Review: River Safari/Wonders, Mandai Wildlife Reserve (Singapore)

River Safari recently underwent a name change to River Wonders as part of a corporate rebranding move, so for consistency, I’ll be referring to River Safari as River Wonders from here on out! This wildlife park is one of four (soon to be five) parks managed by the Mandai Wildlife Group, with a river theme and greater focus on aquatic animals.

The open-dated tickets my husband and I bought from Traveloka included entry to both River Wonders as well as the Singapore Zoo. It was flexible in that we could visit each park on a different day, as long as both visits were within 7 days of each other. However, given the fact that we’re both working folks, that flexibility didn’t exactly apply to us so I planned a packed but doable itinerary to cover both parks in a day.

Unfortunately, God had other plans and literally rained on our parade shortly after we arrived so we had to make spontaneous adjustments. That also meant that we could only visit River Wonders as the Singapore Zoo is largely unsheltered, rendering that option untenable (no matter since my workplace provides complimentary corporate zoo passes). Thank goodness the plan was to start the day at River Wonders anyway!

Walkway leading to the River Safari/Wonders entrance
Walkway leading to the River Wonders entrance

  • Inclusions:
    • 1-day entry tickets to River Wonders and Singapore Zoo
  • Spent: SGD$60 (for 2 tickets)

The animals are more or less sorted into zones of rivers or forests where their species can be found but it became rather perplexing as it wasn’t very clear when one zone ended and another began. So I’ll just string together some highlights of the animals which I found pretty interesting (:

We spent the most time at the Amazon Flooded Forest’s otter and manatee habitats as there was something magical about watching these graceful creatures glide through the waters. Two of the otters were frolicking and chasing each other, zooming overhead as we stood beneath them in an underwater tunnel (video here!). During the manatees’ feeding time, it was quite amusing to see them swimming around with poop hanging off their undersides. On a sweeter note, I managed to take a video of one manatee “hugging” another, awww ❤

An otter lying on the banks of its habitat at River Safari/Wonders' Amazon Flooded Forest
Soaking in the last rays of sun before the impending rain

Two otters playing and chasing each other around at River Safari/Wonders' Amazon Flooded Forest
Some friendly chasing fun between the two otters

One manatee hugging another at River Safari/Wonders' Amazon Flooded Forest
Look at these gentle giants hugging it out

A manatee smiling at the camera at River Safari/Wonders' Amazon Flooded Forest
Oh haiii there

A manatee swimming upside down at River Safari/Wonders' Amazon Flooded Forest
Nope this photo isn’t flipped, just a manatee swimming upside down

At the Squirrel Monkey Forest, it was really cool how we got to get so up close and personal with animals like the squirrel monkeys and Azara’s agoutis. No barriers, no glass, just us walking along the same paths in the same space as them. While a staff was handing out food to these guys, I spotted a cheeky squirrel monkey snatching food from a helpless agouti, who had no means of fighting back! Poor fella ): In the event of rain and lightning, note that this zone will be closed.

A squirrel monkey in a tree at River Safari/Wonders' Squirrel Monkey Forest
Perhaps this squirrel monkey is looking for the next branch to effortlessly leap to

An Azara's agouti walking beside a footpath at River Safari/Wonders' Squirrel Monkey Forest
This little guy just walking right by

A sad Azara's agouti after a squirrel monkey stole its food at River Safari/Wonders' Squirrel Monkey Forest
The pesky squirrel monkey making its escape, leaving the poor agouti with no food

Over at the Mekong River zone, I was blown away by the sheer size of the giant catfish there! At first glance from far, they didn’t appear that humongous but it was a totally different story when we stood in front of the glass tank. I’d never seen such a big fish in real life, only those on Wicked Tuna heh.

Mekong giant catfish at at River Safari/Wonders

An undeniable must-see here are the super cute pandas at the Giant Panda Forest. It was a bummer that mummy Jia Jia was nursing baby Le Le in the maternity ward during our visit so we could only see daddy Kai Kai lazing out on a rock. Not forgetting the adorable red pandas too! They were perched quite high up on the trees so it was tough to get a proper view of them. Even if you don’t fancy pandas that much, this is still a great place to cool off and seek respite from the heat as it’s fully air-conditioned to maintain a suitable climate for them.

Giant panda Kai Kai lazing on a rock at River Safari/Wonders' Giant Panda Forest
Is that a teeny smile on daddy Kai Kai’s sleepy face?

A red panda in a tree at River Safari/Wonders' Giant Panda Forest
Me when the morning alarm goes off

If you’re feeling hungry, your only two options within the park are Starbucks (located at the entrance) and Mama Panda Kitchen (located at the Giant Panda Forest), which serves up chinese cuisine. Deciding to have lunch at the latter and wait out the rain there, we ordered chicken zha jiang mian ($12.90), chicken cutlet ramen ($12.90), a panda chocolate custard pau ($2.90) and a root beer float ($6.90).

Portion sizes were not too bad but the food was terribly bland. I even found a short strand of hair in my soup, nasty. The only saving grace of this meal was the fluffy panda pau with its creamy chocolate custard. As with most theme park food, prices were on the expensive side, making this meal totally not value for money. Pack your own food if you can.

Seating area in Mama Panda Kitchen at River Safari/Wonders' Giant Panda Forest

Food dishes from Mama Panda Kitchen at River Safari/Wonders' Giant Panda Forest

Root beer float from Mama Panda Kitchen at River Safari/Wonders' Giant Panda Forest

Right after lunch, we made a beeline for the Amazon River Quest as it was closed earlier due to the rain. This ticketed boat ride goes in a loop and brings you past various animal habitats along the way. Thankfully, the staggering queue for this ride moved fairly quickly even though the board indicated a wait time of 20 minutes.

There are 3 mild roller-coaster-ish slopes spaced out across the ride (video of one of them here!), possibly an attempt to make the ride a little more exciting. It was a pretty cool experience as the boat gets right up to the edge of the enclosures and it felt like we were really near the animals. I read in some reviews that the best time to see the animals here is earlier in the morning as it gets too hot past noon. Although we didn’t make that timing, we still managed to see many of them. All things considered, I thought this ride was quite worth it ($5 per adult, $3 per child), but do note that if weather conditions aren’t suitable, there’s a chance you won’t get to take the ride and no refunds will be given.

Amazon River Quest boat ride at River Safari/Wonders

Collared peccary basking in the sun along the Amazon River Quest boat ride at River Safari/Wonders
Collared peccary basking in the sun

A Brazilian tapir relieving itself along the Amazon River Quest boat ride at River Safari/Wonders
Oops, we stumbled upon this Brazilian tapir in the middle of business

Sleeping jaguars along the Amazon River Quest boat ride at River Safari/Wonders
The only exhibit along the ride that was fully enclosed, thank goodness

Flamingoes along the Amazon River Quest boat ride at River Safari/Wonders
Strikingly coloured flamingoes waltzing around

On top of Amazon River Quest, there used to be another boat ride called the Reservoir Cruise that would take you on a 15-minute scenic journey along the outskirts of the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. However, due to the covid situation, this ride has been temporarily suspended.

Reservoir Cruise boats parked by the pier at River Safari/Wonders

Rounding off our day here was the Once Upon A River animal presentation. I can’t even begin to describe how arduous it was for us to get seats for it. There are 3 sessions in a day: 11.30am, 2.30pm and 4.30pm. When we reached Boat Plaza at 11.15am for the first show, the capacity of 50 pax (40 pax in rainy conditions) was maxed out. Thinking we’d learnt our lesson, we decided to arrive 45 minutes earlier for the second show. We were initially allowed in the queue to supposedly take the last two available slots. Alas, due to some miscalculation on the staff’s part, our slots apparently never existed and so we were ousted from the show once again.

One of the staff empathized with our plight and very kindly told us that she will help to reserve 2 spaces for the last show of the day, suggesting that we come by at 4pm. After visiting the rest of the exhibits, we came back to Boat Plaza at 3.25pm for the 4.30pm show AND IT WAS FULL, save for the fact that we had seats reserved. We were legit the last ones standing in the queue line even though we were a whole hour early to showtime, such is the weekend crowd. Hopefully there won’t be such occurrences again as the park has introduced an online booking system where visitors can now reserve slots 2 hours before showtime (fastest fingers first, of course), ideally helping to limit the uncertainty of seat availability.

We finally got to watch the show after all that hullabaloo and our verdict is, it’s really not worth waiting in line for an hour or more for it. It simply felt like a quick, successive parade of the animals (some doing little tricks) while having loads of information thrown at us. I think the suspension of interaction opportunities with the animals as compared to pre-covid iterations of this show kinda stifled the experience, but kudos to the presenters who did their best to engage the audience.

The presenter with a bird on his hand during the Once Upon A River animal presentation at River Safari/Wonders

The presenter sharing trivia about capybaras during the Once Upon A River animal presentation at River Safari/Wonders

The presenters with different animals on stage for the finale during the Once Upon A River animal presentation at River Safari/Wonders

My overall rating of the experience: 3 out of 5 stars. I was pleasantly surprised that the animals here weren’t the common run-of-the-mill types, which was a refreshing eye-opener for me. I was especially intrigued by the gigantic Mekong catfish, the adorable capybaras, the graceful manatees, as well as the agile and playful otters. The Amazon River Quest boat ride was quite the novel experience, where we got to view various animals and intermittently cruise down some slopes. It was amazing to be in such close proximity to the creatures at the Squirrel Monkey Forest too! However, a number of park experiences like the feeding sessions were suspended at the point of our visit, which was a bit of a letdown. But what really affected this rating was the pricey yet unappetizing food served at Mama Panda Kitchen and the pains of getting a near-impossible seat at the animal presentation (I hope you won’t find yourself in a such a situation with the new online booking system). Otherwise, this would’ve been a 4-star rating. With that said, it’s still worth a visit for the unique wildlife you can find here.

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