We spent the first bit of our Thailand trip in Chiang Mai. The city is very religious and celebrates many festivals and events. There are a number of excellent opportunities to enjoy wildlife and animals in Chiang Mai, which was our main reason for heading there. Roger, our amazing host at Parami Guesthouse hooked us up with all of these amazing activities:
- Tiger Kingdom
The Tiger Kingdom is situated in Northern Thailand about 25-30 mins outside of Chiang Mai in an area called Mae Rim. We had hired a driver for the day (400 baht) to take us to Tiger Kigdom. Once you arrive at Tiger Kingdom you’re taken to a small building where you get to choose which Tigers you want to see. There is a range of options available at all different prices. We decided to go in with the smallest, small and largest tigers (1260 Baht).
We paid our money, literally signed our lives away (we had to sign a form saying we couldn’t sue Tiger Kingdom if we were attacked by a tiger as we were willingly taking the risk) and then walked in to the ‘kingdom’. On the way in there’s a large gate that’s guarded by one of the workers there. You hand over your tickets and they unlock it to let you in. The smallest tigers are closest to the entrance so we went to those first. We had to wait a few minutes while another group was finishing up with the tigers and then we were able to go in.
It was still early when we got to the smallest tigers so they were still rather sleepy. A few of them were starting to wake up and become a little playful but they were mostly yawning and generally being cute. We had a tiger handler with us all of the time who was telling us to hug the cubs and then he put one of the cub’s paws around my neck. Thankfully he was still a little sleepy so didn’t decide to chomp on my neck. We got to play with the other tigers for about 15 minutes, one wanted to play fight and nibbled on Faraaz’s leg. The smallest tigers were by far the cutest things I have ever seen. Holding a tiger is one hell of an experience too! I don’t think I’d hold a tiger that was any bigger than this one was.
After the smallest tigers we had a look around until we found the ‘medium’ tigers. These tigers were equally as cute as the smallest tigers but were a lot more relaxed. We got to play around with them for a while. It was like playing with a little puppy. I know it sounds odd comparing a big cat to a puppy, but it really was more dog-like than cat-like.
We were looking around for a while before we found the large tigers. As soon as we got in, one of the tigers Faraaz was sitting next to, got up and pounced toward another tiger! It was clear to see that these were A LOT more active than the previous lots. The handlers had huge sticks with them at all times to move the tigers if they got too close or became too playful. We couldn’t play with these like we did the others for obvious reasons (they would eat us) but we did get to sit next to them and have photos. One of the tigers rolled over on to its back and we got to stroke its stomach but that’s the closest to playing that we got.
Out of all of them the smallest tigers were my favourite. If you’re in Thailand then this place is certainly worth a visit! It’s well worth the money!
2. Elephant Training
The next morning we woke up bright and early and made our way to Eco Adventures Elephant Park. We arrived at the Elephant Park after a long drive and were introduced to the trainer. The trainer introduced herself to us and the day began. We sat at the table and she started teaching us how to speak to the elephant by teaching us the main words:
“PY” means “GO”… “PY” like “PIE”
“QUAY” means “TURN”… “QUAY” like “QUAY” like it sounds
“HO” means “STOP” … “HO” like “HO” like it sounds
“TOY” means “REVERSE”… “TOY” like “TOY” like it sounds
I couldn’t stop giggling, because I never thought I would ever be speaking to an elephant and just the thought of it made me laugh. Then she told us a bit more information about the elephants and then it was time to meet them. There were three elephants that were hanging around waiting to be fed. At first I was a bit apprehensive but after seeing Faraaz make friends with the elephants, I got a little braver. They are the most affectionate animals and the baby was so cute!
Anyway, we wandered around from elephant to elephant. We fed them both to their trunks (which have amazing dexterity) and directly into their mouths (which are incredibly weird looking). They knew when you were holding out on them by holding additional food behind your back and would ask for food if you were wandering past them on your way to another elephant. The baby elephant preferred peeled bananas and, if necessary, peeled them himself.
The next step was actually getting on the elephant. We were told we would be getting on bareback (without a chair), because it was safer and better for the elephant. I was so scared; I mean really the adult elephants were twice my height and just so huge, but the trainers helped me on and so the training began. We walked around an open field and I practiced the commands I was taught at the beginning. I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling… this actually wasn’t as scary as I thought. The elephant walked around so slowly and so calmly and I felt comfortable.
I then was given more bananas to feed them. We had already fed them so much, but they eat so much… so we fed them some more. We go on and off a few times until we got the swing of it and by that time it was lunchtime. We had an amazing home made Thai lunch and after that the real adventure began.
It was trek time through the jungle. For the comfort of the elephants, we rode them bareback; the only thing you had to hold onto when you were sitting was the ears and the top of the elephant’s head (elephant hair feels like thick whiskers). As you may know, elephants spray themselves with water when they’re hot. What you may not know is where that water comes from. Elephants store water in their stomachs. When they are hot, they essentially regurgitate it into their mouths, where they retrieve it with their trunks and spray themselves with it. On a hot day they don’t stop using this method of cooling down just because there are people on it their backs. Our elephant was particularly warm.
After an hour walking through jungle, going down scary slopes and crossing shallow rivers, we bathed the elephants in a river. By this point it felt natural to be surrounded by these majestic creatures and I didn’t want to leave!
It was a long day but this experience was definitely a highlight of our trip so far with the added bonus of a good workout included!
This has been a long blog post so I will leave you with some pictures of the animals we met at Chiang Mai Zoo (One of the nicest zoos I have ever been to). Look out for one of my favourites- the koala bear…
Coming up next: Sand, sea & surf- Southern Thailand