The Highlight of Our Trip: A Magical Day at Tiger Kingdom

Andrea and Matt on the way to Tiger Kingdom, ThailandLet’s talk about the day I have been frequently referring to as “the best day of my life.” That is, until Matt pointed out that was a little offensive, you know, since we had a wedding and all. Okay, I guess in the grand scheme of my whole life, it was most likely the SECOND best day of my life. As many of you know, I’m a bit of a crazy cat lady. Love them. If someone doesn’t properly regulate me, I’m most likely going to end up as a cat hoarder. So imagine a land filled with GIANT CATS, and then imagine me there.

Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai Thailand

Luckily for everyone, we don’t just have to imagine this scenario, because there is a magical place in Thailand called Tiger Kingdom. Tiger Kingdom is actually a breeding program–the tigers are bred and then hand-raised by humans in the park. When they turn two they “retire” and move to live out their lives in a zoo. There are so many criticisms of these kinds of places, but here are some reasons I think they’re good. One, tigers, like many other exotic animals, have dwindling populations in the wild. Breeding programs help keep their numbers up and protect against extinction. Two, since the tame tigers are raised for the zoos, wild tigers aren’t caught and forced to live there under duress. The tigers at Tiger Kingdom are totally tame, nearly as tame as your house pets. Living in a zoo is not a stressful situation for them–they like and are used to people, and they wouldn’t survive in the wild. It’s a win-win for both domesticated and wild tigers.

Lobby of Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai Thailand

Once you arrive at Tiger Kingdom, you choose what size of tigers you’d like to visit and pay accordingly. You can visit the new borns (2 to 3 months old) for about $20, the smallest tigers (4-8 months old) for $20, the medium tigers (9-12 months old) for $15 or the big cats (13-30 months old) for $15. There are also package deals to visit more than one group, which is what we did. You also have to sign some waivers, which amazingly enough actually take responsibility if you are injured and promise to pay if something like that does happen. They do this because they are so confident in the trustworthiness of their cats. We decided to see the new borns (duh), the smallest tigers and the medium tigers. When we first arrived, we paid and then sat in a waiting area until it was our turn. While waiting, we watched the amazing big cats play in a swimming pool nearby, leaping after what was basically a giant cat toy made out of a stick and a plant, and got more and more excited as each moment passed. I was practically having heart palpitations by the time it was our turn!

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 2

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 3

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 4

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 5

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 6

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 7

Big cats playing in water at Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 8

Once inside the park, we first visited the new borns. The actual newborns (0-2 months) are not available for public viewing, so these are more like infants I guess. We were asked to wash our hands and put on slippers before entering their enclosure, to ensure we didn’t drag any nasty germs into the pen, and then we were allowed to snuggle with these cute babies. They have all kinds of rules–you’re not supposed to encourage the tigers to play with you, only with each other (training that comes in handy when they are bigger), you’re not supposed to allow them to lick or chew on you (again, this is only really important once they get bigger), and when they misbehave, the trainers give them a small tap on the nose with a bamboo stick–something that irritates them but doesn’t really hurt. Of course, being babies, these little guys broke all the rules, and we let them, because how cute is it to have a baby tiger chewing on your pants and licking your arm?? I die. The trainers were fairly lenient with the littlest guys, because obviously, they don’t know the “rules” yet. They were so playful–attacking trash, chewing on broomsticks through the bars, climbing into our laps, chewing on our clothing.

Andrea looking at baby tiger in Tiger Kingdom, Thailand

Matt with baby tiger

Baby tiger in Andrea's lap

Matt with baby tiger, Tiger Kingdom

Matt and Andrea with baby tiger

Matt and Andrea with baby tiger 2

Matt and Andrea with baby tiger 3

Playful baby tiger at Tiger Kingdom

Matt scratching baby tigers tummy

Baby tiger chewing on broom

Baby tiger chewing on broom 2

Andrea scratching baby tigers tummy

Andrea scratching baby tigers tummy 2

Sleepy baby tiger at Tiger Kingdom

We found one in a corner who was trying to sleep, and had a little snuggle time with him. Once we were done, we moved a couple of feet away, and then to our delight, he sleepily followed us, snuggled back up to me, and buried his head between me and the wall. I wanted to take him home right then and there!

Matt cuddling with baby tiger

Andrea cuddling with baby tiger

Andrea cuddling with baby tiger 2

Belly rubs for a baby tiger

Matt and Andrea cuddling with baby tiger

Sleepy baby tiger

This tiger followed Andrea so it could keep snuggling

Andrea's tiger friend

Andrea's tiger friend 2

Napping baby tiger

Baby tiger at Tiger Kingdom

After seeing the babies, we moved onto the “smallest tigers.” These guys were quite a lot bigger, more playful, and slightly less snuggly. They entertained us by playing in their swimming pool–diving in to retrieve rocks and leaves their trainers threw in like balls, and splashing in the water with the same joy as a dog would.

Smallest Tigers at Tiger KingdomMatt with the "smallest" size tigers

Playful tiger at Tiger Kingdom

Smallest size tiger at Tiger Kingdom

Andrea petting smallest size tiger at Tiger Kingdom

Andrea petting smallest size tiger at Tiger Kingdom 2

Matt with smallest size tiger

Smallest size tiger

Smallest size tiger sleeping

Small tiger at Tiger Kingdom

Small size tiger playing in water

Lastly, we moved onto the “medium size tigers,” who looked pretty large to us. The trainer in this pen was particularly entertaining. He immediately started telling us about the different personalities of the tigers in his care–the female is the most playful and sassy, he told us, and the two males, well, they are kind of lazy. We first met the female, who was indeed quite alert and interested in us. They warned us that when petting the tigers, it’s best to give them hard scratches and pats (like you would a big dog), because they sometimes think light touches are a fly and flick or swat accordingly. So we scratched and patted the big girl, and she happily accepted our love. Then we moved onto the “lazy” males, who were indeed pretty lazy. It wasn’t until we got a good belly rub going on one of them that he even reacted, but he finally did so with a roll onto his back and a deep stretch in appreciation. After the trainer showed us that he was a good snuggler, we gave him some cuddles as well.

Matt with the medium size female tiger

Matt with the medium size female tiger 2

Matt with the medium size female tiger 3

Andrea with the (yawning) medium size female tiger

Andrea with the medium size female tiger

Medium size tiger at Tiger Kingdom

Trainer snuggling with medium size tiger

Matt snuggling with medium size tiger

Andrea snuggling with medium size tiger

Yawning medium size tiger

Yawning medium size tiger 2

Andrea petting medium size tiger

Matt petting medium size tiger

Some people accuse Tiger Kingdom of drugging, declawing or pulling out the teeth of their tigers to make them tame. As far as we could see, none of these were true. Most of the tigers were very alert, or would alternate between playfulness and cat naps, much like any house cat. One of the trainers squeezed one of the tigers paws so we could see his claws pop out (again, just like you would if trimming a house cats nails), and we saw many of the tigers yawn, and they definitely had teeth. So why are they so tame? Simply because just like pets, they completely rely on humans to survive. They don’t know how to hunt (they’re fed raw chicken) and they’re discouraged from playing with humans. Most of the trainers have been with the tigers since their birth–so again, just like your average house pet, the tigers think of the trainers as part of the pack.

Medium size tiger, Tiger Kingdom, Thailand

Spending a day with tigers was something I never thought I’d do, but I’m so glad I did. Maybe I should have been more skeptical, or been more cautious (I’m pretty sure I did not display a healthy fear of the tigers, which caused Matt some fear), but once I saw how sweet and gentle the cats were with the park’s staff, I wasn’t worried at all. I think it’s cool that Tiger Kingdom offers people a chance to participate in once-in-a-lifetime experiences like this, and it funds their project, which ultimately could keep these cats in existence. Overall, it seems to me they’re doing more good than harm.

Medium size tiger, Tiger Kingdom, Thailand 2

We left Tiger Kingdom feeling giddy–it was one of those “is this really our life??” days. I had a grin on my face the rest of the day, and we kept saying to each other “Hey, remember that time we PLAYED WITH TIGERS? That was awesome.” Little did I know that the best day of our trip would soon turn into the worst night of our trip. More on that tomorrow….

In the meantime, what do you think about places like Tiger Kingdom? 

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14 Responses to “The Highlight of Our Trip: A Magical Day at Tiger Kingdom”

  1. Vanessa @ Sauteed Happy Family March 15, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    Woah! I think I would be scared to be with the bigger cats! The smallest ones look so cute and cuddly though!!
    Vanessa @ Sauteed Happy Family recently posted…What It’s Like To Work With Your Significant OtherMy Profile

    • Andrea March 15, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      And to think, we didn’t even go in and see the biggest tigers! I never wanted to leave those little babies. Matt basically had to drag me out of there!

  2. elena March 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Woaa!! This is so cool!

    what can i say,

    cat’s will be cats ))
    elena recently posted…MayaMy Profile

    • Andrea March 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      I know, I think that’s part of the reason I loved it so much–they acted just like your average house cat! So sweet, one of my favorite experiences to date :)

  3. Lori Finley March 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Awesome! Wonderful photos!

    • Andrea March 15, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

      Thank you! It was such a fun day, and half the fun was getting cute shots of these guys :)

  4. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) March 16, 2013 at 2:12 am #

    This looks really cool & I can definitely see how it made for an unforgettable day. There are tons of “animal” attractions that I would love to experience, but I am always really worried that by contributing to them, I might somehow actually be harming the creatures I claim to love. I had thought that anything tiger-related would be right out for us while in Thailand due to drugging and cruelty, but this might be an option for us! Who doesn’t want to snuggle a baby tiger after all?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…The Best and Worst Things We Ate on BoholMy Profile

    • Andrea March 18, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      I know, I was worried about all of that too, but honestly, it seems pretty legit to me. The tigers were all healthy and clearly enjoyed people, so it didn’t seem too bad to me. I guess if you’re worried about the domestication of wild animals then its not so great, but like I said, I think its better that the hand-raised tigers live in zoos rather than wild-caught ones. Plus, the babies are the cutest thing ever…

  5. C Ohara April 1, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    Wow! Even when they’re kids they’re still huge!!
    C Ohara recently posted…A Treasure Map of JapanMy Profile

    • Andrea April 3, 2013 at 11:53 am #

      They are pretty big! But they still acted like your average house cat–so cute!

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