under the coconut tree

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tiger, tiger burning bright

Yoohoo... we're back in London. Nice cool weather, lots of greenery and I'm in the comforts of our home, treating ourselves to some nice home cooked meals. =) Even though it's just 2 weeks before we head back to HK, I intend to fully utilise my time at home.

Anyways, back to our Thailand trip. We were in Bangkok's Khao San area looking for tours that included the floating market, elephant rides and the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. After much scouting around and not finding what we wanted, we decided to rent a car along with a driver for 3500B. Quite a good deal considering we started our trip at 7am and only got back to the hotel at 7pm and most importantly we were able to tailor the day to meet our specific itinerary.

KL have always wanted to go to the Tiger Temple ever since it was featured in the Discovery Channel. We have been reading up on the place and found a fair bit of negative reviews on a few popular travel forums. As KL has a big soft spot for big cats we went ahead anyway with little expectations.

The entrance fee to the temple was 300B (US$10) : "expensive for what you get" was a common comment amongst fellow travellers. To be honest, having travelled extensively around the world - I personally thought it wasn't too ridiculously priced. Well, I guess if you were with a tour group making a quick in-and-out visit, you'd probably feel somewhat ripped off. We on the other hand spent the whole afternoon there - observing, photographing the tigers and spent some time exploring the temple grounds. After all, from our safari experiences patience and plenty of time are required where 'wild' animals are concerned.

The tigers in the temple are usually orphaned cubs that were brought in by neighbouring villagers. As far as we know the temple has lived up to its promise to take in and care for all living creatures for many years now, so we would expect some grown-up tigers. These cats get a daily outdoor "exercise time" in the afternoon, which is open to the public.

With the entrance fee, you get to have your photos taken next to the tigers (that are in good mood) in the canyon as many times as you wish. The tigers are chained and we were heavily supervised by each tiger's caretaker. On top of that, those feeling generous could opt to pay 1000B (USD30) to have a 'special photo's taken with the tiger's head resting on your lap.

As far as the negative reviews and controversies we had heard about, I do think some of them may have been a little unfair. Based on half a day's visit, the caretakers certainly seemed to be very fond of the tigers and clearly looked after them very well. Many travellers also brought up suspicions of the tigers being drugged to keep them sedated; we reckoned the sluggish tiger behaviour was because big cats normally rest during the day and would only be on the prowl between dusk and dawn. Anyone who has been to Africa would have seen really really lazy looking lions under an Acacia tree, dead to the world (even to the rumblings of a 4x4 jeep). And, true enough, they got pretty restless towards the later part of the afternoon - growling and pacing within the limits of the chain. All this said, I do have reservations about wild animals being chained and paraded to tourists in such a fashion. Surely this cannot be good for the welfare of the animals? And to the tourists also......standing within striking distance of one the the world's most lethal predator?

Tourists queueing for a photo oppurtunity with the tigers.

The excited yet apprehensive me posing with a sleepy full grown papa tiger under the watchful eyes of the abbott.
Towards later of the afternoon, the tigers were all up and about waiting to be brought back to their cages.
The abbott playing with the tiger cub.
A caretaker giving the cub a piggy back ride back to the temple grounds. Doesn't the cub look oh-so-cute?

KL taking the tiger out for a stroll. Or, is that the other way round?
After the hordes of tourists left, we got to spend some time with the cubs. This one was particularly playful (and hungry) as it was nibbling on KL's a fingers all the time. Hmm.... maybe he should have washed his hands after the KFC bucket!
The other inhabitants of the temple. The water buffaloes and a rooster that will soon to be flatten if it doesn't start to move out of the way soon.
The many wild boars (?) who turned up in huge numbers out of nowhere when the feeding bell was rung. Kinda frightened us, the onlookers as it looked like a mini stampede heading our way.
All in all, we were rather pleased we went to the Tiger Temple. A long drive from Bangkok but we thought it was well worth the trip. After all, not many people get the oppurtunity to get up close and personal with tigers and baby cubs!

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