INTRO: I understand that there is some controversy about Tiger Kingdom and in no way do I condone maltreatment of these tigers (which thankfully, I did not see while I was there). So please do read this article with a grain of salt and decide for yourself if you want to visit this place. Ultimately, I enjoyed my stay with Tiger Kingdom for having the chance to interact with these tigers, and I was satisfied with what I saw (tigers were not sedated and they didn’t even looked like it). The tigers were also treated with care; that’s why I have no qualms about their establishment.
Even if I’m good at photo manipulation, the photo above is NOT Photoshopped. And with that, I say: HELL YEAH! You see, last October of 2013, I went on a trip along with my friend, Joanne, to Chiang Mai – Thailand to visit Tiger Kingdom. And this was one of the highlights of our trip! ♥ (The other being our trip to Patara Elephant Farm!)
I looooooved that I got the opportunity to get so close with these big cats! It was scary at first, of course, but there really wasn’t any reason to be scared…
Why? Well, here are some quick few facts about Tiger Kingdom:
Note: Video of our experience with these tigers is at the bottom of this post.
- Located in Mae-Rim, Chiang Mai, Thailand – Tiger Kingdom is safer than the other famed Thailand tiger places (ex: Tiger Temple) since the tigers here are NOT drugged and are very well-trained (domesticated). It seems hard to believe at first, but here’s why:
- They’re nocturnal and lazy. Stress on the ‘lazy’. Much like any other cat, they generally sleep and sit around all day. They are the epitome of lazy: they need 18 hours a day to sleep! If they’re awake and ‘lively’, it usually happens at night, since as per their ‘nature’, they usually hunt at that time (it’s their preference given their superior ‘night vision’). But remember that they are in captivity but taken care of, so their belly’s are usually full. Every. Single. Day. End result: they just sleep most of the time, giving them no need to expend energy during the hottest parts of the day (wherein most of the guests come sprawling in). Well… they really prefer to NOT spend so much energy. They just prefer to sleep.
- Raised like ‘house cats’. All the tigers here were trained/raised (from birth) to be accustomed to handling and affection, so they want and expect pats, rubs, etc. That’s why, there’s no need to be scared if you feel like you’re bothering them with your rubs even while they’re sleeping. They’re actually thankful that you’re kind of ‘caressing’ them during their rest time.
- Tiger Kingdom just generally cares for their health. Drugging obviously wouldn’t help the well-being of their tigers; and as already indicated, there’s no need to do so as they are well taken care of (and lazy), thereby having no urges to be aggressive or whatnot.
- Tigers live up to 15 years in the wild, but as they are cared for here (regular food, vaccinations, etc.) they can live up to 20! Currently, the oldest tiger here in Tiger Kingdom is at 20 years old and his name is Uwon! He is one of the first tigers that Tiger Kingdom has taken in :)
- I guess I’ll just discuss more facts as I go on writing this post…
How to Go to Tiger Kingdom I’ll be Captain Obvious again and state that of course, for you to reach Tiger Kingdom, you must be in Chiang Mai. We went here via Philippine Airlines (Manila to Bangkok – 4hour flight) and then Bangkok Airways (Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 1hour flight).
Once in Chiang Mai, there are different modes of transportation but your common and basic choices for commuting within the area—as well as in other parts of Thailand—is the songthaew and tuk-tuk. (This is apart from the train, metered taxis, etc.)
Image from: http://americanexpatchiangmai.com/
Just as an FYI for travelers, the metered taxis from the airport would cost you ฿120 baht (one way – fixed price) and ฿30 baht basic taxi charge when you flag them down on the streets. Meanwhile, tuk-tuks and songthaews will cost you ฿20 baht (per person) if you want to go to certain parts within the city of Chiang Mai.
Going back to the topic on hand… your best choice when trying to go to Mae-Rim (where Tiger Kingdom is located at, and it’s a bit far from the city) is to pick a songthaew as it is bigger and is of the same price as the tuk-tuk. And besides, they are shared taxis, meaning, that you could have the chance of splitting the cost of transportation when you get to befriend passengers who are going to the place you’re heading to as well.
And then, like I said above, Mae-Rim is located outside of the city so you would have to arrange a deal with a songthaew before riding them. Of course, much like any travel experience around Asia, you have to master the art of haggling. Pros as we are, we managed to get a songthaew that would take us to Tiger Kingdom [and 4 other attractions along the way!] for ฿100 baht per person only! (He originally wanted us to pay ฿300 baht per person. LOL. No.)
It’s important to note that it can be hard to haggle with them since most are not fluent in English, so it’s best that you try to learn some Thai, just in case. (Luckily for us, we managed to make friends: 2 Thai girls from Bangkok who were also on vacation and are going to Mae-Rim too, so yeah, they talked to the driver for us. Yay!)
After almost half an hour, we then reached Tiger Kingdom! :)
Tigers and Prices Once you reach the venue, you’ll know it’s one of those tourist traps where they will charge you for as much as they could. LOL. Well that’s expected because tourists will mostly be the ones who will flock to this attraction; and there can be a lot. So I advice that you come here early, like around 10AM.
Anyways, since their main website looks unorganized (sorry but it really does and it is chaotic) let me show you their rates and tiger rooms as of October 2013:
- Newborn (Smallest) Tigers’ Room. (2-3 months) ฿620 baht per person for 10 minutes.
- Small Tigers’ Room. (4-8 months) ฿520 baht per person for 10 minutes.
- Medium Tigers’ Room. (9-12 months) ฿420 baht per person for 15 minutes.
- Large Tigers’ Room. (13 months and above) ฿420 baht per person for 15 minutes.
- Large or Medium Tiger + Small Tiger: ฿840 baht per person
- Large + Small + Smallest Tiger OR Medium + Small + Smallest: ฿1,260 baht per person
- Large + Medium + Small + Smallest Tiger: ฿1,480 baht per person
Prices above already include Local VAT.7% , Service Charge & Insurance Premium.
I chose to get the package of Large + Small tiger, whereas Joanne availed a Large tiger. If you need a professional photographer of the park to take photos of you, you will have to pay ฿299 baht for each ‘room’ that you get into wherein you will get a CD that includes around 50-100 pictures. But generally, they allow you to take your cameras inside.
I suggest that you don’t take the photographer package though since they don’t really take good shots anyways… Well they do, sort of; but for the price, it’s not worth it. Best that you just bring a camera of your own and have your companion snap away pictures like mad! :P
Reminders Before the Actual Encounter After paying at the cashier counter, you will have to wait for a while in a sitting area near the counter. A staff of the Tiger Kingdom will arrive later on to call the ‘batch’ of visitors. While we waited, certainly, what else to do but: take pictures!
Well not really. Just a few shots. :P And oh, here are some reminders that were sprawled out across the park and which you should absolutely remember:
- Do NOT make loud noises, sudden brisk movements (running around) inside and outside of the tiger cages/rooms.
- Do NOT provoke any sort of playful behavior. (A tiger might think that you want to play with them, and that is not advised since when they ‘play’, they usually bite and use their claws; much like any play time action that they do with other tigers).
- Do NOT touch the face, head, and front paws of the tigers.
- Do NOT approach them head on, approach the tigers from behind.
- Do NOT poke your fingers or hands into a cage, the tigers will think that you’re playing with them and will bite your fingers.
- Turn off the flash in your cameras as those can shock the tigers, and could even hurt their eyes.
- Always follow the instructions of the staff.
- Leave your belongings outside the cage.
- Be cautious of the electric wires that surround the inside area of the cage. (These are there to discourage the tigers from fence climbing and serves as a visual reminder for them to stay away even if some people may happen to do #5 above).
Playing with the Cats Here’s what will happen. The staff that will pick you up from the waiting area will guide you to the direction of the tiger rooms that you paid for. Once you arrive there, you will have to leave your bags on a shelf, and then a ‘tiger keeper’ (given that he was holding a stick*) and a photographer will accompany you inside.
*ABOUT THE STICK: I was anxious when I saw the tiger keeper holding this, because in my mind I was thinking, “Hey, is he gonna hurt the tigers with that?” Because if he was going to, by all means, I’m not gonna condone that! But rest assured, all throughout our stay inside the cage, he did not hit the tiger at all. Apparently, it was just a way for them to drive away their attention (as a play thing) if the tiger keeper feels that the tiger might suddenly want to play with you or your clothes or whatever.
The first ‘room/cage’ that we went into was the one for the:
» LARGE/BIG CATS
My heart was thumping. I was scared. Why wouldn’t I? When I finally faced this biiiiiiiiig and full grown tiger that was lying on the ground, seemingly taking his afternoon nap.
Joanne went first and while the photographer was taking pictures of her, I took shots as well but all the while thinking…. “Wow, this tiger could easily pounce on one of us and take a bite!”
I looked down and saw its claws, “…and slash someone’s face off!”
The photographer suddenly called out, “Next!” My turn! They asked me to sit behind the tiger, who by now, after taking photos with Joanne, decided to lie down his head again to doze off. I calmed down. At this point they told me to put my hand on his belly and rub him hard. “Hard?” Apparently, they like it when your ‘rubbing action’ is firm. And so I did.
And OMG, while I was doing it, my fears suddenly disappeared. All that I had in my mind was that I wanted to take this tiger home!!!!! ♥
SO. FLUFFY. AND. FURRY!
Out of nowhere, the tiger keeper said, “Hold his tail.” Whaaaaat. Nooooo. But I did, and when I did, HIS TAIL BITCH SLAPPED ME. LOL. This was a precious moment that was caught on camera by Joanne (the video will be at the bottom of this post).
The tiger keeper laughed, “Don’t hesitate.” And he then guided me and placed the tail of the tiger in my hand. WOW. It was heavy!
(But I have to admit; I didn’t quite like the ‘holding-the-tail’ thing. Posing with them and touching them were fine enough). After this, we went to another tiger and I slept on its side.
Lastly, we approached another big tiger who awake, just lying on the ground, judging us…
After this, the only thought that was running inside my head was: “I survived. I survived!”
» SMALL CATS An opportunity for me to abuse a tiger with my rubs and pats! When we arrived in this area, I saw a lot of small children with their parents inside the cage, playing and taking pictures with the small tigers. KYOOOOOT!
Before coming in though, they require us to wash our hands and take off our shoes and use their slippers. Much like the big cats’ cage, this one will also have a tiger keeper and photographer who will come along with you; the photographer will even suggest poses or whatnot. The funny thing here is that since the small tigers are much more active, they usually run around so we have to run after them from time to time; which they seem to enjoy. They think we were playing with them :P
At one point a small tiger was looking at my lovely pants (LOL) and I guess, he was enamored by its softness and decided to take a bite. Thank goodness his teeth weren’t that sharp and the tiger keeper immediately made him stop. :))
For now, let me show you pictures:
After the small ones, I was surprised when the tiger keeper led me to the other side of the room where the medium tigers were. I told him that I only paid for the small tigers, but he said it was fine. OH. YEAH. BALLAAAAH!
Video Like how I previously mentioned, in the video below, you will see me get bitch-slapped by a tiger and you will also see my funny scared face at some points. And of course, I grabbed snippets of Katy Perry’s ROAR music video, as well as its instrumental track. ♥
…it was a good life experience! Especially since it’s not everyday that you can get close to a tiger to pat and rub their bellys. ♥ It’s, of course, still a shame that they’re caged up like this; but in a way I guess this is better for them, so they won’t get killed out in the wild and that they can get special care and medications here (especially when they are sick).
NOTE: Also, when you’re here, you will notice that the ‘rooms’ are apparently small, but we were informed that once the day ends, they get transferred to a bigger area… well, that’s nice to hear but of course, it’s still a sad thing because they’re obviously used as a ‘money machine’ here, but okay: they are a business after all and at least the perk is that the tigers get to be well taken care of in here.
If you want to really learn more about the tigers here in Tiger Kingdom, and for you to see up close how they care for them, you can volunteer to feed and observe the tigers; just ask the staff. But surely this would require a scheduled time etc.
All in all, I recommend this place when you are visiting Thailand/Chiang Mai especially if you really want to check off ‘touch a tiger’ off your bucket list! :)
– For Tiger Kingdom’s main website, check here: [ click ]
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Hey there! I am Aileen Adalid.
At 21, I quit my corporate job in the Philippines to pursue my dreams. Today, I am a successful digital nomad (entrepreneur, travel writer, & vlogger) living a sustainable travel lifestyle.
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