First I want to preface this post by saying this:
When we first looked into seeing the tigers in Thailand, I was unsure. As an animal lover, I don’t want to support any tourist activity in which animals were treated poorly, and I had heard horror stories about some of these tiger “sanctuaries” that could be compared to roadside zoos here in the US. So I did my research before we went, and I felt like Tiger Kingdom was a moral institution. My research indicated that Tiger Kingdom does not drug or de-claw their tigers. I was still a little unsure before we went, but I decided that I should trust my research. Preface over.
When we arrived in Chiang Mai (after a long night riding the rails), we had some time before we could check into our hotel. So, we hired a tuk tuk driver to get us some breakfast and then take us to see some tigers. The tuk tuks in Chiang Mai were nothing more than trucks with the bed enclosed. We piled up into one and headed into the center of town where we found a local food-court like place. We each had an amazing Thai breakfast dish for around $2 a piece. Then nice and full, we piled into the truck again and set out for some sweet tiger action.
Upon arriving at Tiger Kingdom and reviewing the prices, we had to make a decision on what size tigers we wanted to see. There were four categories, tiny, small, medium, and large. Frankie, Kee-Kee, Jason, and I decided to see the tiny, small, and large tigers. Before we could go though, we needed to sign a waiver. The waiver basically said, “If your face gets mauled, we are not held liable.” But you know in better legal terms then that. It went on to say that if an accident was to happen, don’t expect a refund. This was a little concerning. I would hope that if one of the tigers attacked me, I could at least get my 40 bucks back. And it didn’t help matters that we had just read an article about a tourist that had been attacked by one of the tigers at this park recently. The danger was real. And very very exciting.
Nevertheless, Jason, Kee-Kee, and I signed our lives away. Frankie starred at the paper for some time, and then finally nervously signed as well, all while trying to play it cool.
Truth is, we were all a little nervous, or maybe excited… I’m not sure, but I definitely was feeling those butterflies.
My originally thought when choosing the tiger sizes was that we would start tiny and work up to large. However, the staff pointed us in the direction of the small first. So, we started there.
Before we could enter, we had to read the rather large list of rules which all sounded like common sense to me. “Don’t touch the tigers’ teeth or claws.” Um, Duh. This sign was a little concerning though.
Sure, don’t put your fingers or hands in the cage. But your whole body, that’s no problem.
Therefore, we walked into the tiger cage a little overcautious at first not really knowing what to expect. Our hearts were beating fast, and adrenaline was flowing through our veins. Our guide walked us over to a couple small tiger cubs laying out in the sun. He explained to us that the tigers like the attention from people, because they were all born at the park. There was nothing to worry about. But still we needed to be extra careful how we approached them. So, we laid down behind them and rubbed their bellies. They purred and rolled over for us, obviously liking the attention.
We became calmer and soon felt like we were playing with large house cats. A couple of the tigers were playing in the corner, jumping and fighting with each other. They would run around the space not really caring about the humans watching them and occasionally would brush up against my legs during their game of chase. You could see that the tigers had gone through a lot of training as they would lie down when instructed and let more visitors pet their bellies. My concerns about drugging completely went away.
I could have watched these tigers all day, but eventually our guide dragged us out so we could move on to the big beasts. Going into the big tiger cage, we felt much more confident. We were pros now after all. But then we saw one of the big tigers and all that adrenaline came rushing back. These tigers were much much larger than the tigers we had just played with. And this first one, named Nancy, was growling, jumping, and running around as it played with its trainer.
The guide took us to a platform where three very large tigers were sunbathing. The first tiger we met was named Frankie which gave us a little giggle as Frankie met his tiger counterpart. We gradually cozyed up to Frankie (the tiger not the Chicagoan) and before long found ourselves spooning him as he purred for affection.
Frankie approached Tiger Frankie extremely cautiously at first keeping a good arms length distance. After a little peer pressure though, he got a bit closer, and they became friends for life. Ok, maybe not friends, but they tolerated each other just fine.
The biggest tiger of the three was named Mike. He weighed close to 500 lbs! Our guide fed Mike some chicken, and my photographer brain took over as I tried to get the perfect closeup of his face completely forgetting that I was within feet of the tiger’s massive jaws.
Last up were the tiny cubs. They were in a small nursery full of toys. Their training was much less perfected, and they ran around playing with each other like kittens do. But they would lay down for belly pets after the trainer would command them a few times. And then they would purr, oh they would purr. With the babies, we were able to see their retractable claws up close which still looked like they could do quite a bit of damage. Frankie was much more comfortable with the cubs. Well really, we all were.
Then our time was up, and we headed out of the park still high on adrenaline while internally checking “playing with tigers” off our bucket lists and humming “Eye of the Tiger” in our heads.
(Note for all of our moms and other worried relatives who think we are becoming adrenaline junkies: Although the danger of this adventure was very real, and I will not discount it, this post was written with extra dramatic flare, well because that is what writers do. In reality, I felt perfectly safe at all times. So please don’t worry, we are still sensible safe adults.)
Until next time,