Read the TripAdvisor reviews for the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo to learn the miserable place has a rank odor that comes from the animals. What they leave out are the wafts of durian fortifying the stink, fed by massive piles of plastic-wrapped fruit sold near the zoo’s crowning glory, the crocodile arena.
It’s an unlikely mecca for eating durian, shooting guns and playing on decrepit playgrounds. The zoo is what you would call a nightmare. It’s about 30 kilometers south of downtown but may as well be one of Dante’s circles of hell. Shrill, shrieking monkeys wearing diapers and other sad outfits greet visitors at the entrance. There seems to be an endless supply of decaying tigers panting in the oppressive heat. The tigers, like the monkeys, are either chained by the ankle to the ground or inside small cages, most with concrete floors.
A tiger with open sores naps in one of the zoo’s few grass-filled enclosures
Sadists may love it
The first crocodiles you encounter are on display individually in painfully tiny pens for zoo-goers to identify by species. Most of the crocodiles look dead resting in corners, their heaving bodies barely fitting under the slivers of shade afforded them. It doesn’t take a zoologist to concur these enclosures are way too small for the dinosaur-like creatures.
If you can manage to eat, there are many snack bars scattered around the sprawling property. Plenty of cold refreshments like whole coconuts, bottles of water and soda are on hand to keep everyone hydrated on the cheap.
You want ice cream? There’s ice cream. You want a loaf of bread? There are bread loaves too. Noodle cups, bags of dried fish snacks, candy, beer and other 7-Eleven staples are available for those looking to chow down while their hearts slowly break into a thousand pieces.
Numb those feelings by slurping down a beer or two before heading to the main crocodile viewing area, where you can observe crocs in their unnatural habitat. It looks like the water has been dyed green, and it also looks incredibly bleak. You can’t help but wonder if half of the animals are even alive because they’re not moving, and what is there even to live for here? The huge beasts come to life occasionally and lumber around languidly to slink into the fetid water. Sometimes they’ll open their massive jaws in the off chance people throw food their way from the safety of a raised wooden platform.
At the crocodile enclosure and many of the zoo’s other attractions, the animals can be fed for a small fee.
The crowd watch with delight from the safety of viewing stands as boys wrestle crocs
So give the chained elephants some bananas. Offer a pacing tiger a bottle of milk. The opportunities for feeding seem endless with ostriches, goats, orangutans, deer, boar and so on. The available nosh for the crocs is a bucket of raw chicken, distributed to zoo tourists with a plastic glove to avoid getting raw chicken all over. You would expect the crocodiles to spring into action over the glowing red treat, but most barely move as the flesh falls with a thud to the dusty brick floor. Nearby, an abandoned orange Crocs™ sandal rests alongside the terrifying crocodiles, the most poetic piece of garbage at the zoo.
Cross a bridge over the crocodile enclosure to a derelict shooting range where the zoo staff will hand you a gun with just about zero accountability. You don’t need to show your passport, put on safety goggles or sign any waivers, just pay a couple hundred baht and enjoy some squeezing off some rounds.
From the shooting range, wander past more snack bars, more animals with festering wounds, an elephant show and a rusting jungle gym until reaching the crocodile show arena. Here, a duo of young boys perform their risky shtick. They swat crocodiles with sticks, manhandle the beasts and put their fragile human limbs inside the crocodiles’ mouths, probably praying they won’t become an internet meme. Speaking Thai and Chinese, the boys entertain the crowd who returns the favor by throwing money into the enclosure. Baht and yuan comingle in the murky water. Some coins land in a crocodile’s mouth. The boys walk around collecting their earnings as the crowd cheers them on.
You want to shoot a gun? Boom. Here’s a gun.
Enter the Durian
When the show is over, join the crowd in swarming the nearby durian table where a vendor sells the pungent fruit alongside other less malodorous options such as pineapple. For THB200-400, buy the infamous creamy flesh banned in most hotels, airports, public spaces and transportation systems for its stinkbomb qualities. A few feet from the durian table, a group of tigers waste away in a cage unceremoniously. People are too caught up in the fruit, the lasting excitement of the crocodile performance, and a nearby crocodile jumping show to even look up at the big cats.
If the snack bar finds aren’t filling enough, you can visit the zoo’s restaurant and eat the very same animals you just marveled at: crocodile steak, crocodile soup and other crocodile dishes. Show your appreciation for the species by keeping the crocodile consumption going with a crocodile leather belt on your way out of this hell hole.
Thailand has made fitful efforts to be a less awful place for animals. Stronger penalties were recently enacted for animal cruelty, and wildlife officials came really close to doing something about the vile Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. Will a day come people will turn their backs on places like the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo? Judging by the gleeful applause of the croc show audience, I wouldn’t count on seeing the rusting doors of this apocalyptic zoo shut for good any time soon.
A lone, golden-hued raccoon flops onto his belly to reflect on the conditions of life in his hot cement enclosure