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Animal holidays: Six places for unique wildlife-spotting with your family

By: Aimee Chan

If your kids love animals, Singapore is a great place to embark upon a few family holidays that offer the chance to interact with different types of wildlife (sure, the Night Safari is fab, but we’re talking the real deal here!). To help you plan a memorable trip, we asked expert Aimee Chan – founder of family travel site suitcases&strollers – to share her top trips for finding beautiful animals with little ones.

Elephants in Ayutthaya, Thailand
Elephants in Ayutthaya, Thailand

 Caring for elephants in Thailand

If you’re thinking about adopting a pet, how about an elephant? Thailand’s ancient city Ayutthaya might be famed for its historical ruins, but it is also where you can do an elephant stay with kids. At the Royal Elephant Kraal & Village, you can elect how many days you want to stay and play elephant mummy. Then you are guaranteed hands-on interaction with your new friend: you get to feed, ride, bathe and even clean up after your foster elephant. The Royal Elephant Kraal & Village claim they have had babies stay and can cater for kids of all ages. However with the size of the animals, the volume of time required to commit and the rustic nature of the experience, it’s likely best to save this family holiday activity for pre-schoolers and above.

The sweetest shark you'll ever meet
The sweetest shark you’ll ever meet

 

Swimming with whale sharks in the Maldives

The Maldives are some of the prettiest beaches anywhere in the world, where the sand really is like powder and the water crystal clear. Not only is it common to snorkel with sea turtles, witness huge shoals of reef fish and spot small sharks directly off shore, perhaps a lesser known fact is that the Maldives is one of the best places to swim with whale sharks. These gentle giants of the deep are regularly spotted around the islands throughout the entire year and the opportunity to have your kids swimming with whale sharks doesn’t get much easier than this.

A typical experience is to hire a cruising boat for the day where they serve you lunch and snacks with you chill out on board. Staff on the boat will keep their binoculars at the ready and when a whale shark is spotted, all you need do it jump right in. Best of all, swimming with whale sharks is not reserved exclusively for divers – snorkellers can get a lot out of the experience too.

 

Aww, a baby orangutan!
Aww, a baby orangutan!

 

Spotting orangutans in Malaysia

Orangutans may be abound at the Singapore Zoo, but there is something quite special about seeing them in the wild. Borneo in Malaysia is the best place to do this and there are two ways to go about it.

For the intrepid bunch, head out to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where orphaned orangutans are being reintegrated to eventually return to the wild. The centre is about 20 kilometres out of Sandakan town, which does not have direct flights to Singapore.

An easier way to see orangutans with kids is to book a few nights in the Shangri-La Rasa Ria. Think of this as a beach holiday resort with primates thrown in. On site, there is also an orangutan rehabilitation centre inside the nature reserve where guests can view the animals at designated feeding times. Plus, going to Shangri-La Rasa Ria means the kids can see the orangutans in a more natural environment without parents foregoing the luxuries of a self contained family holiday resort.

Cows out in the pastures, Australia
Cows out in the pastures, Australia

 

Feeding the farm animals in Western Australia

For a relaxing family holiday activity, try booking a farm stay for the kids. As well as a rural experience that will make the hustle of Singapore seem a world away, farm stays allow the kids to have an interactive experience with the animals – petting alpacas, collecting chicken eggs, riding horses and ponies and even taking primary responsibility for a guinea pig for a few days.

Even better, if you opt for a farm stay in Western Australia (the easiest and closest place to do this from Singapore) you will be surrounded by local food producers and wineries, so parents can really unwind while the kids play farmer. It might not be the most adventurous option, but if you prefer a shiraz at sunset to trekking through the snow, this is for you.

Japanese snow monkeys (living the life, really)
Japanese snow monkeys (living the life, really)

 

Playing with snow monkeys in Japan


A fun and unusual way to play in the snow with kids is to take them to meet the Japanese macaques in the north of Nagano. The snow monkey park, Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, is one of the best places for seeing the famous monkeys relaxing in the hot springs and interacting with their babies and their community. While you can visit throughout the year, the adults are quite lethargic in the warmest months during summer, and you won’t see them doing much more than just sleeping. Winter is the most magical time to experience the park, but beware – Japanese winters can be extreme, so be sure to dress the kids in appropriate snow gear.

Iconic crabs at sunrise on Ethel Beach (credit: Justin Gilligan)
Iconic crabs at sunrise on Ethel Beach (credit: Justin Gilligan)

 

Chasing the crabs on Christmas Island

The famed red crab migration across Christmas Island, off Australia, during October to December really is a sight to behold. The determined crustaceans make their way en mass from the forest to the ocean, creating an amazing moving carpet of animals. So revered is this annual crossing that the locals take it very seriously – if the crabs decide to cross a major road, closures of the road (to humans, not crabs) can occur.

A lesser known fact about Christmas Island is that even outside migration season, there are still plenty of crab sightings to be had. As well as the red crabs, there are blue land crabs and robber crabs which can be easily spotted down on the beautiful deserted beaches.

 

About the author: Aimee Chan is a magazine editor and writer. She has worked with titles including CNN, Harper’s BAZAAR, ELLE, Time Out, several inflight magazines. She is also the  founder of suitcases&strollers, an online family travel magazine providing inspirational ideas, stories and travel tips for parents traveling with kids under 12.

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