One of the attractions in Chiang Mai that we wanted to do was make a visit to Tiger Kingdom. Being an animal lover, the thought of being able to interact with tigers sounded super cool.
This was also one of the things that we were not sure about doing. We read conflicting reviews about Tiger Kingdom, some saying that they treated their animals well while others said they were mistreated. I didn’t know who to believe which was a struggle for me. Ultimately I said we would go and if I felt uneasy when I saw it in person, we wouldn’t pay to go in.
Getting to Tiger Kingdom
We had booked a driver to take us several places around Chiang Mai that were further away – Tiger Kingdom, Mae Se Waterfall, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and a cat cafe called Catmosphere. We were really fortunate that another couple that was staying at our hotel, the Sakorn Residence, was interested in doing many of the same things. We were able to split our taxi with them, which cut our transportation cost in half.
We discussed where we wanted to go with our driver and he told us that we should go to Tiger Kingdom first. This was a very good call as we were able to interact with the tigers without having to wait. As we finished up and were getting ready to leave, we saw lines outside the cages starting to form.
Tiger Kingdom is a 30 minute drive from Chiang Mai. We chatted with our new friends – an Italian man and a Polish woman. They were very nice and it was a pleasant circumstance that brought them together with us for the day.
Once we arrived at Tiger Kingdom, we selected which tigers we wanted to see. We decided to go in with the babies and the big tigers. We paid 620 baht or $18 each to spend 10 minutes with the babies and 420 baht or $12.50 each to spend 15 minutes with the big tigers. I was thrilled that they accepted credit cards since it seemed like nobody in Southeast Asia took cards.
There was an option that you could pay for a photographer to take your pictures but we opted out. In hindsight, it would have been a good use of money since we would have pictures with us together instead of just photos of us on our own. The photographers that we saw throughout the day seemed to be pretty decent photographers that were really good at getting the right shots.
Interacting with the Tigers
Before we went into the cages we had a short orientation about how to interact with the tigers. We learned to approach them from the side or back and not touch their faces. Once we took off our shoes, wearing sandals they provided and washed our hands we were ready to head in.
We first went into the cage with the babies who were so adorable and soft! There were about 4 in the cage and were all playing with each other. While it was cute it made it hard to get a good picture with them. We kept snapping away and got a few good pictures. Once our time was up we were escorted out and another couple that was waiting to come in, took our place.
Our next stop was to see the big tigers. We went through the same process of swapping our shoes for sandals and washing our hands before we entered the cage. The first thing that we both thought once we were in the cage was how large the tigers are and how quickly they could take us out if they wanted to.
There were a few tigers in the cage, most of them napping. We took some pictures then redirected our attention to a tiger that was awake. The trainer got him to play with a larger version of a cat toy. It was a large stick with greenery at the end. The tiger was having a good time, splashing in the water trying to get it. Eventually the tiger got the toy and proceeded to shred it into tiny pieces.
One of the trainers grabbed our camera when the tiger was playing, getting us our favorite shot of the day – us smiling with a tiger jumping in the background behind us.
One of my biggest points of concern about visiting Tiger Kingdom was the animal welfare.
There are theories that the tigers are drugged but I’m not sure that I believe that. Having a cat myself, I know that cats sleep the majority of the day. Those that we did see that were awake were very active and didn’t seem drugged.
The trainers used mostly verbal queues with the tigers. If the tiger did not respond they used a bamboo stick to tap their noses. When our cat Gingerbread is bad, we do something similar and it makes her stop behaving badly. The trainers never used more force than a light tap, at least not in front of us.
All of the tigers had their claws which made me very happy. I was very happy that the inhumane process of declawing a cat, a common practice for house cats in the US, did not transfer to the tigers. They were also able to roam around, granted it was within a cage. No tigers were enclosed in abnormally small cages or chained up.
If you do go to Tiger Kingdom, try and get there first thing in the morning to avoid standing in a long line waiting to get your turn with the Tigers. Consider springing the extra money to get a photographer to join you as their pictures looked like they would turn out great.
While I am still not sure about the true animal welfare, I was pleased with what we saw when we were there. The tigers seemed well cared for and not abused in any way. We had a great time interacting with the tigers, getting some amazing pictures.
My biggest concern is what happens to the larger tigers. There were way more smaller tigers than larger ones at Tiger Kingdom. While I’m not sure, my hope is that they are transferred to zoos around the world since they aren’t able to fend for themselves in the wild.