When I first heard about Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, i knew i had to go. How often do you get the chance to play with tigers in this life?
Then I started thinking about the ethics of it. A lot of people bang on about loving animals but their actions are solely for them own benefit, not the animals. Whether that's visiting somewhere that treats their animals badly or getting a pet when you can't/won't pay for veterinary care. or using products tested on poor, innocent beagles.
I read a bit about it and spoke to people in Chiang Mai who'd been there. From what I learnt, and what I saw there, the tigers are treated well. I mean, obviously the best thing would be for them to be running around in the wild, having frollics but then, in an ideal world they wouldn't be hunted and their habitat destroyed by commercial interests or those lazy fuckers who drive their cars 2 metres to the shops and tumble dry their clothes.
The tigers are raised in captivity so can't really survive in the wild. They spend limited time in the cages with humans then are rested. The trainers in the cages have sticks but, when I was there at least, only used them to tap the tigers lightly or feed them treats.
Tiger Kingdom is about 30 minutes out of Chiang Mai. I got a cab. It cost more than a tuk tuk but I didn't want to be bouncing around in the back of a tuk tuk for a hour round trip. Also, cabs are air conditioned. The cab people tried to upsell me to other attractions in the area but since they involved monkeys and snakes, no thanks.
You can actually just enter Tiger Kingdom and look at the tigers for a small fee or pay for one cage visit. I got a three tiger package. I thought that would be literally three tigers but it's three tiger cages - smallest, small and medium/big. None of the tigers are full grown but the big ones are pretty big. Like they could eat you if they wanted.
You can also pay an extra fee to have a photographer go with you to take photos. The staff said the trainers won't take photos of you but they all did. Some only took a few but some were snap happy. I guess it depends on how busy they are. Anyway the photographer was about $10 a cage so I'm glad I didn't pay.
Even though the place was quite packed, I didn't have to wait to see the tigers. I thought there'd be queues. There are a lot of staff around to take your tickets and tell you where to go.
Before you enter the cages, there are a number of rules. You can't take flash photos (although why would you want to), can't make loud noises and have to approach the tigers from behind so they don't think you are attacking them.
Some people say the tigers are drugged but I didn't think so. It was around midday when I was there and animals tend to be pretty dopey in the midday sun.
My tips for Tiger Kingdom:
Don't wear a short skirt! Often you are squatting or bending over to pat the tigers and it can get a bit awkward.
The only thing you can take into the cages is your camera. The staff told me to put my bag on a rack before I went in. I asked if it'd be safe there and they said but seriously, no one is keeping watch on your bag for you. I ended up grabbing my valuables and stuffing them down my bra. There are lockers available or just only have stuff in your pockets.
- Lunch time is best if you want placid tigers, early morning or late afternoon is best if you want to see them more active.
I am kinda disappointed that I didn't go to the gift shop to buy a souvenir before I left. Everybody needs a tiger sarong! It was an awesome experience and was over way too quickly. It did a feel a bit commericalised though. You are told where to sit and what to do for the photos, as though the photos were more important than the experience itself. Still, tigers!