There are so many eco tourism and adventure options in Thailand’s north, especially in Chiang Mai. Few adventures anywhere in the world, though, offer you the opportunity to actually pet a fully grown tiger, truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai is a tiger conservation park, preserve, and restaurant. The park houses three large cages encompassing their grounds, where serene, calm cats are trained from birth to interact with humans. The mission of the preserve and park is to protect the tiger species while offering sustainable tourism on a very limited scale.
Amazingly, the tigers here are very calm, almost lazily lying about in the hot day. Each of the larger cages is about the size of two tennis courts, but holds only three tigers with plenty of room to roam. For those wanting a hands-on experience, the park offers the opportunity to pet a tiger. I didn’t feel in danger or the least bit nervous when petting the tigers. After the initial apprehension had passed, I was after all entering a cage with a large clawed animal three times my size, I felt a calm soothing feeling rather than the adrenaline rush I had anticipated. To tell the truth, I was more in danger of shocking myself on the electrified fence than being harmed by a tiger: in fact, one of the handlers had to tap me on the hip once or twice to move me away from the dangerous fence. Somehow, I had gotten too close to it without paying attention as I was marveling at the gracefulness of these awesome felines. I survived the electric fences with photographs to tell the tale.
Tiger Kingdom also offers a great full service restaurant. Food highlights include a not-to-be-missed papaya salad, and fresh tropical fruit juices made to order; consider trying the green guava juice that was both sweet and lightly bitter. Also available are a light pork meatball soup with vegetables and rice noodles and lightly fried catfish with sweet and hot sauce. Topping off the dining experience, several of the big cats play outside the restaurant in a pool of clear cool water, jumping to paw at a green leafy fishing rod toy and play with one of the handlers. You can’t help but compare these big cats to a domestic housecat playing with a feather toy on a string.