AdventureNotes #22: Chester Zoo

Visiting a zoo has never been a choice for me while visiting a city. I don’t know why but I am just not interested in seeing animals and exploring more about them. In addition, zoos in Indonesia (the old ones, actually) are not attractive. However, this one stole my heart.

Chester Zoo is named as the best zoo in the UK. I think it is also ranked within the top 10 in the world. As I said, I’ve never been interested to visit zoos – anywhere in the world. However, when I browsed the internet about Chester, this attraction is mentioned on the top of the list. I visited the website and voila! I had to scratch myself out of my curiosity. The newest attraction in Chester Zoo is called ‘Islands in Chester Zoo’. What is it? It is some kind of an area that displays animals from the South East Asia for conservatory purpose. Uniquely, five out of six islands showcased in Chester Zoo are in reality located in Indonesia territory. There are Sulawesi, Sumba, Bali, Sumatra, Papua, and Sumatera. Wow, indeed. As an Indonesian, I haven’t even visited all of those islands. I was sooo tempted to go. Therefore, despite its high admission fee (I had to pay £20 for student ticket), I went there anyway.

The access to Chester Zoo is not difficult. From anywhere in the UK, we can just hop on a train to Chester. Arriving in Chester at around 9 am, I waited for a bus to Chester Zoo in front of the train station. The bus is scheduled to be one in every twelve minutes. I didn’t have to wait for long before the bus arrived. There are two bus stops near Chester Zoo. The first one is at the front of the parking lot and the second one is inside the parking lot, only a few meters away from the front gate of the zoo. I got off the bus at the front of the parking lot and had to walk around 10 minutes to get to the gate. As it was quite early, the door hadn’t been opened yet. However, the queue was already long. At 10 am, Chester Zoo is opened for public. If we have an online ticket, we can just go through the gate by showing the barcode sent to our email. As usual, buying tickets online is always better. The price is lower and you can also buy other attractions ticket, such as the monorail ticket, etc. However, you can always buy the ticket on the spot at the ticketing counter available there.

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As our first aim is to see the Islands, we traced the map and found the nearest route to the Islands area. On our way, we passed a monkey house where there are baboons and the black monkey (I don’t know what they’re called but they’re not chimpanzee). We also passed a bear, capybaras, zebras (there are lots of kinds of them! I just knew!), and some kind of deer. The Islands is located at the corner of the zoo. It is kind of excluded, but it is indeed for a reason.

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From far away, we can already see the top of Tongkonan, a traditional house from Sulawesi. It is colorful so you can’t miss that. Entering the Islands complex is like entering a new world. I don’t know if it’s the weather that day or the atmosphere, but the air is getting hotter, just like in a tropical island. I was amazed. There was this made up beach complete with ships and the white sands. As an Indonesian, we said that it’s typical Pantura (North Java Seaside Way). There was a small cabin with Jokowi picture on its wall that in Indonesia used to be called Pos Kamling (Area Security Post). There were also cooking utensils displayed on small bamboo stalls. Amazing! We got to talk with the zookeepers who recognize us as Indonesian. They asked us whether the place looks real. Indeed, it is. Super real! As we walked along the pathway, we could see Indonesian animals, such as Anoa, Babirusa, Banteng, Cassowary, etc. It is quite impressive how the zoo helps the animals adapt with the new environment along with its very different weather to the one those animals used to. As we walked along, we met some other zookeepers who told us that all of the decorations were made in Indonesia, from the ‘village-like’ toilets, small bamboo stalls, up to the wooden chairs and stone sculptures. Wow again for Chester Zoo. It takes the whole thing seriously. It gets more serious when we came into a tropical house where there are tropical plants and birds. I was so happy I could see a real tropical banana trees in here! I felt like I want to take the leaves to cook. Hahaha… typical Indonesian, right? The temperature inside the tropical house is quite hot, maybe around the same temperature as in Indonesia or other South East Asian countries. Before the end of our visit to the Islands, we went for a lazy boat ride. We could see the whole islands from a boat. It is for free, too. Just beware that the queue may be quite long, especially in holidays. As the boat ride ended, it was time for lunch. There is this Manado restaurant inside the Islands area with fusion Indonesian food. There is also this gift shop that sells batik and other Indonesian souvenirs. Seriously, UK just tastes like Indonesia.

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After a half day in the Islands, we had lunch and went out to the common zoo area. The place is pretty big, but don’t compare it to Taman Safari Indonesia. We took a monorail ride from one point to the other end of the zoo and explored the place. There are quite a lot of animals, such as lions, giraffes, komodo dragons, penguins, sloths, leopards, elephants, etc. It is quite tiring walking around the zoo. Yes, unlike Taman Safari where we could ride our vehicle to explore the area, here we have to walk, looking at animals inside ‘cages’.

Overall, I think Chester Zoo is worth the visit. That was the first time I went to a zoo and really read the information boards about the animals and explored the place quite thoroughly. A day in Chester Zoo is enough, but after that I still wanted to visit the city of Chester. And indeed, the city is also worth another article to write.

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