Saturday 21st November 2015
We had planned to go to Tiger Kingdom (home of conservation for the Indochinese Tiger) yesterday, but our friend Aad (Art) was still unwell, so we postponed until today. We were up for breakfast around 7.00am and our taxi truck (rot daang or ‘red truck’) came to collect us at 8.30am for the 12km journey out to the Mae Rim District (51/1 Moo 7, Rim Tai, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai 50180). Our driver would wait for us and bring us back on the return trip at our convenience for only 500 THB in total.
The park is open from 9.00am – 6.00pm and we wanted to avoid the heat of the day. We arrived at the park and looked into our options….there are individual tickets and package tickets…..Vince and I wanted to make the most of our experience and go for the top package…..TAKE ALL (smallest, small, medium and big cats!) for 2280 THB each person. But there is a height restriction on the Big Cats…you have to be at least 160cm tall….and I am only 149cm…..so I could not go in with the Big Cats as they would have me for lunch! A bit disappointing but I don’t have a death wish. I told Vince he could still go and I would watch from outside but he refused…..saying “we’re a team and we do it together or not at all”. So we went for the Take 3 Package instead (1530 THB each). We decided to also get a professional photographer for each cage at a total of 1000 THB including CDs and USB.
After sorting out and paying for our tickets we had to wait to be escorted into the Park and into the Tiger Zone. There were lockers (locker 19 but padlock No 39) where we could leave our belongings, other than cameras which were permitted. We started with the smallest cats….and had to wash our hands first and take off our shoes to protect them from any germs, as their immune systems are still developing. First we met “Laddie” a little male who was just four months old. He was a little tart bag rolling on his back and wanting his tummy scratched….so soft and cute. We all took turns one by one to get up close with him…..the excitement on Vince’s face as he stroked Laddie’s tummy was obvious. Next we were introduced to little “Opal”, a female also four months old. We were instructed to put our head on her tummy and the keeper put her paws around our necks……a truly unique moment in my life……I was worried I would be too heavy for the little cub….but she was the ideal furry pillow! There were a couple of other cubs in the enclosure but our keeper took us past them through into another enclosure with two little 3 month old girls, Yoki and Mocha. We didn’t get to touch Mocha, but Yoki was soon awake and up on a low table for us to be photographed with. The tigers sleep a lot during the day as they are most active at night and early morning. Yoki kept looking into my face and Vince said it must be love at first sight….and we secretly sized her up to see if we could take her in a pannier! She was just gorgeous, and even licked me a few times….but the keeper stopped her….as they discourage licking because it leads to the natural cat behaviour of biting and scratching.
Next it was off to the small cat enclosure. Here we met “Hello”, a seven month old female, and I got to put her huge back paw against my face. Next we met “Andy” a 9th month old male…..very majestic, who let me play with his tail and rub his back! Absolutely beautiful. We completed our visit to this enclosure getting to know “Rickshaw”, another seven month old female with a preference for tummy rubs. I am actually allergic to cats….and although I had taken some medication before we went I started to react badly with redness, itching and swelling on my hands, arms and neck……so it was a wash off at the sink and a pat try to calm things down……I was determined I wasn’t missing out on this once in a lifetime experience even if I had to suffer a little.
We had a bit of a wait to get into the Medium Cat enclosure….as there was only one photographer. Whilst we waited, Vince took some photos of the action happening in the Big Cat enclosure, where our friends, Mike and Aad (Art) were inside.
Inside the Medium Cat enclosure all 4 of the tigers were 14 months old. We met three of them in turn, “Coconut”….an absolutely magnificent male, “Penguin”, a female with a love of cool, wet places that resulted in us having to sit with her in wet spots…..but so worth it! Our final encounter was with with another female, “Micky”…..whose unbelievable muscle structure was most impressive as it rippled under our hands. It’s amazing how quickly they grow. We were in this enclosure without any other tourists and it was a magical experience. The 4 tigers prowling around freely with us in between…..a little alarming at one point, when I felt like I was being stalked as one of them came silently from behind me as I patted Micky….the size of their paws alone meant one swipe and you would be in serious trouble! Although these tigers are hand reared they are still wild animals.
We had a walk around the park and saw two small cubs playing, one was a white tiger. We gazed for ages at a huge Siberian Tiger….Vince nicknamed “Cuddles”……just out of this world…in terms of sheer power and majesty! Honestly, you wouldn’t stand a chance! We also saw an African Lion and an adult white tiger.
The medical centre had one little baby boy Tiger, “Boon”, just 1 month old who was being treated for splayed hips. He was so cute….we were not allowed to touch him but we could observe him from behind a fence……his little calls were quite demanding of his keepers.
Back at the main entrance area we picked up our photographs and headed for some lunch at the restaurant, after which we got back into our taxi truck and back to Panda House Hotel. We were floating on cloud nine…..what a great experience and privilege to walk with the beasts!
We had a bit of a rest and checked out our photos before heading to the night markets, a spectacle of colour and interest, where I bought a pair of black Fisherman Pants (129 THB) as they were so comfortable when we wore them at the Elephant Camp the other day. Vince, Mike, Aad (Art) and I walked along taking in all the sights and smells. We came across an open eating area with stalls all around, something for everyone. We had dinner there listening to some live music….all quite Westernised….and before we knew it time had slipped away and it was time to head back home to the hotel. A wonderful day had been had by all.