Tess and I love Thailand, the “Land of Smiles”. We have seen such beautiful countryside, the friendliest people and we had a tiger by the tail. Literally.
While on our recent Thailand tour, we took 10 couples on a journey from Bangkok to the upper regions of Chaing Rai. One of our most unique adventures was our trip to Tiger Kingdom. When we first looked into this place, we heard stories about tigers that were drugged and put into cages for tourists to pet. Didn’t sound appealing to us, but I had to see it for myself.
Turns out, Tigers are nocturnal, and if it wasn’t for us tourists, they would probably sleep most of the day and be more active at night. All I knew was that Tess loves tigers and the possibility of holding a baby tiger cub was too much to deny her. We decided to go in.
Tiger Kingdom has a lot of tigers. I mean a LOT. Many of them do not have any interactions with people, only a few select tigers. I decided not to ask why the other tigers did not have human contact. To tell the truth, I didn’t really want to know. I just wanted to get in, get out and have all my toes and fingers.
We each bought a package, Tess got the package with access to a baby and a full grown big tiger and I got a ticket to visit with an adolescent and a full grown tiger. It was tiger time.
I went in first, with a 10 month old tiger that was the size of a medium to big dog (probably around 65-75 lbs). The handler warned me not to approach him from the front, but to come around his back side and sit with him. Even though small, I walked very slowly and was more than a little nervous. Soon, I was leaning on his hindquarter, petting this beautiful creature and I began to relax.
Just then, a fly landed on his ear and he took his back, right leg and scratched his ear, the way a domestic cat would brush off a fly. Only thing was, I was laying on him with most of my weight. It didn’t matter, he threw me off, like I did not exist. I felt his power and understood in a moment that this tiger was stronger than any animal I had ever encountered in my life. And he was 10 months old.
There were two more tigers in the cage, but I was done. I’d had enough of a visit, it was time to head to a more gentle creature, it was time to see the babies.
1st of all, the babies were so cute, you simply cannot imagine how awesome it is to hold a baby tiger. The 1st one Tess encountered was growling in a way that was cute, yet let you know that even these 6 weeks old cubs meant business. “Put his foot in his mouth” the handler said and when Tess complied, the tiger began knowing on her own foot, growling as she knawed. “If she is biting her foot, she can’t bite you”. This is Tiger Kingdom wisdom and I paid careful attention.
Two of the baby cubs wrestled with each other like two kittens would, although they were bigger than any cat you’ve ever seen and WAY more powerful. She laid down with one tiger cub that was sleeping and Tess’ smile grew as big as I’ve ever seen. She visited baby after baby until she had spent almost 30 minutes in the baby tiger compound. I took as many pictures as I could, she would never forget this minute.
It was time to see the big tigers and I was not sure if I was ready for them or not. Tess walked briskly to the big cat area and we waited our turn to go into the cage. Inside, there were three big cats (and I mean big!). These were full grown cats that were almost 700 lbs.
The 1st tiger was sitting down and Tess went right up to him and sat down. The handler had a pole with coconut husks on it that he would shake (like a giant cat toy) to get the tiger to look my direction so I could take a photo. At first, the tiger watched the coconut husks with purpose, then, out of nowhere, the big cat lunged up and started to bat the husks back and forth (exactly like a cat and a cat toy).
“Nobody move!” the handler commanded, but I can assure you, I needed no instruction. I was frozen in time and could not breathe, let alone move. Tess laughed out loud and giggled while holding onto the6 back of the giant cat as she played with the giant tiger toy.
I mean, I’m a tough guy (kinda). I used to jump out of helicopters and flew in hurricanes, but this was something I could not control. This was a 650+ meat eating monster and Tess was having a blast while I froze in time like a statue.
“Wanna see the next tiger?” the handler said, “you betcha” Tess said and jumped up and headed to the 2nd tiger, sleeping nearby on his side. The handler pointed at me and instructed me to sit down next to the sleeping giant and lie back and put my head on the tiger’s belly while he slept. I started to lay back and then it hit me… “What if he wakes up while I am laying on him?” I asked. “You’ll be fine” the handler assured. I paused and then decided that this was close enough and decided to get on up.
Before I could get to my feet, Tess pushed me aside and took my place, throwing her long curly hair over the tigers mid section, using him as a giant pillow. “Take a picture of this” she commanded and I had already started taking pics with my iphone. You see, I knew no one back home was going to believe this.
It was time for the last tiger and I was ready to go, but this was the biggest tiger yet and Tess had to see one more amazing animal. This time, we both sat at the back of this huge tiger when the handler said “Pick up his tail” and I thought, why the hell not. I came this far. Let me tell you, a full grown tigers tail is heavy. Very heavy.
As I sat there, I thought to myself, I have literally got a tiger by the tail when the handler said “Bite it”. Bite it? “Bite what?” I said. “Bite his tail” our 105 lb Thailand assistant said. I decided that while having the tiger by the tail was pretty cool, I didn’t need to bite it to make this adventure any more exciting. And then he looked at me.
I mean, he turned around and just looked me dead in the eyes. He didn’t look happy, and I must say, he did not look mad either. But he looked right into my soul and I knew that it was time to go. No, it was past time to go, so I got up (much to the dismay of Tess) and I ran out of the cage, leaving her behind.
“Why did you run out of the cage” she asked me. She didn’t notice that when I rounded the front of the tiger, to exit the cage, I took one last picture with my iphone. This is the photo I took. Note: This is not a fancy camera with a telephoto lens, this is just me, standing in front of a giant tiger, taking a photo with my iphone.
Then he yawned
I snapped one last picture and then I ran out of the cage, leaving Tess behind. I showed her the pictures and she said “Cool pictures” and then said “Would you really leave me behind if you thought that tiger was going to attack?”
I told her “Someone had to get home and share these pics and tell the story about what happened to Tess, right after we had a tiger by the tail.”
We hope you will join us on our next adventure…