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Treading with Tigers

With the adventures of the Mae Hong Song Ring over, I was back in Chiang Mai, and I had several days left to enjoy this great city. After saying goodbye to Cailin, Heather, Natasha and Aaron who left for Laos on Saturday afternoon, I went and aquatinted myself with the new residents of the Little Bird. I ended up falling in with a whole new crew over the next couple of days I spent there but I’ll spare most of the names got now because it was a large group. That first night though I met a british guy called Charlie who could have been Owen’s twin brother. The resemblance was uncanny. After forcing Owen to pose for a photo with Charlie, as revenge for him making me do it with some Irish guy we had met in Luang Prabang who he thought looked like me, we ended up hanging out with Charlie and his mates for the rest of the night. Charlie was traveling with his friend Dean, a towering slightly goofy looking man with dark shaved hair, beard and glasses. Dean was an amazing story teller and full of hilarious tales, I could fill many a blog post with them but not right now.

One of the "small" tigers taking a little cat nap.

We spent the evening playing Shithead, Deans rules, and knocking back beers before heading to the reggae bar. Again. At Reggae bar the house band was the same as the other nights, as was their set list, however tonight the crowd this time was anything but ordinary. There were a bunch of people dressed up in Halloween costumes, mostly Thai but a few westerners too. I asked one guy, who was running around in a kilt, why he was dressed up tonight since Halloween was tomorrow. “At midnight it’s Halloween” was his come back. Fair enough. At that moment Sarah, a Canadian girl from Little Bird who had been playing cards with us, tried to pull down his kilt. Luckily for me she failed as I was right in front. Later in the night I heard that it fell down on its own in front of a Thai girl who just screamed. Sarah and her friend Shannon introduced me to the game of Tingle spotting that night. A tingle is a Thai-english couple, and you have to call them out as soon as you see them, or suspect it happening, to get a point. There were a lot of Tingles at the Reggae bar.

Looking sleep after just waking up from his nap.

I ended up getting back to the hostel quite intoxicated at around 2am, and I was supposed to be going on a day trek at 8am the next day. I left a hasty note saying I had food poisoning and wouldn’t be able to make it tomorrow and asking to postpone to Monday. Then I went to bed. Sunday I slept in till around midday and when I surface from my room I had the guesthouse staff worried about my health and asking if I felt better. I mostly felt guilty. Since I now had a free afternoon I decided to go to Tiger Kingdom with Owen and Chantel. Tiger Kingdom is a tiger zoo of sorts about 20km outside of Chiang Mai. Basically they raise tigers born in captivity and if you pay them money you can go inside the enclosures with the tigers, under close supervising from the handlers, and go photo mad.

Another sleepy cat.
Chantel, Owen and Me chilling with our tiger pal.

Owen had already hired another bike that morning since he was too lazy to walk, and somewhat addicted to riding after The Ring. I didn’t want to hire one for just a couple of hours though. After considering riding triple, and then promptly dismissing the idea and questioning our sanity instead, I found out Charlie had a bike he had hired the day before. I borrowed his, agreeing to pay the late fee if I got it back after it was due to be returned and then we all high tailed it to the Tigers.

The last sleepy tiger in the "small" enclosure.

At the Tiger kingdom you have the option of which sized tigers you wanted to visit, baby, small, medium or large, with the price going up the smaller, and cuter, the tigers got. We chose to do small and medium. We had around 15 minutes with each group, and that was plenty of time. The rules of visiting were don’t approach tigers from the front, and don’t touch their head or paws. If you break the rules they will think you want to play, and tigers play rough. The whole experience was great. I had heard some people say that the tigers were drugged to be docile but that wasn’t the case at all. They are cats, so they sleep about 16 hours a day anyway, plus they are fed a lot. In the “small” tiger enclosure there were three tigers, all around 3 months old. They were mostly napping while we were there, but one of them got up and started playing with one of the handlers. It was a lot like watching a house cat swat at a piece of string, except instead of string it was a large branch of bamboo.

Chewing on some bark.
Me crash tackling a tiger, this Is Sparta!

When we were visiting the medium tigers, which were two sisters, Owen and I were crouched a short distance away in front of one and we got first hand proof they werent drugged. The tiger leapt up fom the ground and I though “time to bail!” and dived off to the side. The tiger lunged forward at Owen who was sitting their frozen, probably shitting his pants, and just before it got to him one of the handlers charged in and threw himself around the tigers neck tackling it to the ground. Apparently she just wanted to play. She spent the rest of our visit chasing after some toys made out of bamboo polls that the handlers were waving around.

You don't want a tiger to be making this face at you.
One of the "medium" tigers playing.

While the tigers were playing I chatted with one of the other handlers who told me that the tigers here are all born in captivity, and after they reach 2 years of age they are sent somewhere else (I can’t remember where exactly, some reserve/safari/zoo most likely). I asked what do the tigers eat, the answer of course: chickens. When I asked if they were live chickens he laughed and said “No, they not wild, don’t know how to kill chicken”. Anyone who’s seen a house cat kills bird could tell him otherwise, it’s instinct after all.

Also hope a tiger doesn't do this while eyeing you.

After the medium tigers we wrnt and looked at the Big Daddy, the large male who is used for breeding. He was kept separate in his own enclosure up the back, and you’re not allowed inside with this guy. He was pacing back and forth restlessly, and as we stood watching him and taking photos he turned around and sprayed piss at us. With that lovely present it was time for us to leave. On the way out there was a sign on the road that said “Long Neck Karen” and pointed down the road to a long neck village. From now on I’ll call all long necks Karen for short. Back at the Little Bird it was time to get ready for Halloween, but I’ll save that for a separate post as this one is already full of photos.

The way to long neck Karen