Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand

Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand

Outside the gates of Tiger Kingdom, a half hour from Thailand’s second most populous city, Chiang Mai, we watched a woman lay her head against the ribcage of a giant tiger. My wife and I were troubled. Do we enter the cage with the beasts and risk ending our marriage after two and a half weeks? We purchased two tickets. The Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai sign read No Refunds.


“Have they ever bitten anyone before?” Marissa asked the woman at the information desk.


“Of course,” the woman replied.


“But these ones don’t bite, right?”


“They can,” the woman told her.


“But they won’t right?” Marissa begged for a lie.


“They could,” the woman told her. “This is nature.”


“You couldn’t ask these questions before we bought the non-refundable tickets?” I asked.


We entered the Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai.


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


There were endless warning signs: Do not approach their heads. Do not make loud noises. No flash photography. I looked around at all the tourists that were watching from above, the ones that were not at risk, the ones who were intelligently avoiding the cage. They leaned over the railings with their cameras, pointed at tigers, allowed their kids to shriek with excitement.


I felt like a doomed gladiator about to enter the Colosseum.


The woman in front of us was wearing a shirt with black and white tiger stripes.


“Is that a good idea?” I asked her.


“I didn’t really think about that,” she said. Her face went flushed.


“Come,” the tiger trainer said. He was pointing at her with his little stick, which was all the trainers carried to keep the big cats in line.


I wanted them to carry giant tranquilizer guns, not little sticks. Fuck animal rights. Save my ass.


“You,” someone else roared.




We were going into the tiger cage to meet the “small” ones. (Not “smaller” or “smallest,” which were 3 to 4 months and newborns, respectively. The small tigers were six months old and they were already the size of sturdy dogs.)


Entering the Cage


Inside the cage, I felt like I was the animal.


“Sit,” the trainer said to me. I sat. “Pet him.” He didn’t like how softly I was petting the tiger, so he shook the cat hard.


“What are you doing?”


He laughed sadistically, so I pet the tiger with more force.


“Lay down,” the trainer commanded. I looked at the bed of gold and black and studied the set of giant paws that were already big enough to end lives. I laid down and felt the small cats breathing. Its inhalations were big and fast like he was chasing prey in his dreams. The trainer reached down and crossed the tiger’s paws over my chest, my vital organs.


“Take the picture,” I whispered forcefully.


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


My wife, who was prepared to write her will before entering the cage, bravely did the same. Each time a cat stood up to walk away from a pesky tourist, we retreated. Each time a cat flinched from a bug or the heat, we jumped.


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


“Okay, now for big cats,” the trainer said.


I sat next to a twenty-two month old tiger–one of four full-grown cats that we were trapped in a cell with–and realized everything that I had ever thought about my ability to survive against nature was a fallacy. I had once believed that if a bear or tiger or lion ever wanted to attack me, I would be able to at least resist or escape or somewhat fight back. But feeling the strength of the tiger’s muscles, looking at its regal coat, its surreptitious eyes, its weighty paws, its powerful jaw, I realized that the tiger could reduce me to a meal quicker than the man with the little stick could run for help.


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


The trainer smacked the tiger’s nose a few times with his little magic wand. The brochure says that “the method of ‘nose tapping’ is the only… successful way of preventing human and tiger injury.”


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


I don’t know about most people, but if someone repeatedly struck me over the nose, I’d eat them if I had big enough teeth.


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand


Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai


You can experience the Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai from 420 to 1900 baht (or $14 to $63 US.) The price depends on what kind of tigers you want to risk your life with and how may cats you want to visit. It’s the most terrifyingly fantastic time. It’s also a good way to possibly save money traveling Thailand. (That is if you have the foresight to only book a one way ticket because you might not need the return leg after Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai.)


Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia, Somewhere

25 Responses to Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai Thailand

  1. sam

    This is an unnecessary activity.

  2. Michelle

    I visited the Tiger Kingdom. I don’t know why I did it as I’m always talking about animal rights and have worked hard to raise awareness about things like elephant riding. But I went, convincing myself that I just had to see it for myself. I went in with the babies, the small tigers, and the large ones. I was looking for signs of them being drugged, de-clawed, etc. I was told that they don’t de-claw them there, but do trim their nails “like a house cat”. The babies and small tigers did not seem drugged to me. They were feisty, running, and always alert. But I can’t say the same for the big ones. They were lazy, sleeping, eyes closed. I never saw the trainers tap their noses when I was there.

    I personally really regret going, have felt terrible every time I think about it and will never go again.

    I was wondering what you guys think of the controversial debate about whether these tigers are drugged, maltreated, etc? Is this something you would recommend to friends?
    Michelle recently posted…Packing with Mesh Bags/Clothing Organizers, Yes or No?My Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks for the comment, Michelle. The people that I spoke with at TK said that they did not drug the tigers and claimed the reason for their lethargy had to do with the heat and the amount of food that they had recently ingested. (I’m responding to this after an all-you-can-eat sushi marathon and I have to say, it is difficult to respond after ingesting so many rolls. I emphathize with the cats.)

      To your point, I think it’s best for animals to be in the wild, but a zoo or the Tiger Kingdom, so long as they are true to their claims, is a great space for people to learn about the tigers and to be inspired to care more about these creatures. I certainly developed a newfound respect for tigers after being in that cage.

  3. Ruth Corlett

    Hi Noah – just to add some balance to your glowing report on Tiger Kingdom – I was one of the ‘unlucky’ ones who was bitten by one of the big 1 – 2 year old tigers you posed with. The two thigh bites were only a few inches away from my femoral artery. They resulted in 54 stitches, 10 days in hospital because of the serious infection that followed, and a month off work. I didn’t break any of the ‘rules’ of the visit, but I guess its a case of russian roulette as to who is going to get bitten next.
    At the hospital the doctor who stitched me up, said he had stitched up a teenage boy the month before with the same wounds from Tiger Kingdom, and since my accident in 2009 I have heard of at least 6 others who have been seriously injured at either Tiger Kingdom or Tiger Temple.
    So to anyone who reads this, my warning is – it is not as safe as it looks, and so its not worth the risk. More importantly why put money in the pockets of a business that doesn’t care about continuing to injure tourists.

    • Noah Lederman

      Wow. That’s a really crazy story. Sorry to hear that. Thanks for adding your comment. I think it’s really an important addendum to my post.

  4. David W.

    Hi Noah, great write-up. I was there in March 2012 and had the same experience as you. I was definitely scared on the inside! I watched 2 big 2yr old’s duke it out. They were really gentle with us, and I definitely was nervous and flinched anytime they did…I don’t see how they could attack you unless it was provoked. We were rubbing their bellies and petting their tails.

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks David. That’s a pretty cool experience. I would have loved to see the tigers duke it out, though maybe from the other side of the fence. At the waterfalls near Luang Prabang, there are a few bears that I watched wrestle and throw some blows. Seeing them go at it for 15 minutes was quite entertaining.

  5. Kevin Hancox

    We were there in February 2013 and I was very wary of going. I could not see how you could go into a cage with a fully grown tiger and be safe. I also hate the idea of them being drugged, declawed etc. I got talking to one of the handlers and he explained that they are allocated a cub from birth, and the tiger sees them every day of its life. We went into the large tiger enclosure; there were four in there, three were lying in the sun and the fourth was in the pool being teased by its handler with a large bamboo pole with leaves on it. It was a spectacular sight to be honest, and no way was he drugged! All of the cats seemed fine to me; if you went around the place to where the older tigers are, they do not have access to the public and they were resting in the sun or shade as well. It is expensive but how many people have you ever met that have been in a cage with a fully grown tiger? It is a once in a lifetime experience and I would recommend it – but remember what you are letting yourself in for, these magnificent creatures are killing machines!

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks for adding your thoughts here, Kevin. I guess the one thing we can all agree on here in this comments section is that these creatures are beautiful and killers.

  6. Adia

    I was at Tiger Kingdom, Phuket last Wednesday and despite having read about tiger mauling n attacks, I convinced my boyfriend that it would be one of the coolest things he’s ever done on his birthday. We had 4 large tigers around us and most of the time, it was either sleeping or very relaxed. Until the last picture session, a tiger just walked right next to me which the attendants and cameraman said not to panic and they shooed it away and we scurried out- feeling relieved.

    I don’t see any maltreatment towards the animals here despite human rights activists claims and the pens were very clean and well kept.
    It was an awkward experience and I wouldn’t wanna do it again ;p

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks for sharing, Adia. I’m sure your boyfriend really enjoyed the rest of his birthday.

  7. mike

    visited myself pretty recently, overall enjoyed the experience and didn’t see anything that seemed to be too questionable.
    mike recently posted…Angkor Archaeological ParkMy Profile

  8. Juls

    Hi Noah,
    Thank you for sharing your authentic account of you and your wife’s time at Tiger Kingdom. My hubby Adam, myself and two kids (11 and 14) braved the experience yesterday. Normally Adam and I are adverse to visiting these sorts of places but were keen for our kids to experience and learn more about how the Tigers live in captivity and I too was curious. Our kids were only allowed in the cub enclosure (15 yrs+) for older tigers which is very sensible. The cubs were a little fiesty but that’s to be expected as they are babes and that’s what little ones like to do – play, rebel and get annoyed at being told what to do. My kids were the most relaxed of the 4 of us.
    Adam and I went in with the oldest cats and it was very unnerving. At one stage Adam was behind two tigers snuggled together and one of them kept tuning it’s head to stare at Adam. At first the handler didn’t notice what the tiger was doing but once he became aware he distracted him but the tiger was definitely not happy with Adam. I was very apprehensive about physically touching the tigers but did so with the last big tiger we saw and it in fact felt quite soothing – bizarre I know but I had to completely surrender myself to it.
    What was very disturbing was that when we were wandering around we saw one tiger that was cross eyed and she was crouched in a very stressful stance. That really concerned me as we really don’t know to what extent this is having on these divine animals. It nearly brought me to tears.
    I didn’t sleep much last night as I kept replaying the scene when the big cat was uncomfortable with Adam and imagined the big cat turning on Adam and taking him out in a nano second. No amount of stick poking or distraction by the carers would save the day.
    My kids found the experience quite educational which is a positive but to be honest I found the experience quite traumatic and disturbing and won’t be doing that again in this lifetime or the next.

    • Noah Lederman

      Hi Juls,
      Thanks for sharing your family’s experience with the tigers. I read your entire comment with wide eyes, fearing, from your wonderfully frightening imagery, that something would happen. Luckily, everyone made it out unharmed physically, though you’re right that these experiences can be traumatic, disturbing, and really remind us about the fragility of your life and that of your loved ones. I’m glad your kids at least enjoyed and learned from their experience. Thanks again for your comment.

  9. Mindy

    Such a great write up of a place that I loved as well. Our experience was a positive one, but it’s very interesting to read so many comments on others experiences. I love your writing style. Had to subscribe just so I can read more about your misadventures in SEASIA!
    Mindy recently posted…The Most Important Rule In Scuba Diving: Never, Ever Hold Your BreathMy Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks Mindy. I think this post probably has some of the most intriguing/harrowing comments. Glad you found them interesting, too.

  10. Victoria


    I’m heading to Thailand and Tiger Kingdom next week. Reading this comments has made me quite scared and worried Tigers are my favourite animal and this is something I really want to do, but now I’m rethinking. Would you recommend going? I probably won’t ever be in Thailand again as it is a 23 hour flight from Toronto!

    • Noah Lederman

      I think if you want the experience, Victoria, this is your opportunity. As you say, you might not get the chance again. Of course, you’ll have to weigh the other side of the coin–tigers are wild creatures, thus anything can happen, and the more I read and learn about these facilities, one questions whether or not it’s worth funding these operations.

  11. Josie

    Hey! I just want to say thanks for being one of the inspirations behind my obsession with going to Tiger Kingdom. I loved it too, and I’m going to send everyone who reads my blog your way.
    Josie recently posted…Elephant Riding in Mae RimMy Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks for that, Josie. I appreciate the comment and I’m glad you had a nice experience.

  12. Lynn A Girard

    My husband & I visited Tiger Kingdom when we were in Chiang Mai for our honeymoon. I have to admit, I was a little nervous that the animals were not going to be treated well but once we were there we were both impressed by the quality that we did see.

    For all those that claim that the tigers are drugged, have you ever spent a day with a house cat? I have a cat & she sleeps most of the day, it’s just how the animals are.

    Check our our blog post about our experience at Tiger Kingdom:

  13. Al

    Entered the cage with a giant tiger myself at Tiger Kingdom and it was one of the best parts of my trip to Thailand.

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