One of the things I was looking forward to in Chiang Mai was going to the Tiger Kingdom. Much like seeing the elephants tiger tourism is highly controversial. I had read horrible stories about the Tiger Temple in Bangkok and although the reviews for Tiger Kingdom are largely better, I prepared myself that I might see some upsetting things. I can’t say with 100% confidence that the tigers at Tiger Temple aren’t drugged, but I didn’t experience anything alarming during my visit.
We got to the Tiger Kingdom early, right when it opened, to avoid the crowds (which I highly recommend as there was no waiting). First up, the baby tigers.
Given that it was first thing in the morning, the tiger trainers said the babies were still sleepy. I was a bit suspicious considering how sleepy the babies seemed, but I felt much better once they started waking up, running through the pen and playfully fighting with each other.
The trainers were very careful to make sure the baby tigers still acted appropriately and weren’t too aggressive. Much like when training a puppy– it’s cute when a puppy playfully bites at your hand, but it’s not so cute when it becomes a full grown dog and bites down on you with sharp teeth.
Imagine the risk with a tiger! The trainers and baby tigers seemed very comfortable together and often the tigers would run and try to play with the trainers instead of the visitors.
I loved playing with the babies and watching them jump around the pen. They were so cuddly! It was hard to imagine that soon they’d be the giant tigers I was visiting next.
The largest tigers at Tiger Kingdom are in a big open pen next to the restaurant and main waiting area. When we first arrived we had seen these tigers fiercely (though still playfully) pouncing at each other. Luckily once the visitors were in and the sun warmed up, the giant beasts calmed down.
Once again I had a trainer assigned to me to guide me in the pen. And I’m glad I did. Although the trainers didn’t carry more than stick (how is a stick going to save me from a tiger attack?!), I felt more relaxed having someone knowledgeable with me the entire time because these tigers were huge.
I was much more intimidated than I thought I would be once I approached each of the tigers. Just looking at the size of the tigers paws and mouth up close was incredible.
Although a couple of the tigers were sleeping, I had just seen all of the tigers jumping around then pen earlier that morning, and the tigers that were sleeping didn’t sleep the entire time, even while I was in the pen.
And y’all, I was loving it. There was a majestic and notoriously ferocious animal right in front of me. And I was cuddling it.
It was without a doubt a very unique and special experience being up close to these animals.
But admittedly still a bit scary. Afterall, it’s impossible to completely train a tiger.
There definitely wasn’t the same sweet and cute feeling with the tigers that I had with the elephants or the baby tigers (no tiger kisses here) but it was just amazing.
Overall I enjoyed my experience at the Tiger Temple. Just looking at these photos brings back the excitement of having one of these creatures walking and (on occasion) growling just feet away from you.