When most people think about going to India they are usually thinking about places such as New Delhi and Goa, however don’t over look the south east of the country. Whilst not as touristy there is plenty to see and do in Chennai (formerly known as Madras)! Sadly we had a few days on which we were incapacitated with Delhi Belly in the area so couldn’t do as much as we would have hoped, and spent the majority of our time outside of Chennai (our main goal of the trip was to spend time at the Madras Crocodile Bank).
1 – Guindy Snake Park
This small zoo is situated next to the Guindy national park in the center of Chennai. When I visited this park it was around 11:00am, however it was still fairly quiet and we were able to enjoy our walk around. Its size means that it only takes around half an hour to walk around, having a real close look at everything. As the name suggests it’s a park which focusses on numerous snake species (both venomous and constrictors), but there are also a number of lizards and crocodiles on display. The enclosures are fairly basic and outdated but with the prices they charge it is not surprising! The vast majority of animals looked pretty healthy though.
The entry fee for this attractions is pretty cheap, even by Indian standards (although as with many attractions in the area, as a tourist you will pay significantly more than local residents), however there is a small charge for cameras but it’s worth paying because you get a chance to see some animals which you’ll be hard pressed to see elsewhere… I am a big reptile and zoo fan and this was the first time I had seen a number of different sea snakes.
2 – Children’s Park
Right next door to the Snake Park (I would say less than a minutes’ walk to the left as you leave the snake park) is the entrance to the Children’s Park. Being called a children’s park we expected it to be a fairly hands on or farm yard type park (as you would expect from a children’s zoo in Europe), however it was a zoo as any other, just that if anything there is actually nothing specifically designed for children (play area etc.).
As with the snake park this is an opportunity to see some of the areas animals including many primates, carnivores, hoofed animals and birds etc. The best animals however were the troop of Bonnet Macaques which were free roaming and had left the freedom of the Guindy National park via a massive tree to get fed by tourists around the toilet block in the zoo next door to their natural protected haven. The other animals we really enjoyed seeing were various Deer species which even though looked like they were in an enclosure, were in fact just behind the fence of the National Park.
The animals in actual enclosures here were often in a pretty poor state and we didn’t spend much time here. Sadly it is zoos such as these which often give Asian zoos a bad name – but we have seen ourselves that they can do much better over here if they put their minds to it – proof of this is next door at the snake park, which even though isn’t perfect, certainly is a big step up from the children’s park.
One big tip is that if you come here bring some drink because it seemed that once you left you had to pay again to get back in to the park, and when we were there, nowhere to buy any food or drinks was open once inside… But to be honest I can’t image most people spending too much time there.
3 – Spencer Plaza
The Spencer Plaza is a great place go shopping for local wares, souvenirs, clothing and food etc. at a fairly reasonable price. As well as being for tourists there are a lot of shops here for the locals (including supermarkets etc.). This makes for a great and varied shopping experience for all budgets and means that you are less likely to get ripped off than at places geared purely at tourists. Saying this of course the shop keepers know that they can get more money out of tourists and will be keeping their eye open for you – However if there is something you like the look of do engage with the shop keeper, and it is equally fine to haggle a little with items such as handicrafts.
There are a number of floors to explore, with food outlets being spread out on various levels selling snacks and local foods while there is also a food court on the top floor which we did not use. However, we did buy some local biscuits… and its definitely worth trying some of the local sweet snacks, after all Chennai is known for its sweet foods!
4 – Chennai Citi Center Mall
If you have been to the hot and sweaty Spencer Plaza (crowded with locals), the Citi Center Mall is a completely different story and caters more to a wealthier clientele. There are a lot of designer outlets here and entertainment stores selling more high end goods, however there are also places to buy a few souvenirs etc. on the second floor. On the top floor there is a food court where there are quite a few different choices for sit down meals.
The main refreshing thing however about going here after the Spencer Plaza, is the air conditioning… There don’t appear to be too many places in Chennai where you can truly get out of the heat – but this is one of those oases of fresh air!
5 – Marina Beach
Marina Beach is a beautiful place where you can see many locals going about their daily lives, from fishermen right through to food sales right by the beach… it’s also quite popular with business men cooling off at the end of the day, families playing and tourists here to see this huge stretch of beach. After a day of walking in Chennai… Cool off your feet in the water! There’s no better way to finish your day… Even though it is far from being a particularly clean beach, and the currents very close to the shore mean that it is generally not advised for people to swim here.