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Tiger-Kingdom
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Visit to Tiger Kingdom

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Thanks to some fun travel hacking that led to a better-than-free side trip to Thailand, I took a couple days off at the end of my Belarus-to-Algeria adventure.

I’ve been to Thailand a dozen times, but never to Chiang Mai, the mountainous city in the north, far away from the hustle of Bangkok.

The highlight of the excursion was a day trip to Tiger Kingdom, a cat reserve twenty minutes out of the city where tourists can play a fun game of “pet the tigers while the staff watches warily with sticks.”

I like cats of all sizes, and I had heard good things about the reserve. The tigers are well-cared for, they aren’t drugged, and they aren’t kept on chains. Despite the fact that they are free to wander (somewhat), they don’t attack humans—or so I hoped.

For once I wasn’t jet-lagged, so I set off in a tuk-tuk from my Chiang Mai hotel soon after getting in. Upon arrival at Tiger Kingdom, the first sign wasn’t good—the left eye of the lady selling tickets was completely covered in white medical gauze from some kind of recent injury. One can hope that the injury wasn’t from a tiger, but for the sake of appearances, perhaps they should put her to work in the back office until she recovers.

I then had to decide on my preferred tiger-petting package. Though the website needs some work, the minders of Tiger Kingdom are smart marketers. The Kingdom offers differential pricing to offer a range of experiences. Nice! They’ve obviously been following the daily lessons in the Empire Building Kit. Here’s how the range breaks down:

Custom Photo CD: 300 baht ($10 USD)
Smallest, Small, Medium, or Large Tiger Room: 520 baht ($17 USD)
Buy All Four Rooms: 1700 baht ($56 USD)
All Four with Custom CD: 1900 baht ($63 USD)

Well done, guys. I briefly considered taking only the “big tiger room” package, but then I thought about it: I had come all the way to the north of Thailand. The visa for Belarus last week was an incredible $420, and there was no Tiger Kingdom in Minsk. (In addition to passing on the “Striptease Special” in the nightclub, I also passed on what looked like “Vodka Kingdom” in the hotel casino.)

With that in mind, I boldly selected the “Alexander the Great” version of tiger-petting packages. I’d get 15 minutes in each tiger room, plus a CD of photos from the room with the big cats. As they say, you only live once, and hopefully I’d still be alive when it was over.

Before I set off to meet the felines, a staff worker gave me the rundown on what I needed to know. First of all, don’t be an idiot and provoke the tigers. Someone tried that a couple of years ago, and no one talks about it anymore. Second, the tigers are treated firmly but fairly by the staff. Tigers are trained from birth to obey the trainers, and while humans are allowed to lay on top of the tigers (really! see below), tigers and humans are not allowed to play together in any way.

I was then guided in the best way to get to know your typical tiger: approach from the back or side, never toward the head, underbelly, or front paws. I was to press firmly on the tiger’s back—apparently the tiger doesn’t like humans to be too gentle. Since Libby the housecat likes me to throw her around the house more than she likes to sit on my lap, I now see where this preference comes from.

There was virtually no chance of anything going wrong, the staff member told me. But by the way, could I sign this legal form releasing Tiger Kingdom from liability just in case? Nothing major, it just covers mauling, loss of limbs, loss of eyesight (I thought of the ticket-selling lady), and death. Well, what can you do? I signed away my life and went in.

(Click on any photo to view full-size)

***

“Sticky Rice” Endorses The Art of Non-Conformity Book

The tigers all have names, about half of which are Thai names that I promptly forgot. The other half were your basic “popular English phrases in Asia” names, like Beautiful Morning and Lucky Day. One of the cats was named Sticky Rice, and that’s where the staff took photos for my 300 baht CD.

After I had pulled his tail and laid on top of him with no objection, I introduced my new friend Sticky Rice to this fantastic new book that launches in only 22 days, and managed to secure an endorsement of two paws up with only minor scratches. As you can see, Mr. Rice was impressed—although after he looked like he might take a bite out of the book, I decided to stop pressing my luck. Shaking his back paw (never the front), I said farewell to my new friend and moved on.

(Click on any photo to view full-size)

Before I left, I took advantage of my Alexander the Great tiger-petting package and went to the “smallest tiger” room. These tigers are 3-6 months old, and sometimes a bit more active than the big cats, as you can see in this video.

And here’s one more video from the smaller cat room—I have no idea what I wanted to say in this clip, but the next time I get to lay my head on top of a tiger cub, I promise to be more prepared.

For $63, it was a great experience and well worth it. On the way out I met my faithful tuk-tuk driver at the entrance, and he took me back to the city.

For the rest of that day and the next one, I wandered through Chiang Mai itself. I ate good Thai and Indian food. I took a trip to Black Canyon Coffee, a Thai chain I’ve been visiting since coming to Thailand for the first time in 2002. At night I drank Singha beer and took it easy, something I try to do at least every other year, whether I need it or not.

It was a good way to end my country-hopping for 2010. I’m on the way back home now, and will be getting ready to see all of America starting on September 7th in New York City. It will be epic! Or something.

And … that’s it for now. Greetings from LH 402 to Newark, continuing on to Chicago and then homeward bound to the great PDX. See you all on the other side!

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More photos here

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57 Comments

  • Fiona says:

    Great pictures and what a great experience!! You look only slightly nervous. 😉

    This is definitely on my list of places to visit now. WOW!

  • Kyle says:

    I’ll file that one under “things that don’t seem like a good idea, but will do anyways”. It’s a good folder to keep expanding 🙂

  • Jordan Luke says:

    Great shots of the tiger Chris! Can’t believe you got him to promote your book 😉

    That’s brought back some happy memories of Chang Mai, thanks..

  • Nicola says:

    Awesome! I love those times when you’re doing something that kind of freaks you out and then you’re asked to sign a waiver that you won’t sue if you lose a limb or die. Somehow that act of saying “screw it” and hoping for the best actually makes me braver.

  • Rob Ward says:

    Chris, you are one brave man. I’ll go sky-diving one day, but I have no desire to be in the same room as a tiger!

  • Andi says:

    Those pictures are insane! I posed with a tiger once in Pattaya, Thailand and sadly I didn’t know it until I was next to him, he was drugged, and it haunted me for ages. I adore the pics of the tiger with the book–brilliant idea.

  • Rob Orr says:

    Amazing Chris. That’s incredibly cool.

  • Barbara Winter says:

    Love these pictures and can see you using them for promotional purposes in all sorts of ways. I wanted to start writing captions. And who is going to top that book promotion picture? You rock.

  • That’s awesome Chris. As soon as you mentioned ‘Tiger Kingdom’ in the title it brought back a ton of memories from when I was there almost 3 years ago. We had SUCH a wonderful time in Chiang Mai, its such a beautiful northerly mountain town and the diversity of things to see and do is astonishing.

    We first arrived we didn’t have much of a plan for the our 4 days in Chiang Mai and we were fortunate to have gotten into a cab where the driver worked part-time as a tour guide! We negotiated a GREAT deal with him to take us out to different parts outside the city, including the Elephant Preserve, Tiger Kingdom, the Monkey School, and a Snake Farm. This was all done in an entire day, and absolutely exhausting.. but well worth it.

    At Tiger Kingdom we hung out with the big cats and the small cats (as you mention, you pay to hang out with each). The videos you show were EXACTLY the way I remember them. Though my cubs from two years ago is probably now the big cat who was promoting your book!

  • Tory says:

    Ah, Chris, this is the most wonderful and heartwarming way to end one chapter of your (long, happy) life and begin the next. The photos made me smile and then laugh with delight. I was in Thailand as a small kid (we lived in the Philippines) and I have many happy memories. Thank you for this, and that photo of the Tigre with the book on his paws should be on the book jacket!
    Thanks again, and see you on the road in New Mexico! Tory

  • What an amazing opportunity for only $63?! If I’m ever in that area of the world, I am so there!

    Your experience with domesticated cats seems to have come in handy for interacting with those bigger ones. The ‘don’t bite your sister’ clip is classic. It reminds me of my little bad cat, Miloslavichka Badcatsky… or ‘Milo’ for short.

    Great idea to get a photo opt for your upcoming book release. If you didn’t get one of you w/book + tigers, you would have had some convincing to do that it wasn’t simply fancy Photoshop work:)

  • Joel says:

    Really really jealous… =)

  • Matt says:

    So, funny story about the Tiger Kingdom. My wife and I visited it in February ’09. We were in Chiang Mai to lead run a youth program for the week for a bunch of youth who lived around Asia. Their parent’s were in Chiang Mai for a conference. Anyway, we visited TK on the Friday before the kids arrived (checking it out in order to see if it would be fun for a bunch of youth). We petted the small and the large tigers (my wife was not much of a fan, she said something about avoiding things that can fit your whole head in it’s mouth).

    It was fun, so on Sunday we came back with the youth kids only to find out that the medium-sized tigers from the previous Friday were now the large tigers and the previously-large tigers were now off-limits for petting because the day after we had been there an “incident” had occurred that resulted in a trip to the hospital and many stitches for one of the guests (don’t worry she had signed the waiver). My wife claimed vindication for the fear she had shown

  • Linda says:

    Now that’s some ingenious marketing! Those ‘cats’ are so beautiful, and majestic. Thanks for providing a peek into your trip, and bringing back some great Chiang Mai moments (we went to a snake show instead of the tiger exhibit-darn!).

    Have a safe trip back to the U.S.

  • Jon Case says:

    What an incredible experience! I am not sure about approaching a big cat like that from behind. Every little cat I do that to leaps round and attacks me!

  • Lori says:

    Chris, this is so cool! The Tiger Kingdom is now on my long-term travel to-do list. Thanks!

  • Pascal says:

    We were in Chiang Mai in 2007 and we spend some time visiting the Chiang Mai Night safari. For a really cheap price (I think it was 5-10$US) we could visit a brand new Zoo with tons of animals with almost no visitor there. I wish I could have done the night safari but we we’re heading out the city by the night we discovered that place.

    Loved Chiang Mai, good cultural experience.

  • Tan says:

    You look very relaxed next to those big cats! Good luck with your book tour!

  • Now that’s taking the tiger by the tail. Great shots Chris. True you only live once, but I’d like to do it as long as possible so I’ll pass on the big tabbys 🙂

  • What a perfect way to end your international travels this year. I’d love to be that close to a tiger or two, though I think my heart would be racing during the actual encounter.

    Love the book poses. Sticky Rice seems to have the same interest level as your house cat; perhaps the feline market should be avoided for this book. Then again, that disinterested look was golden with Morris!

    Congrats on the 2010 travels. See you in Chicago!

  • Natalie says:

    Wow! I want to cuddle with a tiger too!

  • rob white says:

    What a thrill it must be being up close and personal with those beautiful animals. I had a similar experience with elephants. I’m an animal lover and have a parrot named Shakespeare of 25 years. Animals have so much to teach us about ourselves… Shakespeare really makes me appreciate the interconnectedness and Oneness in he universe.

  • erin malloy says:

    i loved this soooo much! laughing so hard at your little remarks about losing your life and the ticket girl with gauze. this was a great way to start off my morning…oh, and the tigers are beyond exquisite and i’m sooo jealous! 🙂 thanks!

  • Janis says:

    Another reason to plan a trip to Thailand (I connected through Bangkok on a flight to Singapore this summer). Cats of all sizes are such fasinating animals; what a terrific (and out-of-your-comfort-zone) experience to be able to get close to Tigers like you did.

  • Casey Friday says:

    Wow. I honestly don’t think I could do that. I love cats, but even that might not be enough for me. That said, this is extremely cool! It’s awesome to know that there’s always something new to do in this world, no matter how much you think you’ve done already.

  • Wow. Best story yet. Photos are great-I love cats.

    Thanks for the vicarious fun 🙂

  • Devin says:

    I have to admit Chris,
    I wear the same overly joyous (I almost write ‘dopey’) smile when I have been in similar circumstances.

    I have loads of pictures with dangerous beasts and I just can’t resist or stop smiling. Me and Philippine eagles (that have the strength of ten men, so I was told), a tiger (who was definitely on something), lions, chimps, orangutans and elephants (in Surin and Khao Lak Thailand).

    After, I always think “why did I do that; am I nuts?” But I know when given the chance I will stand in the alligators mouth looking happy about it.
    devin

  • Giulietta says:

    I love the kitties too! Beautiful, regal, proud. Would love to pat them. Good marketing idea.

    You’re definitely getting off the beaten path… Do they purr?

  • Angela says:

    Great pictures, especially the one with your book! I belly laughed out loud at work… Looking forward to receiving my copy (without the large cat) and seeing you on the tour.

  • You look so relaxed! What an exciting and unique adventure. There’s something very inspiring about seeing man and tiger relaxing together. If two of the world’s greatest predators can live in harmony… not you of course Chris, but you get my drift. Thanks for letting us share the fun.

  • Gracie, age 5: “that baby tiger is really cute and and I wonder how it didn’t wake him up when you laid on the baby tiger, or why didn’t the big tiger get mad. and, where are the tigers from? what’s thailand?”

    🙂

    ~ ElizabethPW

  • Elsie Hart says:

    You are a fantastic maniac! I don’t know if I could get anywhere near one of the big ones without freaking out. Which would be amazingly counterproductive, I’m sure.
    The little ones, on the other hand…

  • Kat says:

    Funny, I heard “don’t bite your sister” many times when I was a kid…

  • Debra says:

    Chris, you’re crazy! Or, at least 100x less risk-averse than I am. Wait, I think I already knew that.

    Enjoyed this – especially the progress from looking nervous to reading your book next to the sleeping cat!

  • Britta Perry says:

    WOW! What an amazing experience, with such great photos and video too! I live in Alaska, and would never, ever cuddle with a bear, but somehow I think cuddling with a tiger is now going on my list!

  • Amber says:

    Chris I am sooo jealous! I love Chang Mai and wanted to visit this Tiger rescue, but never got there. I will definitely go next time I am in Thailand. Hopefully very soon!! Those cats are so magnificent.

    Once I get a few more virtual pilates clients I am all nomad and will fly to SEAsia first thing. I’ve been dying to travel back for some time now. Thanks for the push in the right direction.

  • Selena says:

    Absolutely amazing…thanks for sharing!

  • Nicola says:

    I have always wanted to do this! Amazing.

  • and did Sticky Rice enjoy the book? It will obviously be a top seller now!

    I have to say the proximity of your bare toes to the tigers mouth made me nervous watching the video.

    Great trip -it will now be in my folder of “things that dont seem like a good idea but…” and thanks for that idea Kyle!

    Trisha

  • Coreen says:

    Amazing! You must still be smiling from the experience. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wyman says:

    Great ending before your book tour.
    Are you going to give us some instructions for prepairing our cities for your tour? I want to make it worth your time and effort. Thanks for all the wonderful adventures and writing. You make this old mans’ life a lot more fun.

  • Ritha says:

    Oh my that was so cool. i just saw the video. Thank you so much for sharing. It is so amazing. I’ve always wanted to pet a tiger. Where you nervous at first? I would be but that good excited nervous. The pictures are great also. This really made my day.

    One of my cats Brian is very loving and also mostly sleeps but every once in a while he will just kind of pounce on you for no reason other than he felt like it or was annoyed for some reason or another. I would keep thinking about that if I was petting a big tiger.

    I didn’t even know tiger kingdom existed. Something to look forward to. Thanks.

  • Brianne says:

    Oh Chris, that was beautiful. And for $63 USD, well worth the money.

    I got the chance to hold a tiger cub in my lap a few years ago and it was a precious moment that I’ll never forget. I’m so glad you got that chance.

  • Marina Reede says:

    Fabulous! Thanks for sharing about your experience. I love reading about your adventures. 🙂 I’ve only been to 20 countries so far. Thanks again.

  • Juliana says:

    Just found your blog… you have inspired me to follow my dream of traveling the country and then the world. (World domination after that. 😉

  • What wonderful pictures! It never ceases to amaze me how cats are alike no matter how small or how big. I chuckled at the picture you were reading a book in with the tiger right up against your leg. That’s a typical site in this house with me and Victoria. I’ve always wanted to get close to the big cats. It’s nice to know there’s a somewhat safe place to do this where the animals are treated humanely.

  • AdventureRob says:

    That place looks reasonable for the tigers. By nature they shouldn’t be mixing with humans. I know Tiger Temple in Thailand keep their tigers locked up and drugged so don’t support what they do. I never heard of Tiger Kingdom previously. At least they seem to look after the tigers there.

  • Pam Hirsch says:

    Chris – this is probably one of my favorite post of yours! I love the photos, especially the ones with Sticky Rice endorsing your new book. If Sticky Rice loved it, every one will. And by the way, I had no idea you were such a “wild and crazy guy!”

  • I am a new reader of your newsletter and blog, but I have been inspired by you for the past 10 days. In addition to the delightful Tiger Kingdom travelogue, I was curious to see the references to Minsk and Belarus. I was working there this February, with a dissident theater company. I am also going to be working with them again next month, here in Oslo.
    My group, Ensemble Free Theater Norway, is going to be in NYC from 12-20 September, and then Chicago from 20 September – 10 December. I would love to know more details about your book launch, and bring my students to hear you, meet you, speak with you. Your ideas are in accord with many of the principles I aim to instill in my students. Thank you! Brendan

  • Oooh, that is lovely and a snip at the price. They charge a lot more for the tiger experience here in Australia Zoo. If I remember right, Sticky Rice is khao neo and he makes the best promoter for your book ever so definitely well worth the investment. I always get the most expensive package if I can – if you’re going to do something at all you might as well go all the way:)

  • Etsuko says:

    The most fun post ever! I’d have to send this to my friend who lives in Bangkok to makes sure she visits that place!

  • Sonja says:

    Hey Chris!

    Wow, very nice pictures! Continue to have a great time and greetings from Québec!

    Sonja

  • Tom Klemens says:

    Very cool. Immediately brings to mind some suggested reading: Saul Bellow’s “Henderson the Rain King.”

  • Wow, what a great experience! I bet your heart was beating about 120 beats per minutes at first!!!

    I like the “I got the tiger by the tail” picture you took! LOL

  • Cristina says:

    This must have been a wonderful experience!

    I love cats of all kind, and live with two – much smaller and tamer than tigers! I always feel privileged for being able to interact with them, and I can only imagine what being so close to such big cats must have felt.

    Thanks for sharing, I especially loved the videos – the cub looked like she enjoyed being stroked 🙂

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