As we embarked on our Christmas adventure, our first destination was Thailand. We arrived in the northern city of Chiang Mai at around 10 am after spending nearly 12 overnight hours sprawled out across the metal chairs in the Bangkok airport. Needless to say, when we arrived at MD House, we were exhausted! We ate a quick breakfast at the hostel and took a short nap, enjoying the warm breeze wafting in through the window. All that was on our agenda for the day was to visit Tiger Kingdom and explore our Thailand surroundings.
After our short nap, we got a tuk-tuk and headed out. As the cool air filled the space around us, we drank in the sights: beautiful mountains and landscapes, elaborate Buddhist temples, farms, and even a water buffalo sauntering along. We arrived at Tiger Kingdom mid-afternoon, which, according to my research, was the tigers’ calmest time of the day (and not too long after they’d been fed). We had read quite a bit about this place. Tigers, being my grandpa’s favorite animal, have always been intriguing to me as has my love for cats (even really big ones). We wanted to see them but we also wanted to be conscious of what kinds of things our money was going to support. The tigers here are neither chained nor drugged (at least according to them). They have been raised since babies to be around humans and therefore, have become comfortable being touched. Their record is spotless- they have never had anyone seriously hurt, mauled, or killed. Nevertheless, I cannot say that we weren’t nervous to interact with these great and powerful creatures. As we entered the small building, we saw people in the enclosure with the big cats. We explored our options and decided to see three different groups of tigers: the “smallest,” “small,” and “big” cats. We also forked over the extra 12 bucks to get a professional photographer to take pictures with the big boys. As we waited we watched people getting their feet nibbled by fish who eat the dead skin off of them, we saw these huge, translucent plastic balls that people could go in on the water, and we watched people eat at the restaurant overlooking the tigers. Finally it was our turn to go in.
We started with the “smallest” tigers, which probably helped calm our nerves. We also had seen others (probably much more “delicious” than myself) go in and emerge unscathed, so by the time it was our turn to go in, our anxiety had quickly faded to excitement. When we went into the enclosure, we were able to pet these little 3 month old tiger cubs. They were so soft and warm. Most of them were sleeping- in fact, all but one was sleeping, but that is typical not only for cats (who can sleep up to 18 hours a day), but especially for babies. We began with those ones (the least intimidating by far). The trainers in there with us assured us that it was okay not only to pet them, but also to lay on them, which we timidly did. Then we moved on to the little tiger who was awake, mischievous, and playful. He was very fun to watch and we got some cute pictures when he slowed down long enough to stay still.
After the cubs, we moved on to the bigger cats, which still fell into the “small” category. These cats were all around 6 months old and as we entered this cage, we felt much more comfortable interacting with these magnificent creatures. One even put his sweet little paw on my head in his sleep!
After the “small” tigers, we had to wait a while before our encounter with the “big” cats. While we waited, we wandered around and watched the other cats play. We watched two in particular that had us convinced that Tiger Kingdom’s claims about not tranquilizing or drugging their animals were true. These two cats bounded about, chasing and play-fighting with each other. They splashed around in the pool and looked to be as carefree as ever. There were several other tigers in another enclosure that were also chasing each other and play-fighting. We saw some newborn tigers, from a distance of course, as they are far too young to be handled by lots of humans. They were so furry and adorable! There was one lion (yes, a lion) who made our stomachs “catch in our throats” as he roared his mighty and powerful roar right next to us. We also saw colorful parrots and other tropical birds. None of the animals looked sad, per-se, but one thing that did me sad was the size of the cages they are confined to at night.
Finally, our “big” moment arrived and we went in with the large, adult tigers. Here we lifted the tiger’s tail (which was thick and HEAVY, almost like lifting a baseball bat), firmly petted and stroked their coarse fur (light touches are ticklish and can make the tigers irritable). And it was here that we got the photo- op of a lifetime when our huge tiger yawned, revealing a mouth full of massive teeth for us to record in digital history forever.
By the time we finished up, we were exhausted, but on an obvious high! We hit the souvenir shop, got our photo CD, and headed back to our hostel.
That evening we decided on Thai food (You know what they say… “While in Thailand…”) and went to a restaurant right next to our hostel. I had Pad Thai (always a favorite) and Trent had Matunayu curry (a new favorite). After dinner we explored the city. We walked around under the light of the full moon, stopping to admire statues, architecture, temples and shops. We returned home with some new souvenirs and a bunch of irreplaceable memories. What a magnificent first day of vacation!