The Time We Almost Got Eaten by Tigers in Chiang Mai

by Christy on

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Yep, this is our terrible attempt at pantomiming tigers. The actual tiger was unimpressed.

Okay, just kidding. The Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai is perfectly safe; their tigers haven’t eaten anyone in at least a few months.

The Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are four sizes you can pay to play with: smallest (3 months and 6 months), small (under one year), medium (under 18 months), and biggest (under 2 years).

Once the tigers reach two years of age they’re apparently not considered safe to interact with tourists, so at that point they’re passed along to zoos as part of a breeding program.

Random Things We Learned at Tiger Kingdom

Baby tigers like to play with coconuts.

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Baby tigers also like to stalk things. Pant legs, bugs, their tails, each other… the world is their prey!

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tigers are mostly nocturnal and sleep up to 18 hours a day. This means they do a lot of napping and lounging around while people touch them, which is probably a good thing with the bigger ones. I wouldn’t want to encounter one of those in a rambunctious mood…

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

When you’re interacting with the tigers (particularly the larger ones) you’re supposed to stay behind them, avoiding their head and front paws. Unless you’re a trainer with a palm frond, of course, in which case the rules apparently don’t apply.

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tiger tails, on the other hand, are fair game. They’re also remarkably strong! Kali came close to getting beheaded by one… and I grew a mustache.

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Use firm touch with the tigers. In demonstrating just how firm we should be, the trainer put most of his weight into laying on the tiger… and that crazy cat barely looked over its shoulder. Don’t be afraid to get handsy!

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tiger fur – even baby tiger fur – feels surprisingly coarse and wiry.

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re short (like under five feet short), you’re not allowed to enter the biggest cat enclosure. Yep, I was prevented from playing with the two year olds due to an elevated risk of being eaten.

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Whatevs, me and this medium-sized bundle of fur got along marvelously.

Does the Tiger Kingdom treat its tigers humanely?

The tigers appear to be treated with as much respect as possible, given the circumstances. They aren’t drugged, beaten, or chained, and we saw a lot of trainers treating their tigers with obvious affection. Trainers were playful when working with the babies, and even some of the 2 y.o. tigers were getting enthusiastic full belly scratches from the humans who worked with them (did I mention the tourist rules don’t seem to apply to the staff?).

The tigers are acclimated to human interaction from a VERY young age, which is how people can lay on them without being introduced to the pointy end of their claws. On a daily basis, from the time that they’re just a few months old, the tigers have humans touching them and trainers correcting certain feisty behaviors by bopping them on the nose with a long stick.

Despite the generally positive environment, however, I think it’s worth pointing out that none of this changes the fact that they’re being bred and kept in cages simply for amusement and profit. While our personal feeling was that the tigers were better treated here than at the Chiang Mai Zoo, we did spend some time struggling with the ethics of supporting an organization dedicated to keeping tigers in captivity.

Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Details on Visiting

  • The Tiger Kingdom website doesn’t list their current prices (it hasn’t been updated since 2010), but as far as we remember here are the prices from January 2012: 600 baht smallest tigers, 500 baht small tigers, 400 baht medium and biggest tigers. You can also purchase combo packages for more competitive price.
  • You only get to spend ten to fifteen minutes in each enclosure you pay for. The trainers aren’t super strict, though, and often you’ll get a little more time (especially if it isn’t too busy).
  • You can pay 300 baht for a CD of photos (taken by a professional photographer who’ll follow you around), but you have to buy a new CD for each enclosure. However, if there’s more than one of you then within each enclosure you can use a single CD for the whole group. Each disc gives you about 70 photos.
  • Go early in the morning (before 10am) to see the tigers at their most active and to avoid the huge crowds. The more people there are in the enclosure with you, the less one on one time you’ll get… especially with the littlest cats.
  • The on-site restaurant is pretty good; the food is decently priced and fresh, and they have a killer mocha smoothie.
  • To get to the Tiger Kingdom from Chiang Mai, catch an empty red songthaew anywhere in the city and bargain for them to take you there, wait while you visit, then take you back to Chiang Mai again. They’ll try to ask for 500 baht, but you should be able to negotiate down to around 200.
Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Would YOU jump on the chance to cuddle with a tiger?

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

EurotripTips February 28, 2012 at

Sooooo cute! I may or may not have squeaked while reading this. Very useful information in there, and lovely story. I’m glad you were not harmed during the making of this post :-P

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Christy February 29, 2012 at

LOL, I should have put that disclaimer in here! “No bloggers were harmed during the making of this post.” :P

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Stephanie - The Travel Chicatwitter: thetravelchica February 28, 2012 at

As adorable as they are, I think I would have to pass because of the point you brought up that they are breeding animals and keeping them in cages for the purpose of entertainment and profit.

Plus, I’m 5’2″ and do not want to take the risk that they think I am food ;-)
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

Being 4’10″, I was pretty concerned about that possibility as well. :) But yeah, seeing wild animals caged for no reason makes us very uncomfortable, which is why we tend to avoid zoos.

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Danitwitter: travelworklive February 28, 2012 at

We have been debating back and forth if we should visit Tiger Kingdom or not, and finally decided to go and see for ourselves how the tigers are treated… To be honest, we’re having a hard time resisting possible tiger cuddles ;-)
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

Tiger cuddles!! They’re hard to pass up, no doubt. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the place (and how you felt the tigers are treated) after you visit.

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Dalene February 28, 2012 at

I WANT TO DO THAT! I love kitties!

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Christy February 29, 2012 at

ZOMG cats! I wanted to hold one to my face and snuggle it, but I was a little concerned that it would bite my cheek off.

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Alexa Meisler February 28, 2012 at

Those tiger cubs are the most adorable things I’ve ever seen! And I am quite jealous that you got to play with them. Definitely worth traveling to Chiang Mai for. I can’t get over how amazing these creatures are. Thank you for posting!
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

I actually wish we had been more hands-on with the cubs — we went in the baby tiger enclosure first so we were more nervous about being around them. They were so not threatening, though, and we realized by the end that we could use the coconuts to play with them. The littlest ones were also sleeping the whole time, so we only got to pet them and take a few photos while they napped. Still, it was great!

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Camels & Chocolatetwitter: LunaticAtLarge February 29, 2012 at

BEBE TIGER!!!! How cute is he (she)??? I think I might be a little worried that big tiger would whip around and rip my head off.
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

I was worried about that possibility, but really the big cats couldn’t have cared less that we were there. They were snoozing and yawning and watching the trainer distract them with a palm frond… it was like we didn’t even exist! Probably better than the alternative, though. :)

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Sophietwitter: SophieR February 29, 2012 at

What a wonderful experience. I know my daughters would jump at the chance to cuddle tigers. So would I.
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

If you’re ever in Chiang Mai you should try it, Sophie! Depending on how old your daughters are they might not be allowed to go in the larger tiger enclosures, but the baby tigers would be an option. :)

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InsideJourneystwitter: InsideJourneys February 29, 2012 at

Wow, how adorable! I could so see myself playing with those baby ones. Makes you just wannna take one home.
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

We didn’t consider taking one home AT ALL. ;)

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Christy February 29, 2012 at

I’m glad to hear they don’t drug the tigers. We decided not to go to this place when we were in Thailand because we just didn’t feel right about it, but I REALLY wanted to pet some tigers. You are probably right that they get treated better than most zoos. These photos are adorable. I love your tiger mustache!
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

The tigers we saw at the Chiang Mai Zoo looked absolutely miserable – the enclosure was tiny and every time we walked past we could see them pacing (which we heard before is a sign of stress). So sad.

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Scott - Quirky Travel Guytwitter: quirkytravelguy February 29, 2012 at

This looks pretty amazing! I’d love to do it, especially if the animals are being treated as humanely as it seems.
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

We were super skeptical and did a ton of research, but they seem legit. I really wish I could talk to some of the trainers, though, and get the inside scoop.

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Sabrinatwitter: countryskipper February 29, 2012 at

The tiger babies are soooo cute! Seriously, baby animals turn my brain into mush :) Super cute! I’m not sure I’d cuddle with the big ones though. You guys are brave! Awesome photo though of course :)
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Christy February 29, 2012 at

It was pretty nerve-wracking when we first walked in there, but after a couple of minutes it was no big deal. Now, if the tigers had been walking around the whole time and staring at us, that would be a different story…. :)

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Amanda February 29, 2012 at

CUTENESS OVERLOAD!

I’m glad you addressed the issue of whether the tigers there are treated well or not – from your photos, they all look quite relaxed and content!

And HOLY BIG PAWS, BATMAN! I really want to cuddle some large cats now.
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Christy March 2, 2012 at

Hehe, “holy big paws, batman!” That should have been the title of this post!

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Erik March 1, 2012 at

I was showing my wife this post, and since there is no way I would ever get her to go to Thailand, she wants me to go there and bring her back one as a pet!
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Christy March 2, 2012 at

Smuggle me back one, eh? Just find a way to keep them small and kitten-ish, if you would – I don’t think I’d like to have one of those big ones for a pet. :P

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Caanan @ No Vacation Requiredtwitter: NVRguys March 1, 2012 at

Let’s set aside the “is it right” part (you covered that) so that we can get right to the “OMG, I can’t believe y’all got to play with baby tigers!” part. I may have let out a little squeal.

You guys look really good in those photos by the way – although I kinda can’t believe you passed up the opportunity to get Kali holding a baby tiger like MJ on the Thriller fold-out. Get yo butts back there and play with some more baby tigers! :)
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Christy March 2, 2012 at

Sooo…. how bad is it that I had to google your reference to MJ and the baby tiger? o_O Terrible!!

It would have been a cute pose, but they wouldn’t let us pick them up or get near them like that – which is B.S., because ALL of their promotional materials around Chiang Mai show baby tigers crawling all over someone! False advertising, for sure.

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Stevetwitter: vangrizz March 2, 2012 at

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that you have to be over 5 ft. to play with the big tigers. Depending on a tigers ability to judge height wouldn’t make me feel to brave. Doesn’t really matter though because I think I’d just keep paying to go back in with the baby tigers. They are so cute, I’m pretty sure I’d have to try and smuggle one out. By the way, the mustache is definitely not a good look for you Christy.
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Christy March 2, 2012 at

Steve, you’re killing me! I totally ROCKED that tiger mustache – I’m thinking of making it a permanent accessory. ;)

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Kieu ~ GQ trippin March 3, 2012 at

I clear 5 feet.. can I play with the tigers? Lol. We’ll be there in April for Songkran. I’d love to cuddle a tiger or two while I’m there. Thanks for the detail and tips on how to get there. Can’t wait!
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Christy March 5, 2012 at

Jealous you two will be in Thailand for Songkran! We’d love to experience it, but I think a flight back from France would be a little spendy. :)

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Mary @ Green Global Travel March 3, 2012 at

There is the ethical question of raising tigers to be captive, but gosh darn they are such amazing creatures. I can only hope that an up close and personal experience may give people more respect for preserving their habitat. I totally want to play with tigers, although at 5″2′ (on a good day) I don’t think I’ll be able to play with the big boys. Thanks for posting!
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Christy March 5, 2012 at

I think at 5″2′ you might be able to play with the big ones! I can’t remember the cut-off exactly, but I think it was five feet. And you make a really good point about visitors hopefully learning more about the tigers and feeling compelled to help in other ways – I really wish Tiger Kingdom provided more info, though.

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Cathy Sweeneytwitter: TravelingWithS March 3, 2012 at

That tiger is so big! I had no idea there was a place where you could play with the tigers like that. Still looks pretty scary to me, but very, very cool.

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Christy March 5, 2012 at

I had heard of some zoo programs that let you play with baby tigers, and then some conservation/rehabilitation programs that limit contact, but nothing like this. Thailand is very touristy and has loose safety laws, though, so I guess it makes sense that there would be something like this here. :)

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Laurence March 4, 2012 at

Wow, those are cute. And it’s better animal tourism than eating snake heart or stuff like that ;)
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Christy March 5, 2012 at

Eating snake hearts?? Yuck. That reminds me of when we went to the Everglades – we went to the Gator Park to see actual alligators, and their cafe sold alligator sandwiches and croc-skin bags. It just seemed so wrong.

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The GypsyNesters March 4, 2012 at

Ahhhhh – LOOK at how HUGE their PAWS ARE! I’d do it in a heartbeat, though David is freaking out just looking at your pics! -Veronica
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Christy March 5, 2012 at

The paws were MASSIVE! Even the cute baby paws were huge; they reminded me of great dane puppies, all lanky limbs and paws way too big for their bodies. :P

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Natasha @ Wandering Kiwi March 4, 2012 at

Too Cute! I’d love to take my little girl to play with the baby tigers :)
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dtravelsroundtwitter: dtravelsround March 5, 2012 at

These cats are super cute. Unfortunately, I have not heard good things about this park, and it doesn’t make sense to me that these wild animals capable of tearing their prey to pieces would just sit still and let them be pet without being drugged. While a rumor is just that, I don’t know if I could go. But, it looks like you had a good time and got to spend some time getting to know these gorgeous creatures! :)
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Christy March 5, 2012 at

It is really strange, and I did a lot of research trying to figure out just how likely it was. I guess there’s no way to tell FOR SURE that they’re not drugged, but they’re so adamant about not drugging the tigers that if they did and it got out, it would be bad news. I’m not really sure what drugged tigers would look like, but those babies definitely seemed active and aware and crazy playful. I just don’t know – I really wish I could talk to someone “in the know” who could explain it to us!

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Laureltwitter: ExpatGermany March 5, 2012 at

The photos are adorable but I have mixed feelings on using tigers for this purpose too. Hopefully once people have spent some time with the tigers they feel motivated to help in some way with tiger conservation efforts.
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Christy March 5, 2012 at

I understand, Laurel – we definitely have mixed feelings as well.

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Wanderplex March 5, 2012 at

First of all, AMAZING photos! It’s not everyday you get your picture taken with tigers!

Secondly, how do they keep the tigers from hurting you? You said they weren’t drugged (which is surprising, because most places that allow interaction with tigers seems to drug them) so what’s to stop them thinking you’re dinner?
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Christy March 5, 2012 at

From what I read and saw, it seems that the tigers are highly acclimated and trained. I don’t think tigers necessarily see adults as automatic prey, but the ones at Tiger Kingdom will definitely stalk a small child that is toddling around outside the fences if they see one. The prey instinct is still there, which is why there are size restrictions on who can enter the large cat enclosures. So I think what they’ve done is train the cats to understand that (big) humans are not prey, and that humans touching them is just a part of everyday life. By the time the tigers are older and more of a physical threat, they’ve learned to pretty much ignore humans (whereas the baby tigers still see you as a potential playmate). Of course if you annoy the tigers or present yourself in front of their mouths, who knows how the tiger will respond… which is why there are rules about how you can interact with them.

I don’t know if this in any way disputes the idea that they’re drugged, but I think (maybe?) it’s possible for the tigers to be trained for human interaction without drugs. I’m not sure, though; I’m definitely not an expert.

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Amer March 8, 2012 at

Thank god you’re ok! great title by the way! Am not sure if I ever have the b*lls to take photos with the tigers like that. I mean, I’ve been to the Snake Temple before and wouldn’t ever dare to have a snake wrapped around my neck. Otherwise, amazing photos of the tigers ;-)
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Christy March 9, 2012 at

Ok, there’s NO WAY I would let a snake wrap around my neck! I don’t know why it sounds so much scarier than laying on a huge tiger, but that sounds terrifying. So I guess our bravery only extends to certain (adorable and furry) things. :P

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cheryl March 25, 2012 at

First of all, they are adorable. And I hope the tigers are treated humanely … it breaks my heart to hear otherwise. :(
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Christy March 27, 2012 at

Me too, Cheryl. I guess the question becomes how humane is it to keep wild animals in captivity at all?

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Sherry March 25, 2012 at

I’m surprised and proud of the two of you for having enough courage to get this close and personal to these man-eating cats! Its amazing that they don’t actually try to eat you. Don’t worry Christy, the big ones are not as cute as the small ones anyway.
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Christy March 27, 2012 at

In my case, they would have been woman-eating cats! Though I’m sure they prefer children – much more tender. ;)

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Shanna Schultz April 2, 2012 at

WOW! What an incredible experience. Add one more thing to the list for the next time we visit Thailand!
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Christy April 3, 2012 at

Definitely add this to you list; I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it!

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Dave from ACoupleTravelers May 22, 2012 at

This looks awesome – did you have to pay to play with the tigers?
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Christy May 22, 2012 at

Yep, and it was a little spendy (at least compared to other things in Thailand). Totally worth it, though!

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