“Roooarr,” the tiger growled as he munched on the leaves that he just caught from the trainer’s game.
I stepped back, my hand grabbing my friend’s arm in defense.
We were both mesmerized by this huge beast that played before us, but there were moments when we just had to step back in fear of our lives.
The tigers were all young and practically babies, with one of the biggest tigers being only about 20 months old.
It played like a puppy, but when it roars, its tough exterior could cause the entire park to shiver in fear.
The Tiger Kingdom is a popular tourist destination in Chiang Mai, about 45 minutes to an hour motorbike ride from the main town. Unlike any other parks, the team prides itself on truly taking care of these tigers and allowing tourists to be closer to them without having to drug them.
While I have always been somewhat so-so on the issue of domesticating animals, this park does seem like a place that has great intentions for these tigers. Unlike any park I have ever seen, the tigers here respect and love their trainers like they are any other pet dog. It was unbelievable. And truly beautiful to witness.
Rates vary by the type of tiger you want to see. The cuter and cuddlier the tigers are, the more expensive. We took a package for both the big and small tiger, costing us a whopping 840 baht, a stretch especially for backpackers like us.
But little did we know, it would be worth it.
Before going into every cage, we had to read a set of the park’s rules. No flashes, no running, no touching the tiger from the front, approach the tiger from the back – a set of rules to keep us alive. Luckily, my friend and I didn’t really have a death wish, so the trainers should have no problem with us.
We started with the small tigers first. They were called small, but I’m sure, those tigers are about my size. To be fair, I am pretty petite, though.
At first, we hesitated to come closer. They were tigers! They weren’t looking at us, in fact, they seem to be in their own world, not bothered by us at all! But when the trainer greeted them, they looked at us.
We froze, in fear. And the trainer sat behind them, showing us how to pose. Just like that.
My friend and I both looked at each other, mentally demanding each other which of us will go first.
Once we got over the first step of our fear, our trainer kept on suggesting poses for us.
“Hug the tiger, “
“Put your head on the tiger,”
“Sit close to the tiger,”
It was crazy how the tigers seemed so calm!
While it was great to take pictures with these tigers, it was more awesome watching them with the trainers. If the tiger got anxious and started moving, the trainer would talk to them, tease them a little and pat their noses. PAT their noses! It was adorable!
The bigger tigers required a lot more courage, on the other hand. Twice as big as the small tigers and three times scarier, the bigger tigers’ cage had a swimming pool and a stage – ensuring sufficient space for the 5-6 big tigers inside.
Despite how big these tigers were, they looked so adorable with their big, dark, almost innocent eyes.
We watched the trainers play with Jack, the tiger, using a stick of leaves. They would swing the leaves above Jack while he would try to catch it. In his desperate and excited attempt to catch the leaves, he would jump in and out of the swimming pool, splashing everyone around him. Another tiger tried catching his attention, but he was focused.
When he finally caught the leaves, he roared, seeming to remind everyone that he was powerful and strong. Then he focused on munching on his leaves. It was adorable!
For one of the best ways to spend some time with these beautiful animals, the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai is definitely recommended.
Brenna Bustamante is a lover of travel, learning and culture. In between her full time Internet marketing job she finds herself wandering in South East Asia and her home country, the Philippines. Find out more about Brenna and her travels at The Philippine Travelogue.