Chiang Mai, Thailand:
Just when I thought nothing could top yesterday, along came today.
I had given up on playing with tigers after researching the Tiger Temple near Bangkok and seeing the terrible treatment of these gorgeous animals -- chained, drugged and beaten -- by monks, of all people. Just ridiculous.
But after arriving in Chiang Mai, we learned of a new sanctuary, Tiger Kingdom, that actually treats the animals properly without chains or drugs, and certainly no violence.
So that's where we headed this morning, pumped full of adrenaline at the thought of being able to cuddle with the big cats. What an experience!
There are a few different options as far as playing with the tigers at Tiger Kingdom, and being probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Jeanette and I decided to go all out and pay the big bucks to cuddle with all four tiger age groups -- baby (2-3 months), small (4-5 months), more small (6-8 months) and big (12-15 months). And by "big bucks," I mean about US $32.
We went into the cages for 20 minutes each and got the chance to cuddle and take photos with the tigers, everything from laying on their backs to holding the babies on my lap. At first, I was incredibly nervous about being just inches from a animal that, while bred in captivity, is still a wild animal in many ways. But once I relaxed, it was an amazing morning.
The tigers were mostly sleeping, as they are nocturnal creatures, but some were up and walking around. They all seemed to be well-treated and happy -- there's water for them to play in, plenty of shade from the hot Thai sun and two meals a day. Sounds like a nice life to me!
The pictures I got are simply extraordinary. To be that close to an animal, whether it's the little baby tigers or the massive adults, was breathtaking. Tigers are such beautiful animals and I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity.
After the Tiger Kingdom, we took a tuk-tuk back into the city for lunch and a long walk around Chiang Mai. We visited a few different wats (temples), including Wat Chiangman and Wat Chedīluang, before ending up at the Saturday Market. The market had a wonderful selection of goods, from food to crafts to clothes, and all at unbelievably cheap prices. A delicious chicken noodle dinner cost about US $1.
The shopping here is nice because you can get good souvenirs and products without breaking the bank, although I have to keep reminding myself that somehow everything needs to fit in my backpack to come back to Seoul. This could be difficult...
One more day in Chiang Mai tomorrow before heading off the Bangkok in the evening.