Established in 1864, making it one of the oldest zoos in world, the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden is one of the best and largest recreational areas in Saigon. Known as Thao Cam Vien locally, it is home to more than 500 animals of more than 100 species and more than 1,800 trees and plants of more than 250 species. This creates a great setting for an afternoon stroll, however there are some areas of the zoo that you may want to avoid, as some of the exhibits and animals have seen better days. Here is a quick guide to the zoo, to help maximize your animal viewing and to prepare the faint of heart for some of the zoo’s rougher patches.
The zoo is very easy to find and has two entrances, one on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and the main entrance on Nguyen Binh Khiem at the corner of Le Duan. The fee to enter is just 10,000 VND, which gives you access to the entire park area. From the main gate I would suggest starting your journey by heading to your right; this will take you to see the bulk of the zoo including the big cats. On your way to the big cats, which include lions and white tigers, you may want to avoid the birdcages that boarder Nguyen Binh Khiem. The birdcages themselves aren’t particularly bad but both times I’ve walked along the path in front of the cages I’ve been startled by several large rats that are apparently stealing food from the birds.
Once you’ve seen your fill of lions and tigers, head east, where you will pass some larger mammals, including rhinos and hippos, some larger birds, such as ostriches, and several primates, until finally reaching the elephant area. The northeast corner of the zoo you could probably miss and not lose any sleep. There you will find the hoofed mammals, who live in a fairly depressing mud pit, and the reptile house, which is fifty percent iguanas and twenty-five percent empty. The northwest corner of the zoo consists of mostly plants and is shaded by tall trees, making it a favourite area for locals to picnic. It’s also home to the zoo’s giraffes and a small amusement park for children.
One thing that surprised me about the zoo was the ability you have to interact with the animals. There are several animals that you can get close enough to feed, the elephants and giraffes in particular, and around these exhibits people will sell you food to give them. Like anything in the city, make sure you negotiate the price of these treats first as the initial asking price may be higher than your entry fee. On my first visit I was tricked into thinking that a zoo worker was letting me feed a monkey, then had to pay 20,000 VND for a single banana.
Overall, the zoo is definitely worth a visit, especially if you go during the later afternoon feeding time. Sadly, the future of the zoo may be short lived. Plans for a new, much larger safari project in the Cu Chi area would lead to the relocation of all the zoo’s animals and its eventual closure. So, my advice would be to hurry and check out this great area before it is gone forever.