Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bitten by a tiger near Chiang Mai (not to worry; it was a baby tiger)

The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was very long and boring. Each train we have ridden this vacation has been different from the others. This particular train was not comfortable. It supposedly was first class, but that was a real stretch in nomenclature. The seats were uncomfortable; the train was dirty and not well maintained; and the air-conditioning was insufficient. For several hours during the afternoon there were also 10 oscillating fans mounted on the ceiling operating at full speed in addition to the air-conditioning system, and the temperature inside that train coach was 90F. After sunset it cooled down to a comfortable 84F. We were so very glad to reach Chaing Mai and get off that darn train. A 12 1/2 hour train ride to cover about 360 miles. At least the scenery was pretty for most of the trip. And for the return trip to Bangkok we will be in an overnight sleeper train so we will sleep through the boredom.

Our hotel in Chiang Mai was a bit of a disappointment. The Small Hotel is plenty nice enough, but we had reserved a room with 2 beds and instead were assigned a room with a single extra-wide king-size bed. A bit crowded to squeeze in 2 adults and 2 nine-year-old kids. The first night we were so tired from the long slow train trip that all we wanted to do was shower and drop into a deep sleep. We each managed to sleep well in the crowded bed so I guess we will deal with this room for the remaining time in Chiang Mai. I do not want to separate into 2 rooms if we can manage with the current room.

The hotel tourist desk provided information on many tours available. But all the tours covered at least a full day. Heck, some of the elephant tours required up to 3 days!! We wanted to see the elephants, but not 3 full days of elephants. We don't want to become mahouts! A cousin of a friend lives in Chiang Mai and we had email contact with her several months ago. Lisa had recommended the elephant farm at Mae Sa. The elephant tours the hotel recommended were at different farms. We decided not to book anything today and to contact Lisa for more information. Instead of a formal tour, we hailed a pick-up taxi and asked to go to This turned out to be a good decision.

The kids absolutely loved Tiger Kingdom. Children are allowed inside the enclosures with the smallest tigers and the small tigers but are no longer allowed inside the enclosures with the medium or large tigers. Maybe this decision has something to do with the fact that a 9-year-old child is about the size of many of the prey of tigers in the wild. The decision also might have something to do with the fact that 9-year-old children might get frightened and frighten or arouse the large tigers. We were fine with not going into the enclosures of medium or large tigers. Not something I had ever wanted to do anyway.

For a very minimal cost we had hired a professional photographer for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We received a CD of the photos as well as a copy of the CD to send home with the grandkids.

There were no newborns in Tiger Kingdom at the moment. The newborns were recently moved to the smallest tiger enclosure. The smallest tigers are 2 to 3 months old. Zachary and Elisabeth were allowed to pet several tigers in the smallest size enclosure. One had just been fed and was sound asleep. Tigers are nocturnal animals and the young ones spend up to 18 hours sleeping. When their little tummies are full, these animals sleep like the dead. You can pick them up and move them about and they do not awaken. Just like newborn babies.

Zachary and Elisabeth petted them; laid down with their heads on the little tiger bellies and listened to their heartbeats; and even kissed tigers on their foreheads. This certainly is not something someone does every day! The photo CD should re-enforce their memories for a long time.

One of the tigers was a female that was quite frisky. She had been playing with various other tigers and was quite the cut-up. While Zachary and Elisabeth were sitting on the floor petting the sleeping tiger, the frisky female came over to see if they would play with her. She crawled into Zach's lap and let him pet her. Then she suddenly lunged at his right forearm and took a big bite! She really clamped on! The photo at left shows the little tiger looking at Zach's arm a split second before she lunged and clamped onto his left forearm just below the bend of the elbow. At first she wasn't going to let go of his arm, but the trainer rapped her head with a small bamboo stick and then she quickly let go of Zach's arm. The baby tiger still had her milk teeth as she is still being fed from a baby bottle. But those milk teeth were still hard and sharp enough to soundly bite Zach's arm. It was funny that Zach was wearing his Star Trek Expendable shirt that particular day. (The guy in the red shirt is always the one who gets killed in any Star Trek show -- he is expendable.) The photo on the right shows the female first approaching Zach to play.

The bite did not break the skin; and we always say "no blood; no foul." But it left a solid red welt shaped of the entire mouth of the baby tiger. The photo doesn't do it justice. Ten hours later only the bottom half of the mouth-shaped welt was still visible. By bedtime the only remaining visible indication of the bite was a light bruise in the shape of the lower jaws with a tiny red line running through the center. We told Zachary that he is the only person we have ever known who has been bitten by a tiger. Bill told him that will be a great pick-up line to meet girls when he is older, and he won't be lying.

Both of the kids got to kiss a live baby tiger on its forehead. How cool is that!

Next were the small tigers. Tigers in this category are 3 to 5 months old and there were 3 tigers in the open air enclosure on the day we visited. The interior of the enclosure was separated by several electric wires to keep the tigers segregated. Two of the tigers were asleep in one section and the third was separated. I don't know why. The kids got to pet all of the tigers in both sections of the enclosure.

Bill and I stayed outside this enclosure. This visit was really for the kids; not for us. There were several trainers inside the enclosure with the kids, as well as the photographer. There were enough people in there to keep the kids safe if one of the tigers acted up. Nothing unusual happened.

The photos of Zachary and Elisabeth lying next to and on top of sleeping tigers that are almost as large as they are should be good souvenirs of their vacation to Thailand.

Next we visited an elephant farm and THAT was really interesting. Will write a separate blog for the elephants.

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