Like a scene out of Jurassic Park we drove through the armoured gates at Kanchaburi Safari Park Open Zoo ready to meet the hungry predators waiting for us on the other side.
Armed only with buckets of chopped-up carrot, we bravely wound down our windows and were immediately mobbed by a herd of hungry deer. Such looks of hunger and desperation I had not ever seen before; nevertheless, we drove on in search of bigger game.
Little did we know, we were about to come face to face with one of the most feared predators of the animal kingdom. The hunters were set to become the hunted.
Safari parks are never a good place to question authority so, when a sign on the next gate warned us to wind up our windows, we were more than happy to oblige.
Next we drove through the lion and beer enclosures at Kanchaburi Safari Park, an experience that meant more for us, no doubt, than it did to the other animals. The bears merely napped while the lions sat under the trees, shading themselves from the hot Thai sun.
The tigers, however, were immediately spooked by our presence.
Wallowing around in a muddy pond, two tigers at Kanchaburi Safari Park turned their heads to watch us as we parked nearby. Then, as we went to take photos of the marvellous animals, they turned back the other way – as if to say “if we ignore them, maybe they’ll go away”.
It might have worked, too, if our driver – my girlfriend’s “crazy uncle” Matt – hadn’t inadvertently parked so that a tree blocked my view of the tigers. As he backed up just the tiniest little bit one of the tigers lunged from the water and approached the vehicle.
With a look of pure animalistic rage, the tiger got within a few yards of us before we even had time to shit our pants.
It menaced us for about a minute before we took the best and safest possible course of action and retreated with hearts thumping in our ears, our tails firmly between our legs.
We had stared into the face of an angry tiger and lived to tell the tale.
Swarmed by a giraffe feeding frenzy
We went from being menaced by a tiger, to being swarmed by giraffe and zebra.
The animals were waiting for us as the next gate opened. Quicker than you could say “there’s a herd of zebra running this way!” we had giraffes to the left of us, zebras to the right – all sticking their heads in the windows of the vehicle.
The zebras would leave as soon as you fed them; the giraffes would let you pat them briefly before they went in for more, their seemingly disembodied heads floating down and through the windows without their bodies anywhere in sight.
It’s safe to say we were as close to these gentle creatures as we could ever hope to be – and certainly a lot closer than we’d ever want to be to that tiger that harassed us.
Who’d ever thought you could go on an African safari without having to travel so far away as Africa?
Kanchaburi Safari Park can be found in Tambon Nongkum, Bophloi district, Kanchanaburi, Thailand – just a couple of hours outside of Bangkok.
The park sells animal food at the entrance, where you can also have your photo taken with a real live tiger, and it runs a free bus service to take you through the park. It also has elephant shows and crocodile wrestling – but I can’t vouch for those; only the rather excellent open zoo.