One of the most incredible and terrifying experiences that I’ve had within Thailand has to be our visit to Tiger Kingdom. Located in Mae Rim, around 15km North of Chiang Mai’s Old City, Tiger Kingdom is an ethically run tiger sanctuary that allows you to get up close and personal with these huge predators.
Trying to explain the feeling of standing eye to eye with a predator that could, quite literally, rip my face of at any given moment – should it choose to do so – is quite hard to get across in writing. What I can describe is the truly unique bond that the conservationists and these animals have with one another. The staff at Tiger Kingdom have such a relationship with the tigers that they can play around with them and jump on them like it was just your pet dog and the tigers seem to have a mutual love and respect for them.
In many of the other so called ‘tiger sanctuaries’ in Thailand they actually drug the animals to make them really lethargic and they are often mistreated during their time there. Tiger Kingdom, on the other hand, prides itself on the proper treatment of their animals and are actively involved in many anti-drugging campaigns.
Did We Bite Off More Than We Can Chew?
When you arrive there you get the choice of paying to get in with either the babies, medium-sized or the big tigers. Me and Laura opted to do all three, whilst Olly, Doug and Quinn went with the safe bet of the babies. To ease ourself into the experience we got in with the little cats first and they were adorable. Huge eyes, cheeky grins and a very playful nature which was great to be around. One thing that none of us actually realised was that tigers sleep for around 18 hours a day, even when they are in the wild, mainly down to it being to hot for them to get around in the heat of the day. This gave us ample opportunities to get up close and personal with the cubs, and the staff were great at showing us exactly how to handle them in order to avoid hurting both ourselves and the cubs.
Getting in with the big cats was a whole different kettle of fish. Not only where they around 2.5-3m long but their teeth, which they loved displaying to us, were longer than my hand. Needless to say I nearly shit myself when two of them were ‘playing’ with each other and bellowed out a huge roar. Terrifying! Having said that, we managed to calm down and compose ourselves to the point where we were hugging them, lying down on them and even pretending to bite their tails (don’t ask me why we did this!). You feel completely at ease with the staff there and they said to me that there has never been an incident where anyone has been injured during their time there.
One of the really great things that I noticed within Tiger Kingdom was how healthy and happy the tigers seemed. They had loads of room to play around, received loads of affection from everyone visiting them and the staff were never heavy handed towards them, which was good to see. If you take a visit to Chiang Mai then this should be top of your to-do list. To get there you can simply ask a tuk tuk driver to take you there, wait until you have finished and then take you back to your hotel for no more than 300 Baht (£8). Prices within Tiger Kingdom vary depending on how many of them you want to see but you can see the big cats for around 600 Baht (£6) so it’s well worth it. Just try not to become their next meal!