Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chiang Mai Night Safari

This was by far the coolest zoo I've ever been to in my entire life. I was expecting the night Safari to be located out in the boonies: a run-down "sketchy" cement building where bugs, dogs, and lizards roamed freely--this was the common scene I had experienced of Chiang Mai thus far...However, this was not so with this night safari. At dusk we drove into a large gated property. Deer casually grazed on the beautifully manicured lawn. Lights highlighted the gorgeous architecture complete with pagodas and intricately designed statues of elephants and dragons.

As soon as we got there we were directed to an open air trolley which drove us around the park to see lions, tigers, bears, deer, hogs, alligators, and cougars as they roamed in their large caged-off habitats. That ride alone satisfied our craving to see exotic animals, however, as soon as that ride was finished we were ushered off to a second trolley ride which led us to observe animals of the savanna: elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, and rhinos. The zebras roamed freely about the park. About fifteen of them blocked our road. We got to see the animals up close as they slowly moved to let the trolley through. It was so cool because all of the animals were out and about (most are nocturnal). Even the lions, tigers, and bears were visible, unlike zoos at home where the animals hide in their cheap plastic caves during the day.

One of the best parts of the night was our tour guide. He spoke English, but it was adorned with a thick Thai accent. He expounded on the ferocity of some of the animals warning us that if we were to leave the trolley and jump the electrical fence we would "die--forsure." As we looked at the black bears he explained that black bears will attack the first moving object so we must be very still if we ever meet one in the wild. However, if we meet a mama bear with her cubs we should run or we would "die--forsure." When we drove up to the large white tigers we oohed and awed and awaited the tour guide's explanation of how to avoid being eaten alive were we to meet a tiger in the wild. "If you meet a tiger in the wild, you shouldn't run away; you should just let him eat you because if you try to run away you will die--forsure."

I thought we were done with our night safari, but as I was adoring the beautiful open air marble women's bathroom I heard the theme from "Star Wars" blast through the park. Jessica came running in and told everyone in the bathroom to hurry out because something was going to happen. We ran out to the park's sparkling lake and lo and behold--A gigantic water screen projecting night safari images across the sky. Whoa--wasn't expecting that one. After the dramatic introduction the screen expanded, fountains started bursting out from the depths of the lake, colorful lazers and lights filled the dark purple horizon as the lake transformed into a breathtaking light show. We all laughed as the colorful swashes danced to the them from "Mission Impossible." I couldn't believe that the park chose to give this amazing presentation even though there were only 30 or 40 people in attendance that night. How do these guys stay in business?

So I thought that the light show was for sure the end of the Chiang Mai night Safari, but no...that's right...there was more! We walked through a third section of the park that highlighted more animals including fish, birds, snakes, tigers, porcupines, and hyenas. One of the coolest parts of this section off the zoo was when we disturbed a tiger. One of the big cages held two gorgeous white Siberian tigers. We were so close to them that I could have reached out and touched one. No flash photography was allowed because it bothers the animals and Jon said that if the tigers got mad enough they could easily jump the 15-foot walls holding them in...but you can't get a good image if a tiger is crouched within a dark cement cage. So what did I do? I gave my camera to my friend, Zach, and told him to take flash pictures of the animals while I hid behind Jul. He willingly obliged. The animal got angrier and angrier until finally he had had it with all the flashes. He crouched his gigantic body into an attack position and then "pounced" against the cage wall which sent a loud rattling echo throughout the park; Jul and I took off running and screaming...and can you believe it?--all of this for only 250 baht ($8).