Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thailand Part IV: Chiang Mai, Day 3 (Tigers!!)

After sleeping for what must have been over 14 hours, I was feeling better, although still somewhat hesitant to each much.  Still, it was on with our plans for the day--there wasn't much time to waste! Luckily we had a Starbucks not far from our hotel, so I got a muffin to test out the whole eating food thing.  Yes, I feel somewhat guilty that I was in one of the countries with the most famous cuisines in the world, yet ate at Starbucks.  But somehow I don't think jumping right back into Thai food would have been prudent.  

After a quick breakfast, we found a tuk-tuk to take us to the Tiger Kingdom.  I would say two main things come to mind for many people when they come to Chiang Mai: elephants and tigers. Having already taken care of the former the day before, it was time to see some tigers!  For those of you who haven't already seen my facebook pictures, Tiger Kingdom is a place where you can get up and personal with tigers of all ages. You can decide which size tigers you want to see, but Megan and I decided that since we will probably only get once chance in our lives to hang out with tigers, we should see all the sizes--small, medium, large, and babies.  YOLO!

The tigers at Tiger Kingdom aren't chained down at all like they are at some other similar type of destinations.  I didn't come across any incidents of tiger attacks at the Tiger Kingdom (there are instances at another place in Thailand), but the tigers definitely aren't drugged (as they also allegedly are at the other place).  The tigers are handled and trained from a very young age and given plenty of food so they aren't looking to eat any people. Before you enter the enclosures with the tigers they give you a few simple directions to approach the tigers from behind and not to touch their heads. Besides that, you're not really given a lot of other instructions. Of course, you sign your life away before you enter the park, but I guess that's to be expected. Nothing like beginning your day by crossing your fingers you don't get eaten by a big cat.

When it was out turn to enter with the small tigers, my initial reaction was "these are the small tigers?!"  They seemed huge.  And I was incredibly aware of the fact that if they wanted to, those "little" guys could demolish me.  The tiger's trainers of course had absolutely no reservations and instructed us into a number of strange poses.  As Megan said "I never thought I'd hear someone telling me to put my face on a tiger."

The more time we spent with the tigers, the more at ease I felt, but I never lost sight of the fact that I was surrounded by animals who could do some serious damage to me if they so wished.  We especially started to feel nervous when the tigers would start to play with each other or the trainers would encourage them to play. Having grown up with cats, I know that if you get them into a playful mood they get worked up and are likely to playfully attack you.  I actually found myself thinking quite a bit of my cats at home (yes, I know tigers are just a little different from domestic cats), but when they had us do things like touch their bellies or play with their tails, all I could think of was how my cats at home would have swatted me away (well, maybe Baxter wouldn't)...but still, it felt counterintuitive to all of my cat-handling habits that have been formed throughout my life.
The small tigers...that didn't seem so small at first. 

so beautiful!

I love this picture!

"OK, lay down on the tiger"  Wait...did someone really tell me to lay on a TIGER?!

Medium tiger

Nevertheless, being at the Tiger Kingdom was an amazing experience, even if at times it felt like the strangest photo shoot I'll ever have in my life.  But tigers are truly extraordinarily beautiful animals, even more so when you see them up close.  Tigers have always been my favorite animals to see at the zoo (yes, in my awkward middle school years I was really obsessed with animals and had a period where I wanted to be a vet/zookeeper.  I loved big cats so much that I spent my money on a book all about tigers.  What kind of middle schooler spends the little Christmas money they have on a book about tigers? THIS GIRL).  Anywho, clearly I never went down the vet/zookeeper road in life, but I still enjoyed all the animal interaction we got in Thailand-it fulfilled some of my long lost childhood dreams.

Love that beautiful face!

And this would be when they told us to make a mustache with the tiger's tail.

A little freaked out by the fact that my head out easily fit in his mouth...

Our time with the small, medium, and large tigers was pretty similar, but we saved the best for last--the baby tigers!  These guys (and girls) were TOO CUTE! I mean, how could you not love those little faces?  They were pure bundles of energy, but we got to feed a bottle to one of them, and then as we posed for some pictures with one, another guy jumped right up on our backs, creating some of my favorite candid pictures ever.  Just so cute.  I really wish I could have taken one home with me!

Again, not my idea. 

Oh, hey there!

I still look at the pictures from that day and can't believe that it really happened. It was really cool, and I'm glad we went and spent the extra money to see all the tigers and to get a photographer for the large and baby tigers.  Sometimes it's worth it to spend the extra money and go all out.

After we got back to our hotel, we took a little break (I was feeling fine, but I still felt really tired).  Once it got closer to evening we headed out to the night market.  Chiang Mai has a very well-known night market, so we were pumped to finally do some SHOPPING!
McDonalds, Thai-style.  Note: don't worry, we didn't actually eat in Mcdonalds while in Thailand.

Vendors, vendors everywhere!

Banana pancake.  Made with about 2 tons of butters, but I was told it was a must-try in Thailand! It was worth it!

Delicious and super cheap smoothies made with real, fresh fruit! YUM!

And shop we did.  You could buy just about anything at the market, and of course it was CHEAP!  What's not to love?  We bought plenty of souvenirs, got some banana pancakes and smoothies, caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, and called it a night.

Another successful day in Chaing Mai, if I do say so myself.

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