Aquariums brought the underwater world so much closer to us. For families, it is a great way for the children to learn everything about the fascinating ocean that they may not be able to get to (yet). While active travelers may prefer to embark on a snorkeling or diving trip in a remote destination, it is also great to have the option of looking at a vast number of rare and beautiful sea creatures with convenience.
I find the experience therapeutic – how amazing to see marine life up close – and that’s why many places in Asia have opened some of the best aquariums. Here are my recommendations and my top tips about how to plan your trips to make them an unforgettable experience.
#10 Aquaria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur
The highlights: KLCC is located at the heart of Kuala Lumpur and the aquarium is one of the many attractions for families and sealife lovers. Its shark tunnel is among some of the longest in the world.
Must-see: Sand tiger sharks in its 90-meter-long tunnel, and a giant Pacific octopus.
Like many modern aquariums, Aquaria KLCC has a modest scale of 5,000 square meters. However, it’s one of the largest in Malaysia. It may not be the largest aquarium on this list but it still has all the essential features for a wonderful experience.
The underwater tunnel is the highlight of the site, with sand tiger sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays swimming together with schools of fish.
One thing that’s special about the aquarium is that the entire path is divided into sections that highlight underwater landscapes at different levels. The showcase begins from the highlands (where amphibious and land-based creatures like Coatimundis are shown), moving on to the Evolution Zone and Shipwreck zone, and then the Flooded Forest to the Living Ocean.
At the end of the path at the Weird & Wonderful zone is a neon-light-lit tube tank showing bioluminescent fish, and a stand-alone tank of a giant Pacific octopus.
Where is it and when to visit: KLCC is connected by rapid KL metro at the KLCC Station (KJ10). It is also possible to take a bus to Kuala Lumpur Convention Center. The aquarium is within a five to ten-minute walking distance from the metro station and bus stop. The aquarium opens from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
How to plan your visit: KLCC is a dynamic city center with malls, hotels, parks, and many more for a day of fun. The KLCC Park, Lake Symphony, Petronas Art Gallery, TGV Cinema, and the list goes on. One recommendation is to take a walk on the Twin Towers Skybridge for a breathtaking view of the city before or after your visit to the aquarium. It is, in fact, the world’s highest sky bridge.
Having said that, Malaysia is a beach paradise with lots of locations to do some “serious” snorkeling and scuba diving. For more about planning beach hopping in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, visit here.
#9 Maxell Aqua Park, Shinagawa
The highlights: It is a compact yet have-it-all facility in Shinagawa, a busy district between Tokyo and Yokohama. The aquarium is located in a hotel complex equipped with a stadium for water shows.
Must-see: Jellyfish Ramble and the Dolphin Show.
The state-of-the-art facility was formerly called the Epson Aquapark since its re-opening in 2015. It was then in 2017, renamed Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa after the acquisition. Maxell Aqua Park is located in a hotel, covering an area of merely 11,000 square meters, but don’t be fooled by the numbers as it has a lot inside. The original facilities date back to 2005 and it had a major renovation in 2015.
The aqua park features 10 different zones with over 350 species of animals. On the ground floor: (1) Park Entrance, (2) Magical Ground, (3) Coral Café Bar (It is a bar), and (4) Jellyfish Ramble. On the second floor: (5) Little Paradise, (6) Wonder Tube, (7) Life Aquarium, (8) Aqua Jungle, (9) Wild Street, (10) Friendly Square, and (11) the Stadium.
The aquarium may be compact (it’s obviously smaller as compared to the others) but surprisingly the variety is impressive – I have seen not only goldfish, lizards, and turtles but also rare species like sea lions, penguins, sharks, stingrays, otters, and seals (Although I hoped the animals could have more space to move around…) The Highlight of the aqua park would definitely be Jellyfish Ramble and The performance at the Stadium.
Another option in the city of Tokyo is GA☆KYO in Odaiba. Presenting goldfish with traditional or legendary themes. A wonderful place for Instagram photo-taking.
It was truly impressive to fit in a stadium in the building, and you don’t see them that often in an aquarium. The park has two dolphin shows daily at the Stadium, which are about 20 minutes long. Beware though there could be quite a lot of people waiting for the show so grab a seat earlier if you need to sit down for the performance. The show was not long but tastefully done with professionally designed lighting and music. The pool had a circular water screen that served as a great backdrop when the dolphins were leaping out from the water…
Where is it and when to visit: Located in the Prince Hotel Shinagawa across from the JR Shinagawa station, a major train station of the Kanto Shinkansen (High-speed train)
How to plan your visit: Shinagawa is between Tokyo and Kawasaki / Yokohama and it’s a great stopover if you are planning a trip between these two cities. It is also located close to Haneda Airport, making it a great place to see if you are having a few hours to spare before your flight, or during transit.
For more about Tokyo’s food scene and what to eat there, visit here.
#8 SEA LIFE Bangkok Ocean World, Bangkok
The highlights: The largest aquarium in Southeast Asia, built within a shopping mall, Siam Paragon. What’s more, the aquarium features art exhibitions at Sea Life Bangkok’s Living Art: The Art of Camouflage.
Must-see: Nautilus and sharks
Formerly called the Siam Ocean World, the aquarium opened in 2005, and it was one of the earliest large-scale aquariums that were built as an attraction within a shopping and entertainment complex. The purpose of the aquarium is to draw traffic and for visitors to have a peek at the underwater world in the city center of Bangkok, basically the busiest district in the city.
The aquarium is the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia, covering an area of 10,000 square meters and hundreds of species are on display, from nautilus, jellyfish, sea turtles, sharks, penguins, otters, stingrays, and more.
The wonderful thing about this aquarium is, that the site is indoors beneath a massive shopping mall; it’s very convenient to get to with the comfort of air conditioning, yet it doesn’t disappoint with an impressive array of sea life and fun activities like walking through the 270-degree glass tunnel, feeding of jackass penguins, a 4D movie theatre, a glass-bottom boat tour, and even art exhibitions.
Where is it and when to visit: Siam Paragon is connected by BTS and the intersection of two BTS lines at Siam Station.
How to plan your visit: Situated in the basement of one of the largest shopping malls in Bangkok, it has no lack of shopping, fun, food, and entertainment nearby, apart from the Siam Paragon, the Siam discovery, Central World and Siam Square are all just within walking distance; this is perfect for visitors who may have limited time to accommodate so many things in a day.
For the ultimate “what to see and do” guide in Bangkok, Thailand, visit here.
#7 Lotte World Aquarium and COEX Aquarium, Seoul
The highlights: Two of the most modern and largest aquariums in Seoul, and they are located in two massive malls – namely COEX and Lotte World respectively. Together, they showcase hundreds of species and tens of thousands of animals.
Must-see: Piranhas @ COEX, and the feeding of rays and Beluga @ Lotte
I am putting two aquariums in one position because they are both in Seoul, and they are actually quite close. COEX is a newly renovated shopping complex with hotels, shopping malls, entertainment, and a speed train station that connects Seoul’s Gangnam district with the airport. I witnessed the transformation of COEX and now it’s a popular location for the locals and visitors to just hang out. The Starfield Library has also become a sought-after Instagram Spot, for being a futuristic library and a cultural hotspot with 2 levels of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the surroundings.
The latest addition to the mall is an aquarium. It was opened as early as 2000 but it was recently renovated with a lot more to offer. It is the largest in Seoul and it’s yet another aquarium that is located in a mall, connecting to the COEX Convention and Exhibition Center.
The aquarium features more than 600 different species of aquatic life, from sharks, turtles, stingrays, electric eels, octopuses, jellyfish, and more. The most interesting (or shocking) exhibit that I saw was a school of sinister-looking piranhas.
Lotte World is another newly expanded, massive shopping and leisure complex that basically a “Disneyland” on its own. The key feature, in fact, is the world’s largest indoor amusement park, together with an outdoor amusement park called “Magic Island”.
The theme park was built on an artificial lake and it’s connected to the shopping area by monorail. The Lotte World Aquarium opened in 2014 and it may be overshadowed by its surrounding. However, it is the largest aquarium in Korea, featuring 13 exhibition zones in different habitats, with 650 species and 55,000 sea creatures coming from all over the world.
Where is it and when to visit: The aquarium is located in COEX mall, in Gangnam District in Seoul, it’s a massive complex connected to a number of subway stations in different directions, including the Samseong and Bongeunsa Stations.
How to plan your visit: Since the City Airport Terminal (CALT) is located at the mall, and provides a one-stop departure service for airline check-ins, immigration clearance, as well as non-stop limousine bus services to Incheon International Airport; it is a great stopover before boarding the bus to the airport. While you are at the mall, check out a number of attractions in the area like the Starfield Library, COEX Artium, My Art Museum, or Bongeunsa.
Visit the Beluga in Lotte Aquarium and the feeding of rays was fun to watch!
However, it takes more time to cover Lotte World, together with its hotel, folk museum, movies, entertainment facilities, and theme parks. This is where SeoulSky (the world’s 5th tallest building) is located. The mall regularly hosts contemporary art exhibitions or events, and therefore, plan at least a day or two if you want to cover the key attractions.
For more about COEX’s Starfield Library and many other Instagram and art places in Seoul, visit here.
#6 National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium, Pingtung, Taiwan
The highlights: A dedicated area in the park featuring aquatic life native to Taiwan, and an outdoor water park next to the museum.
Must-see: Native Taiwan aquatic life and beluga
Located in southern Taiwan, the site is a major research institution for marine biology. Here, visitors can learn about the history of the ocean and its ecological landscapes. The aquarium opened in 2000, covering an area of 1 million square meters (100 hectares) of the museum and outdoor water park.
The aquarium takes up 35.8 hectares, with three main areas Waters of Taiwan, Coral Kingdom Pavilion, and World Waters Pavilion. The first section is dedicated to the native aquatic animals in Taiwan, and it’s more exciting than you expect – while Taiwan is an island, it has a wide spectrum from cuttlefish, yellowfin tuna, and spotted eagle rays to a whale shark. The area is punctuated with an 80-meter-long shark tunnel.
The Coral Kingdom is designed in different layers of coral reef habitats from shallow waters to deep oceans, showing animals from blacktip reef sharks, lionfish, moray eels, cow nose rays, unicornfish, butterflyfish, and more. It has a separate beluga whale exhibit and yet another glass tunnel for underwater viewing.
Where is it and when to visit: The aquarium is located in Taiwan’s Pingtung, approximately about 100 kilometers south of Kaohsiung, the nearest city. It’s located by the coast of Hengchun, a town and a hub for visitors to Kenting. The best way to get there is by driving, but it’s also possible to take a bus from Kenting.
How to plan your visit: Kenting is the southernmost point of Taiwan and it is a popular vacation destination – it’s famous for its beaches, “surprisingly” diverse landscape, night market, themed homestays, and clear water for scuba diving, just to name a few. In April, this is where the Spring Wave Music Festival takes place, and also when all the actions happen. Plan a weekend getaway or a few-day trip to Kenting to truly experience what this place has to offer, from top to, literally, bottom (underwater).
For more about what to see and do in Kenting, including the Spring Wave music festival, visit here.
#5 S.E.A. Aquarium, Singapore
S.E.A. actually stands for South Eash Asia Aquarium, and it was once the world’s largest aquarium by water volume, and the record was overtaken in 2014. So how big it is? The aquarium contains a total of 45,000,000 liters of water. More than 100,000 animals of over 800 species can be seen in the aquarium.
One thing that makes S.E.A. Aquarium stand out among others is the design and setting of the aquarium. It has the perfect light, route design, and guidance that lead the visitors to feel engaged with the environment that is presented in front of them.
The aquarium is divided into a number of “sea” habitats that basically cover the entire world. Witness tropical fish like the pompano, napoleon wrasse, and batfish in the Java Sea; garden eels, clown fish, and reef lobsters in the Laccadive Sea; jellyfish, giant spider crab, sally lightfoot crab, and blue-spotted stingrays in the Open Ocean and Ocean Journey; longhorn cowfish and fairy basslet in the Red Sea; frontosa and African tigerfish in the East Africa area; squirrelfish, soldierfish, and moray eel in the South China Sea; and the most impressive of all is the shark tank that houses various shark species like the silvertip shark and sandbar shark.
Where is it and when to visit: It is located in Sentosa as part of Resorts World Sentosa, visitors can enter the VivoCity shopping mall by MRT and take the Sentosa Express Monorail. The island is also accessible by car, bus, and cable car; it is also connected to the mainland by a footbridge that it is possible to walk to the aquarium. Universal Studio is also nearby!
How to plan your visit: It is located in Sentosa as part of Resorts World Sentosa, and therefore it is actually surrounded by lots of fun and action. If you are an outdoor and activity traveler then you would most likely have a great time on the small island for a day, or even two enjoying all the adventures that Sentosa has to offer. The aquarium is a great way to take a break and unwind and get lost in the underwater world.
For more about the exciting outdoor activities in Singapore, visit here.
#4 Ocean Park, Hong Kong
The highlights: It is the top 10 amusement park in Asia, and it’s an educational marine mammal park in the city with a long and proud history, the Ocean Park’s water show was very popular
Must-see: Sea Lions and Seals
Opened in 1977, Ocean Park has a long history of being the most beloved and popular theme park amongst the locals. It is one of the oldest theme parks in Hong Kong and it’s one of the few in Asia in that era that is themed about marine life.
The park is located on the southern side of Hong Kong Island covering an area of 915,000 square meters of land with two sections, the waterfront and the summit, connected by cable cars. Amongst the thrill rides and animal closures, the park’s key showcases are the many aquariums that are dedicated to sharks, penguins, sea lions, seals, manatees, and more.
The Grand Aquarium is a massive four-story tank full of an exciting array of marine life. While the main tanks are home to a school of 5,000 fish from clownfish, lionfish, blue fins tuna, to whale sharks, visitors can also find tiny seahorses, garden eels, and jellyfish.
Where is it and when to visit: Ocean Park is located on the southern side of Hong Kong Island and it’s connected by the subway at the Ocean Park station (South Island Line), there are a number of buses connecting to Admiralty and Causeway Bay.
How to plan your visit: The cable cars are a classic and one of the most popular features in Ocean Park because they offer an amazing view of Hong Kong Island’s southern side. To hikers, the Brick Hill (Nam Long Shan) hiking trail below the cable car is actually open to the public – it’s an easy walk with an enchanting view of the ocean and beyond. To those with more time, explore the Hong Kong southern districts like Stanley, Repulse Bay, or Wong Chuk Hang.
For more about Hong Kong’s incredible and free viewpoints around the harbor, visit here.
#3 Churaumi Aquarium, Okinawa
The highlights: Once the largest aquarium in the world, it gained significance in its advanced technology of breeding whale sharks and reef manta rays
Must-see: Whale sharks, reef manta rays, and manatees
Churaumi Aquarium was formerly known as the Okinawa Ocean Expo Aquarium, it’s part of the Ocean Expo Park in northern Okinawa, Japan. The aquarium was once the largest in the world, and then it was surpassed by the Georgia Aquarium, it remained the largest in Asia until it was surpassed by the new aquariums in Bangkok, Singapore, and Zhuhai.
Nevertheless, it has a reputation for being the best in Asia. Why? Because of its advanced breeding technology. It is also the first aquarium to succeed in raising and breeding whale sharks and reef manta rays, one of the largest rays of its kind.
Today, the aquarium remains the largest in Japan, with 7.5 million liters of water in volume, welcoming over 3.5 million visitors annually. The open-sea tank of the aquarium is one of the largest in the world. The tank is 24 feet deep with a continuous seawater supply and it is home to many giant sea animals, including whale sharks, reef manta rays, and giant oceanic manta rays. The aquarium also features large animals like dolphins, beluga, manatees, penguins, and more. It is also one of the few aquariums that have a stadium for water shows.
Where is it and when to visit: The aquarium is located in Motobu, Okinawa. Motobu is in northern Okinawa, close to Nago.
How to plan your visit: If you are visiting Okinawa and staying in Naha, the aquarium is about 90 kilometers away from the city center. Plan a day trip to cover some of the other highlights in Nago, like Nago Castle Park and Nago Pineapple Park. For a road trip, the drive from Naha to Nago runs along the coast and passes a number of beautiful beaches, including Mission Beach, Manza Beach, Nago Citizen Beach, Koki Beach, 21 Sekinomori Beach, Emerald Beach, and more.
For more about how to plan a travel itinerary in Okinawa, visit here.
#2 Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Zhuhai/Macau
The highlights: The theme park breaks a couple of world records. The giant aquarium is the world’s largest aquarium tank, it features the largest acrylic window which measures a massive 39.6m by 8.3m. Moreover, the whale shark exhibit also features the world’s largest underwater viewing dome.
Must-see: Polar bears
The Chimelong Group is the largest Chinese theme park group with operations of tourist resorts and theme parks, mainly in South China, including the safari park, birds park, water park, and international circus. In terms of attendance, Chimeleong is in the top 10 behind Walt Disney, Merlin Entertainment, Universal, Six Flags, OCT Parks China, and Fantawild Group. Located on Hengqin Island, the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom opened in 2014 and it was then crowned the most-visited water park in the world.
Where is Hengqin Island?
Hengqin is a newly developed district in Zhuhai and a new getaway destination for locals in Macau. Hengqin is an island in Zhuhai, a city in the Guangdong province of Southern China. The island had a population of 3,000 and it is about 100 sq.km in size. In 2009, part of the Island is leased to Macau by China, and the whole island is designated a special economic district, similar to Binhai New Area in Tianjin and Pudong New Area in Shanghai.
The Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is part of the Chimelong International Ocean Resort on the north side of the island with five theme parks (in the planning), an entertainment complex, hotels, and a business district. The first phase of the park cost over 10 billion RMB to build. The entire site aims to become the “Orlando of China”, and though it can yet be a comparison, I did see some world-class construction that looks better than what I expected.
If I could just filter out the noises of the children, families, and crowds, I find the beauty of the wonderful creatures having their moments in the aquariums, and it was nice to see so many different animals in a go. On top of that, the park also features a number of fun rides, like a giant log flume, roller coaster, and bumper cars, with fireworks, laser, and a water fountain show to look forward to before the park closes.
The theme park is called the Ocean Kingdom but the animal collection is quite diverse. Many of them could not be seen in Asia’s urban areas. (Well, I do hope they are treated well in the park by the way.) The park has a number of exhibit sites showcasing polar bears (and lots of polar bears), penguins, brown bears, belugas, manatees, dolphins, whale sharks, seals, sea lions, walruses, lots of birds, and a giant aquarium tank that housed millions of fish.
My favorite exhibit (if there was not a giant noisy crowd from mainland China), was the beluga and polar bear exhibit. The design of the tank allowed me to observe their way of life from different angles. I saw brown bears that were sitting on a man-made cliff so adorable and asking visitors for food; Polar bears were swimming in their habitat as I could see them through the acrylic viewing tunnel underneath the pool. In the penguin world, I could see a penguin standing on the ice looking silly, or chasing each other in the water through a giant glass.
Where is it and when to visit: The theme park is located on Hengqin Island, Zhuhai; but it’s closer to Macau. It can get hot in summer and the best time to visit there is between fall and water from October to February.
How to plan your visit: Visit the theme park as a day trip during your visit to Macau. The small city has an exciting food scene with a vibrant mix of Chinese and Portuguese cuisines.
For more about Macau’s food scene and what to eat there, visit here.
#1 Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Osaka
The highlights: A stand-alone, world-class aquarium that simply ticks all the boxes of the best aquarium in Asia.
Must-see: Whale sharks and penguins!
When Kaiyukan first opened in 1990, it was the largest public aquarium in the world. After 30 years, it still has a celebrated history and reputation as one of the most visited and well-known aquariums in Asia. in 2017, the number of visitors reached 75 million.
Kaiyukan is located in Osaka’s premier location beside Osaka Bay, with giant tanks and facilities that draw not only families but also many other types of visitors. The aquarium’s signature is the whale sharks, yet it has over 30,000 marine animals there from fish, otters, and sea lions, to penguins.
The aquarium is also known for its innovative presentation, and how it can be very innovative and educational at the same time. Standing by the ocean in Osaka’s harbor area, it’s also next to the Tempozan Harbor Village. The area features a giant Ferris wheel, boutique and souvenir shops, restaurants, and other sightseeing activities.
Where is it and when to visit: Kaiyukan is located in the harbor district of Osaka; it is a massive, and colorful building standing on the waterfront. One easiest way to get there is by metro. The aquarium is within walking distance from the Osakako Station. The aquarium is open all year round, and springtime is my favorite time to visit Osaka.
How to plan your visit: Visitors can really do a lot of things in Osakako and with Osaka’s Kansai Amazing Pass, visitors can enjoy free rides on subways, and buses, an entrance to over 40 attractions, including Kaiyukan, including the Wonder Cruise, Osaka Castle, Osaka Wheel, Captain Line, and more. I recommend the Osaka Cruise Santa Maria, it’s a short scenic cruise that takes passengers on a ride around the city’s harbor front.