Is Tiger Tourism ok? A visit to Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai



So, I am no Steve Irwin, and you certainly won’t find me campaigning for animal rights. However, I do like animals, and I am not keen on them being mistreated.

Unfortunately, when you visit South East Asia, and possibly other parts of the World; animals are commonly used for tourism purposes, and are often not treated well, but many tourists fail to look or see that side of their elephant ride, for example.

Most South East Asian people tend to see animals less as pets (from what I’ve seen), and more as a useful aspect to daily life. During my time in Asia, I’ve seen birds and elephants chained up, looking very unhappy, and to this day I am adamant that no matter how awesome it looks, I’ll never ride an elephant.

When I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand I was constantly hearing about the Tiger Kingdom. From the taxi driver at the airport, to the hostel owner, and various leaflets and tour agencies in town. It was even a standard line by the tuk tuk drivers – “lady, where you go. I take you to Temple .. Tiger Kingdom?” It clearly was a big attraction, but I was against going from the get go. It wasn’t in my plan. I’d rather go and have a massage, hike up to the Temple, or shop in the markets. Petting a tiger wasn’t on the agenda, period.
A few years ago I saw a photo of a friend, who had been to South Africa. There, she jumped into a cage with a tiger for a cuddle. Except, the cage, which housed this huge tiger was tiny, and the poor thing looked higher than a Boeing 747. That photo is what out me off.
However, a twist in the tale .. I went. To Tiger Kingdom, and I enjoyed it. Here is how it happened, what I liked and didn’t like about, and why you shouldn’t score it off your itinerary so quickly.
How I came to visiting Tiger Kingdom

It was a Tuesday night. I was sat at the North Gate Jazz Co-Op, drinking with a few new friends I met from the UK. The subject of Tiger Kingdom came up, and we had a discussion. Many others around us had been, said they loved it and were adamant that the tigers were not drugged for the purpose of the tourists.
The next thing I know, I’m making plans to go with Julia from the UK, on the back of her scooter, the very next day. I’m easily persuaded.
My visit to Tiger Kingdom
After a full on Muay Thai boxing session at Gym Bangarang (that’s another story!) we headed out just before lunch time. The drive to Mae Rim took about 30 minutes from the city. I’m glad we did it by bike. There were tons of tour buses and people everywhere. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Upon entry, there are lots of staff in various locations, and it is quite a mission to buy a ticket. First, you are required to go to a computer area to see photos of the Tigers, as well as the price list and choose which Tigers you want to cuddle up to. Packages range from petting all the Tigers, to just one or two. As I can’t resist a cute wee baby Tiger, I choose to pet the Smallest and the Biggest.
We were then issued with a ticket, which we took to the next counter. There we were given a new ticket, and had to sign the declaration to say that we agreed to going in with a potentially dangerous animal and that their insurance did not cover us if anything were to happen.
The new ticket we were given, had to be taken to a third counter, were we finally paid! An orderly queue formed around the café (Tiger waiting room) area, and a few minutes later, we were let in.

Although we wanted to see the baby Tiger first, the process is based on your number coming up on their computer screen. So we were advised to go to the Biggest Tigers first.

I was quite surprised by the amount of room that the Tigers had. They were not chained up, and were free to roam wherever they wanted. There was a pool and some and various toys. They looked happy and playful. A few minutes before going in to the big Tiger, two of them started fighting. A lot of people just stopped for a second, and watched anxiously.
I was nervous. However, it confirmed to me that no Tiger on drugs could act like that!
Then. It was our turn. In we went, and were directed to a massive Tiger chilling out in the sun. Julia said “you go first!”
I tentatively walked over and knelt down behind him, and slowly started to stroke his gorgeous stripy fur. He looked around at me, every now and again, but otherwise, didn’t seem bothered.

There were three other Tigers that you could stroke in that area, and we got to pet 3 of the 4. On one occasion, the Tiger got up and started walking off, which made me jump, but otherwise, no dramas. I didn’t get eaten alive!
The next, was the cutest of all. The baby Tigers. There were various in the pens at once. We met two of them. Donut was my favourite, and was very playful, at times he would jump around, making me jump, thinking I’d be attacked.



The second was a little less active, but we’re told before we visit that baby Tigers, like human babies, need their rest too, and spend a fair bit of time sleeping.

There were various rules about touching the baby tigers, such as washing your hands before and after. All tigers don’t like there head area being touched, and as cute as they were, you cannot pick up the baby tigers.


What I liked about Tiger Kingdom


The obvious – I got close to a pretty scary big animal, and was pleased that their environment appeared comfortable, and that they were well looked after.

What I didn’t like about Tiger Kingdom

  • It is very touristic at Tiger Kingdom, from the added extra of the photographer to get many photos of you with the Tigers, and put in a cute little folder at the end, to the merchandise, it seemed a little put on for the tourists.
  • You only got 5 minutes with each Tiger. It seemed a bit rushed

Why you should consider going

Its an experience that you may not get again, getting close to a dangerous animal, and getting to lay down next to it.
Cost and location

Tiger Kingdom in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, is about a 30 minute drive out of Chiang Mai. Various tour agencies will offer you packages to Tiger Kingdom. I went on the back of a scooter and paid a mere 40 Baht to my friend for fuel.

The cost of seeing the Tigers varies. It can start off from 800 Baht to get in with just the big Tiger. I paid 1040 Baht to see the biggest and the smallest. This is US $32 or £19. Quite pricey, but apart from my cooking class, I did little else that cost a lot.

I’m glad I went to Tiger Kingdom. A much better experience than I first thought.

Have you been to Tiger Kingdom, or participated in any animal tourism in Asia? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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