the famous “Giant Pandas” in the “Giant Panda House” I understood just how stupid my question had been. These two pandas were given to Taiwan by China as a goodwill gesture that the sign at the zoo calls “Panda Diplomacy.” The two panda’s had a baby a few years ago named Yuan Xai and it was the first panda to ever be born in Taiwan. Yeah… I’m guessing even if they did let you have Panda Encounters with these prized pandas (which they don’t– see I know this, because it never hurts to ask!) it would have been way out of my price range.
As for the rest of the zoo it is broken down into zones. As soon as you enter, on the right is the Formosan Animal Area, with the black bear, the mongoose, the wild boars, etc. If you continue past that you will come to Insect Valley (we did not).
If you go back out to the main path you will pass the Tropical Asian Rainforest. This was my favorite section that we visited. Here you will find the leopard, the tigers, the elephants and a giant crocodile, among other things.
Moving along you will find the Desert Animal Area. From what we could discern, this area only has camels and some white antelope.
We missed the Australian Animal Area entirely. I blame this on it not being well marked, because I like kangaroos as much as the next person, but we never saw it.
Next was the African Animal Area (which always seems to be the biggest and most popular area in a zoo). This was a huge teaser for me, because our honeymoon to Africa was exactly two weeks away. I kept pinching myself- trying to believe that in a few weeks I’d be seeing similar animals outside of a zoo setting for the first time in my life.
By the time we had gotten through the African animal area, we were exhausted and ready for air conditioning, so we skipped Bird World (okay by me- I’ve never really trusted birds anyway) and the Temperate Zone Animal Area. I’m sure there are some decent animals in there… but come on, if you want people to walk all the rest of the way to the back of the zoo, you’re going to have to do better than “Temperate Zone Animals”.
I’d say we managed to do the majority of the zoo in less than two hours by keeping a brisk pace. I think families with small children (ahem, Brette) could easily spend a whole day at the zoo. It’s beautifully landscaped and there are plenty of places to stop for food, drinks and ice cream. Not to mention, anything else you might need to make the whole day enjoyable– hats, fans, water bottles– you can get right outside of the gate for pennies on the dollar.
The best thing about the Taipei Zoo is that it is SHOCKINGLY cheap. I’m serious. I was SHOCKED. It cost 60 NTD which is 1.93 USD, and kept thinking they had charged me wrong. That’s right, folks, you could spend an entire day at a brilliant zoo for less than 2 USD per person. Go ahead and book your trip now. You’re Welcome.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.