Last day in Chiang Mai, and already struggling as my train is at 17:00, meaning I’ll have to be at the train station for 16:30 at the latest. I have to check out before I do anything to make sure I don’t have to come back, but my washing has been delayed and instead of having it back at 10am, I’m being told it’ll be 11. That’s a little worrying, and eating up my time for what I want to do.
With so much to see and do, I could go into town and go see the museums and temples I’d missed the first day, but my eye is on a prize I’d spotted on my first day and had jammed in my head by all the adverts on the tuk tuks around town. Tiger Kingdom.
I was a little apprehensive since it falls into the same category as elephant riding, but this park had gotten pretty good reviews, and I admit there’s a very big child in me who really, really wanted to pet a tiger. However its expensive to get to, expensive to be in, and takes some time to reach. So as my washing ate up another hour, I decided to go out until it arrived to think about it. Besides, if I had some free time in the morning, there was something else I could do in walking distance…
In Nha Trang, one of the girls from Hoi An had shown us a tattoo she’d gotten when in Chiang Mai. It was a beautiful and intricate piece of work, and I’d gotten the name of the shop she’d gotten it done. To be honest, getting a tattoo abroad was one of those things I swore I’d never do, and I’m still on the fence about it…but getting a tattoo redesigned was another thing altogether… Simply put, I have a tattoo on my bag involving a throwing stair and and a pair of black and white wings. I love it dearly…but the guy who did it could not do a black wing to save his life. He’d even gone in and redone it a few years later, and only made it different, not better. So if I could spruce it up a bit on the cheap while I was here (especially since I’d actually seen the work on anther human being), why not?
The shop was called Jin Bamboo, and used bamboo needles rather than machines. These are supposedly less painful and heal faster than normal tattoos because they aren’t applied as deep. Very popular in Thailand. The staff’s English wasn’t fantastic, but once I showed them the design and pointed to something similar they’d done on the wall, we managed to come to an understanding, and he said he could do it for 2,000 baht. Little more than I wanted to pay, but if he could fix the mess on my back, it would be money well spent. The first thing he did was draw on the detail, then take a photo for my approval. I was sold the second I sold it, and he began his work.
…Well, began it after about 20 minutes of fiddling with equipment and going on Facebook every time he got a notification beep, which did make me a little apprehensive, but once he started work he was completely focused. And what they say about bamboo needles is true. They don’t hurt nearly as much – don’t get me wrong, still hurt, but compared to the last 2 machine needles I’ve had this was nothing. Guy had to stop every few seconds for me to brace myself, and was constantly tensing up (especially when this wing was inked). Here, had a few tense moments, and had to remember to watch my breathing, but guy only had to stop once. Took about 20 minutes, and it looks fantastic. I’ve got half a mind to pay him again and recolour the whole thing to make it match, but figure its probably best to let the new ink heal and see how the finished result works with the tat. And because its bamboo, will only need 5 days to recover.
Thankfully, my laundry is back when I return to Mandala House, and I get the last of my bags packed, check out, and ask them to call me a tuk tuk for Tiger Kingdom. Its probably not the cheapest way to do it, but does mean I can take my bags and get driven straight to the train station once I leave. A very useful feature considering it’ll take at least 40 minutes to get there, 40 minutes back, and I’ll need to deal with queues while there that’ll eat up my very limited time.
Tiger Kingdom is basically a place where you can interact with tigers. For a certain sum, you can get into the enclosure with a tiger (either a cub, a slightly more grown cub, a teen tiger, or a fully grown one, aka: Smallest, Small, Medium, Big) for 15 minutes. You can do a package where you can do them all, or you can choose the ones you want yourself. There’s also a small zoo area where you can see newborns, a white tiger, a lion and the tigers not being interacted with that day (assume they swap them out to give the tigers a break).
When I get there, the queues are even worse than I expected. You can expect to wait close to 2 hours to see the cubs, and the big tigers aren’t much better. Obviously those were the 2 I wanted to do the most, but decided a small tiger and a medium tiger (who had waiting times close to 30 minutes) would still be pretty awesome.
Now this place has a varied reputation. Some swear that the tigers are drugged and that the living conditions are cruel. Others insist that the tigers definitely aren’t drugged (even have a large presentation on the wall of the waiting area explaining why the tigers are not drugged and why they might seem so) and the tigers are really well cared for. I’m a little on the fence, on the one hand, I really don’t think the tigers are drugged. Yes, a lot of them were sleeping, but tigers are supposed to sleep in the day. And when they were awake, they were pretty active. The small tigers would sometimes start play fighting with each other, and the big ones would dive into their water pools – I think the no-drugs statement is true. As for the treatment, they do force the tigers to wake up if they’re sleeping – and they explain on the same presentation board that the tigers are dependant on the tourists for living and board, and what the customer wants the customer gets. If you are happy to have a photo with a sleeping tiger, let the handlers taking you in know, and they’ll let the tiger be – better for the tiger, easier for them. Something I took to heart and asked the handlers not to wake the sleeping tigers in the enclosure (there’s several in one area so its not just one tiger constantly getting mauled by people)
Also have a lot of rules for being in the pens that you have to read. Deliberately break any of them and you’re out of there. You can’t go in front of the tigers, always behind. Don’t hit them, don’t let them lick you, don’t make sudden movements or use flash photography…and if the tigers suddenly got up or started fighting with each other you were to back away, never turning your back. Seems to me they were taking the safety of people and the animals pretty seriously.
Yeah, there were definitely things that could be improved here – not sure the enclosure is really right for tigers, and the cages for non-interaction seemed a little small compared to zoo’s. But compared to some of the animal exploitation in Thailand that I’ve seen, this is actually a well run and decent park. The kind that, if Thailand is going to have animal attractions (and lets face it, it always will), should be encouraged to improve while also setting an example for others.
As for actually touching the tigers, it was fantastic. The fur feels more like a dog than a cats, and you don’t quite process just how big they are until you’re standing right next to them – and these were the medium rather than the fully grown! They’re beautiful creatures, and since the odds of me seeing one in the wild is pretty low, I’m still glad I got to see one up close like this.
Course, due to the length of time I had to wait to get into the enclosures, I was legging it out of there at 15:30 and into the tuk tuk. If there was traffic, he was going to need every minute he could get – ended up making it there for about 16:15, pretty much on time. Thank the driver profusely, and head off to find my train. Since its such an early train (but sadly, the only one around), there’s no way I’m going straight to bed. Instead, I did out the foldaway table and start typing up blog posts until the motion sickness makes it less than a good idea. Also order dinner, since I’d actually been impressed with what I saw on the first night train (even if breakfast had been fairly meh). Costs more than I normally spend (160 baht), but it feels justified on the grounds that you get four courses – which means its technically not that much more. The soup was a little too spicy for me, but the pork and the sweet and sour chicken were lovely – as was the pineapple for dessert. Also let myself have an orange juice – I adore the orange juice in Thailand, its so much stronger than the stuff back home. Between it and passion fruit I could just about give up all other liquids so long as I could have it on a regular basis.