Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai. Any place that offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal with these beautiful animals should be filled with skepticism. Here are my thoughts.

Good: Hugs, not drugs. The animals are well fed and cared for by fantastic staff that grooms them for human interaction from a very young age. From all angles it seems like the the tigers are genuinely looked after and, of course, photo opportunities are abundant.

Not-so-good: Tourism over education. Tigers here are born and bred on site and will never, of course, be released into their natural habitat, nor will they ever roam very much at all in the small areas they live. They may be well taken care of, but the reality is that these are big, beautiful, domesticated cats - not wild animals. While that’s for the most part expected, they could do a lot more to educate the thousands of daily visitors on the current plight of this incredible animal. Unfortunately a lot of people may come and go without ever knowing that the 3,000 or so left in the wild are disappearing quickly - hopefully that will change as their facilities grow.

So is it ethical? It’s great that they’re helping to keep the cats around, but seeing them lounging around for photos all day like they do here will leave a sour, selfish taste in your mouth, especially considering the nonexistent educational component. The Kingdom does, however, do it’s part to responsibly care for the animals; so if you’re okay with the idea that these cats are here to stay or be sold to a zoo, it’s an exciting experience. I have mixed feelings, but I will say that those little ones are pretty damn cute!


Letting Go with Light for #loykrathong

To see more photos of the festival, explore the #loykrathong hashtag. For more photos from Bien, follow @jsph on Instagram.

In Thailand and pockets of Myanmar, Malaysia and Laos, November 25 is the annual Loy Krathong festival — held at canals, rivers and lakes where those celebrating release ornate, buoyant baskets, called krathongs, to the water. “What I love about Loi Krathong is the idea of letting go,” says New York-based recruiting manager Bien Sunga (@jsph), whose travels to Chiang Mai, Thailand, coincided with this year’s festival. Several million Southeast Asian people and other travelers participate to honor Buddha and the goddess of water, and many hope to release negativity along with their floats. Bien likes this aspect best: “It is a good outlet to really separate myself from anything bothering me, so I can focus on the good in my life.”