First… I have to thank my mother, who, when she found out that I was in Thailand, told me that she heard that there was a place there where one could actually get up close and personal with a real (live) tiger (and not die of course). I knew right away that the chance to really touch and interact with a tiger is something that I absolutely have to do…. I mean, where else am I going to get this opportunity? She wasn’t sure of the name of the place, but, as with most things, a quick google search took care of that… Now, somewhat surprisingly, there’s actually several places where one can do this in Thailand. One of them, Tiger Kingdom, is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, located in north of the country… a place I was planning on seeing anyhow… so, I packed my bags, bought a train ticket and was off.
As an aside about Chiang Mai and Thailand in general… this place is very, very touristy. Not to say that I can’t see why… but it’s little funny for me since it’s the first really touristic place I’ve been in a while (there are many, many tourists in India, but there are so many Indians that it doesn’t feel too touristy… at least in my limited experience). And Chiang Mai in particular feels like a western expat town… I think 3/4’s of the people on the train here from Bangkok were western tourists, and everywhere I go here it seems that I see more westerners than Thais… maybe it also has something to do with the fact that I’ve met more Americans here in the last three weeks than I have on my entire trip up until this point? I even met a guy from San Diego (where I grew up) on the train to Chiang Mai… It’s nice from the perspective of it being very easy to meet people, but at times it can feel a bit like an expat Disneyland (I’m sure I could just get out a little further away from the main tourist hot spots and it would feel a bit more like actually being in a foreign country). So, again, not to knock it, as I can see why people are drawn here, but just a touch strange for me is all…
Anyhow, back to the tigers (I know why you’re all here). As I said above, the Tiger Kingdom is one of several places in Thailand where one can pet a tiger. Here’s their website and another article for more information than I can give you. The long and short of it is that they have tigers, from cubs to fully grown, and you pay to be in the cage with them (as well as staff) for about 10 minutes. For all you MBA’s out there, the place is one of the most professionally run establishments I’ve been to in a foreign country in quite some time… sensible line management, extra clean, quick turnover, no hassle… they get you in and out quickly, but without making you feel cheated… I was quite impressed. Pricing was by the size of the tiger… with the biggest being the cheapest (sizes being labeled, smallest, small, medium and big)… and then you could buy package deals (biggest, smallest, small) for less than the price of of the all the individual ones combined… plus extras like professional photo CDs and the like for an extra price. I figured I wanted to see the cubs and the fully grown suckers, so I got a package (smallest, small, big) as it was only 100 Baht more than the price for just the smallest and biggest ala carte. And what can I say… it was amazing… some photos:
Amazing to be up close and personal with actual (live) tigers. The cubs are very, very cute (obviously) an the big ones are just amazingly impressive up close… enormous and powerful, yet graceful and sleek somehow…just wow. Now… all of the touch a tiger sites in Thailand are dogged (may maybe deservedly) by allegations that the tigers are sedated via drugs to be able to interact the way they do. The Tiger Kingdom has a huge response/fact sheet posted up in the front of the queue stating why they would never drug their tigers and why the tigers are so calm (raised around humans, used to being petted, fed twice daily, resting in the heat while covered with fur, general cat behavior of sleeping the day away, etc.). From my perspective, the tigers did seem a bit groggy, but it was the middle of the day and they’re cats that are used to humans (they are also all clearly well fed judging by the size of their bellies)… so I can see where the drug allegations come from, but I just couldn’t tell for myself (not really knowing what to look for and not being a tiger expert and all). All in all, despite a twinge of anthropomorphic guilt at seeing such magnificent creatures in cages, being able to get up close and personal with them was a spectacular experience… maybe not one I’d do again, but something I’m very glad I’ve now done once.