However, I decided to put my qualms away and just enjoy the experience. Keep my eyes open and talk about it.
Following Tina’s advice again, we paid for a photographer to follow us around and capture the experience. This was good in that we got some lovely photos, but also distracting in that I wanted to focus solely on the tigers and the photographer wanted me to pose for photos. Again, they are catering to a market that wants photos of themselves with tigers.
Seriously - if you have just clicked on this link because you want all the tiger photos - go here instead http://www.flickr.com/photos/29033702@N03/sets/72157638072079726/
You had the option of playing with smallest, small, medium and big tigers. We selected a package of smallest, small and big tigers. It was clear that the smallest tigers were the most popular, with many people there being afraid to go in the cages with the larger tigers.
We started with the smallest enclosure. We were asked to wash and remove our shoes. Only a few people were allowed in at a time and there was an equal ratio of staff and customers. This enclosure contained half a dozen baby tiger cubs. A staff member checked each cub before it was placed with a customer. If the cub didn’t want to play it wasn’t made to. We had to sit down behind the tiger and were told what we could and couldn’t touch. One cub was placed near me, but he got bored very quickly and wandered off. Another cub was used to take his place.
The photographer very clearly had a series of shots and poses he worked through, getting us to pose. I was somewhat distracted by the fact I was playing with a tiger cub however. We got maybe 30mins in the smallest tiger cub enclosure and played with about five tiger cubs.
We then moved on to the small tigers. These were in the 4-6month range. Again we went in a small group and were allow to pat, hug and even lie down using the tiger as a pillow. We got to play with about three tigers in this enclosure. They took turns, first I got to play, then Bear did, then they got some photos of us together with the tigers. I have very few photos I like of Bear and me, so it was good to get some lovely shots of the pair of us.
We then moved into the big tiger enclosure. This was tigers around the 18month mark. These are pretty much full grown adult tigers. We got a bunch of photos with one tiger and then were moved on to a second tiger. Now tigers are largely nocturnal and sleep during the day, most of the tigers were fairly sleepy and indifferent to the parade of tourists. One of the brochures had mentioned that they could wake the tigers up to make them more active, most people want this because it makes for better photos, but the brochure said we could ask not to have these photos. So when the keeper started trying to get the big tiger to play with a shaky thing on a stick we told him not to bother. This made the keeper smile. We got some lovely photos of both of us with that tiger.
You should always treat tigers with respect
The tigers seemed well cared for, the keepers were not abusing them, if a tiger looked like it didn’t want to play, they weren’t forced to play. The older tigers were largely sleepy. The balance of staff to tigers and tourists seemed good. The photos were really good. Also – I got to touch a tiger!
We decided that given it was a last day in Chiang Mai and we had a driver we really should actually make the effort to go to Doi Suthep. This is the largest and most impressive of the Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai, it is on top of a mountain that overlooks the city. The devout can walk up 300+ steps to get to the temple. The lazy can catch a cable car.
This was a stunning temple. But oh my God the crowds… So many people. This is the number one tourist attraction in Chiang Mai and it shows.
We returned to the motel. Spent some time at the Night Market - which is the other thing people go to Chiang Mai for. It has all the market stalls, live performances, cheap massage and all the food.