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Chiang Mai Zoo

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July, 2004

Thailand photo.
1. Chiang Mai Zoo
Thailand photo.
2. Nakornping Aviary
Thailand photo.
3. Playful pandas
Thailand photo.
4. Giraffe
Thailand photo.
5. Animal Presentations

— Index —

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Covering 200 acres, and over 7,000 wild animals, the Chiang Mai Zoo is an unexpected delight. Even the entrance topiary (see photo #1, at left) is beautifully done. We spent an overcast summer day there and were enchanted by the many sights and sounds. For us, the highlights of our day at the zoo were the pandas (of course) and the Nakornping Aviary (photo #2) .

Everyone in Chiang Mai knows about the two young pandas who came to the Chiang Mai zoo in 2003 for a ten year visit. Brought here from China as goodwill ambassadors between the peoples of China and Thailand, they were an instant hit. The pandas (Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui) are large, vegetarian bears. They live in an ever-shrinking mountain area in China, and are a very endangered species. On the day of our visit, they were very active in the morning, when there were only a few visitors. We had a great time watching the pandas (photo #3) as they ran and played all over their enclosure. They are still young and spent a great deal of time in rough and tumble play, taking turns attacking one another. For much of the time it was impossible to tell where one panda started and the other ended; they were one big ball of black and white fur. By afternoon, they were lazily watching the crowds of visitors, which were now much larger than in the morning. The pandas could barely rouse themselves to scratch or wander a bit before settling down to another nap.

The panda house is very nicely designed to mimic the cool, moist mountain environment where the pandas live in China. On a hot summer day, it is a cool and refreshing place to visit. We had a great time watching the pandas, but there was a much larger zoo to explore. So we left the cool panda exhibit and went off to see the rest that the Chiang Mai Zoo has to offer.

The zoo is really very large. It would be difficult to see the whole area by walking, but there are frequent buses that make a circuit of the park. It costs only 20 Baht ($0.50) for an all-day bus ticket. By using the buses, and a bit of walking, we were able to see much of the zoo. We could not see it all in one day, however. It is just too big and has too many activities.

The Chiang Mai Zoo includes all the animals you expect in a world-class zoo. We saw lions and elephants, hippopotomus and chimpanzees, giraffes (photo #4) and deer. And birds. The zoo houses a wide variety of birds, including the really big cassowaries , emu, and ostrich, and the colorful macaws. But best of all is the aviary. This is a huge (2.5 acres) walk-through cage containing over 800 birds. You enter through a curtain of steel chains and swinging gates into a tropical paradise. At the lower levels, you are in the perpetual shade of multiple layers of forest. Climbing up the side of the valley, you enter areas with more and more sunlight. This provides appropriate habitat for a wide variety of bird species. The aviary really feels like a wild place. It is only at the top of the valley that you can see the metal nets that enclose the entire aviary.

If you walk quickly through the aviary, you will see many of the larger birds that feed on the ground. They are quite tame, and will walk along the paths only a few feet from you. But to really enjoy the aviary, you have to stop and sit for a minute and look carefully among the trees. Then you will begin to really see the birds. They are everywhere. They come in flocks through the trees, often flying close enough that you can feel the wind from their wings on your face. As they fly in and out of view, you see flashes of reds and yellows and iridescent greens and blues. There are other birds sitting in the trees, some tending eggs in their nests. Others come to the feeding stations set up around the aviary.

The aviary is a truly marvelous place, one we have not seen matched in other zoos we have visited around the world. Spending a few minutes quietly strolling the pathways, or more time sitting amidst the forest, is a great way to relax and enjoy the multitude of beautiful birds who live here. Perhaps because of the weather, or the time of year, there were only a few other visitors to the aviary when we were there.

There are many paths that take you through natural areas of the zoo. In some places, you travel over elevated walkways that allow a view of the animals in a wild setting. And, there are other more traditional zoo enclosures. In the children's zoo we found smaller animals like meerkat and iguanas that are sized to suit a child. And deer that children can get close to. There are even ponies available for the children to ride.

Finally, we went to see the Animal Presentations, a show featuring trained animals performing for the audience. The show featured a number of birds, including an eagle, a pelican, and two macaws (photo #5). There was also an environmentally concerned otter who cleaned up the litter on stage, and a gibbon that swung through the audience at an amazing speed. The show only lasted a half-hour, but it was well worth the 20 baht entrance fee.

NOTE: Jim sold this story, and many of the accompanying photos, to a glossy English-language travel magazine called Chiang Mai Nopburee. The story is scheduled to appear in their September edition.


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
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Created 7/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.