My husband and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand. One of the city’s hidden tourist gems is Harinezumi Hedgehog Cafe.
Being the hedgehog fanatic I am, we booked a guest house just a block or two from the cafe so we could visit several times during our week’s stay in the heart of the city.
The cafe is managed by a local Thai, but is part of a hedgehog cafe chain from Japan, where animal and pet cafes have soared in popularity in recent years.
We were early to the cafe the morning after we arrived and peered through the windows at hedgehogs in glass cages next to a counter where you could sit and eat next to them. I was stunned because I saw peeking through the glass what looked like Ginger‘s Siamese twin!
We were greeted by cheerful employees who obviously dearly love their hedgehogs. You can either order a drink or waffle and sit and watch the hedgehogs in their cages or pay a little extra to enjoy your drink and waffle and interact with a hedgehog.
We paid 300 Baht (about $10 USD) for the two-person deal: two drinks, two waffles and two hedgehogs would come out from the back room to play with us.
While we waited for our food, the servers seated us at a table where we could play with the hedgehogs they brought out from their back room. They brought out mealworms we could feed them, gloves if we thought their quills were a bit poky and there was hand sanitizer at the table to wash your hands before eating.
When they brought out our food, they moved us to the counter where we could watch the hedgehogs in cages at the front of the cafe scurry or sleep while we ate scrumptious waffles with fruit and ice cream.
When we were finished, we went back to playing with our hedgehog playmates while we finished sipping our drinks. I ordered Thai tea and my husband had coffee.
Since we were the only early birds that morning, the manager of the shop brought out some of her other hedgehogs for us to see.
She said the shop has about 30 hedgehogs in the back. They take turns interacting with humans. I found the hedgehogs to be quite socialized and willing to interact with humans, as far as hedgehogs are concerned. It seemed like they had gotten used to trusting humans strangers as long as their keepers were around to gently reassure them and give them a break when they needed it.
The shop also has guinea pigs that you can interact with. My husband Andrew prefers guinea pigs over hedgehogs, so he fed them some grass for breakfast.
We visited the hedgehog cafe later in the week as well, both in the evening and afternoon, since hedgehogs are nocturnal. The cafe was busiest in the afternoon. We discovered that we could eat our waffles next to our hedgehog playmate if we requested it. Separating food and hedgehog interaction time appeared to be a default measure to help western tourists, who are not used to animal cafes, be at ease. Contrary to popular belief spread by an overprotective CDC in the U.S., hedgehogs rarely carry salmonella and animal cafes take precautions to keep their animals from contracting salmonella, just as western petting zoos do.
If you ever get the chance to visit, I would recommend it. The cafe was clean, the hedgehogs were well-loved and customers were given options as to how they would like to enjoy the hedgehogs and their food.
The cafe is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. year-round; you should check their website for updated information: http://harinezumi-cafe-chiangmai.com/. By the way, harinezumi is Japanese for hedgehog.
Sara Marie Moore is author and photographer of “The Spike Cream Woods,” a photo-illustrated children’s book featuring her pet hedgehog Ginger in a fanciful ice cream forest.