Want to play with a 500-pound tiger?

I’ve always loved to play with my cats at home, so during a visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I decided I wanted to spend a day playing with Bengal tigers by visiting the Tiger Kingdom. How different could it be?

Actually, not that much. While you may think laying on top of a 500-pound tiger would lead to the possible loss of an appendage, the tigers were all really well-behaved. What really surprised me about the visit, however, was the fact that none of the big cats, which are not restrained in any way, were tranquilized or sedated. I actually didn’t really believe this until I saw them energetically thrashing and jumping about as the Tiger Kingdom workers started tossing around a piece of chicken.

So why are the tigers so tame? Mostly because they are used to people being around them, although camera flashes, sudden movements, and touching their faces or front paws can alarm them. There are baby tigers, medium sized tigers that are 6-9 months old, and the enormous adult tigers that are 10-20 months old. Playing with the babies is not much different from playing with your average house cat, and they are incredibly cuddly and sweet. However, no matter how many times the staff tells you it’s safe, when you are told you can pet and lay with the big cats you’re going to want to run. Don’t. Just relax and enjoy spending time with some of nature’s most beautiful animals.

For a better idea of what to expect at the Tiger Kingdom, check out the video above.