Up Close and Personal With the Tigers in Chiang Mai

April 14, 2013 by

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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!

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About Matthew Barby

There are few things that Matt loves more than to be sitting on a sunny beach with a cold beer, listening to a bit of Joy Division. Alongside this he's a big food-lover and a seasoned pescetarian, a complete Twitter-whore and spends far too long in front of the mirror in the morning. Get in touch with Matt through Twitter, Google+ or on either his pescetarian food blog or his digital marketing blog.

  • Sandy Dee
  • Gea D’Marea

    It is amazing, I agree…BUT…

    I was at the Tiger Kingdom yesterday (Im from the USA and came with my mom, son and other family members). Yes, the tigers are nice and the place seems clean. The cost is reasonable and the place seems rather organized… BUT here are some indicators that something fishy is going on at this place:

    - There is no information about the tigers; no information about tiger preservation; nothing that is “pro-tiger”. A place that cared about these animals would be presenting information that helped visitors realize how important preservation is, and would provide information about tiger history, care, etc. None of this exists at the Tiger Kingdom

    - When you come here there are ALWAYS the options to choose to play with infant tigers; baby tigers; “teenage” tigers; medium tigers; and adult tigers. IE there are ALWAYS newborn tigers at this location. When we were there yesterday there were 13 new-born tigers. These tigers grow up pretty quickly – - they are “adult” size in a year. If this place always has baby tigers, that means that it is breeding A LOT of tigers. These tigers grow up. Where does the over flow of tigers end up? Sold for teeth? Fur? Remember – tigers parts are big $$ when sold to the Chinese market (tiger parts are believed to give strength to those that consume them). This location cannot handle housing all of the tigers that it breeds (there are only about 50 there total). WHAT DO THEY DO WITH THE OVER FLOW OF ADULT TIGERS THAT THEY END UP WITH AFTER BREEDING SO MANY BABIES? If you know the answer, please post it.

    - Here is what I have learned from visiting animals in other countries (maybe, in fact, I am still learning this and just now finally realizing it): when companies use animals for money, these animals are not being treated properly. It is safe to assume that a company who’s sole interest is to make money on animals does not care about the overall care or safety – or even life – of the animal. I am sorry to say, the Tiger Kingdom is a profit-based tourist trap. They *may not* drug tigers BUT THERE IS ABUSE HAPPENING HERE TOO. Keep in mind, too, that these tigers may be slightly drugged (don’t be surprised), just not drugged to the point of falling over (although they sort of do fall over pretty frequently, it isn’t dramatic – it just seems they are very very mellow)

  • Pingback: Lions, and tigers, and bears, Oh! Chiang Mai! | backpackerlee()

  • Tigers are unpredictable. You can’t pet them. -Dave of Hotel Chiang Mai

  • Honestly there’s people who know how to tame animals. Even crocs can easily be tame by them. If you don’t like tigers you can go to elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. Choose among here, things to do in Chiang Mai

  • mike

    they seemed to be well treated when i was visiting.

  • PaintmeParadise

    Please read about my time volunteering at Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai in my article The Truth about Tiger Kingdom. http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/