Saturday, November 21, 2009
Goldfish in a Tiger Temple
Sometimes I feel like a fish in a bowl, therefore I must escape into
the sea. The weekends are my escape route and the nights are streams
that lead to bigger rivers. Each day I circle my fishbowl and look
for the new escape route for a new source of inspiration, for a new
lesson to learn, a new idea, a new mix to the potion of life.
Last Saturday was one of those escapes from the fishbowl.
Destination: Tiger Temple, which has little information available
online. Supposedly the best way to get there is by taking a tour
starting on Kao San Road, however those begin far too early for me –
6:30 a.m. – on a Saturday morning, no thank you, really. Of course by
going “free lance” I am also making the trip a bit more difficult for
myself, but being an independent young lady I can do these things on
So I met with my friend at the minivan parking lot at Victory
Monument, where a lot of progress has been made in the past year.
This “minivan port” has become a real hub for minivans, and it’s
become much more user-friendly with the signs written in both Thai and
English. You pay at the desk of the destination you’d like to reach –
destinations include Petchaburi, Cha Am, Hua Hin, Nakon Sawan,
Kanchanaburi, Rayong, Chantaburi, and maybe a couple more.
The van ride to Kanchanaburi city is about two and a half hours long.
It’s really quite a pastoral setting to drive through – the usual
banana trees, rice paddies, lush, green fields and such. Approaching
closer to Kanchanaburi province, hills appear in the distance. My
friend and I were the last two in the minivan by the time we’d arrived
in the town and we had the chance that our driver connected us with
another minivan to take us to the famous Tiger Temple, an additional
38 Km away (although it seems longer).
Just looking at the Tiger Temple brochure, it states that prices for
taxi from the bus station cost more than 250 Baht, which seems about
right because my friend and I paid 900 Baht combined for a personal
minivan, and our driver stopped to let us eat lunch and waited two
hours while we visited the tigers, and returned us directly to the
minivan we needed to get back into Bangkok.
Entrance fees to the Tiger Temple are 500 Baht for foreigners – I
stupidly forgot my Thai work permit – not only that, but I was also
wearing a skirt, which although covering my knees was not permitted,
meaning that I had to fork out an additional 200 Baht to purchase
these ridiculous diaper-pants that were hot and sweaty. What a
blistering heat at the Tiger Temple!
You enter the Tiger Temple on foot – red dirt and some wild boars
roaming around. This place is a wildlife sanctuary and the presence
of the wild boars is due to back when the monastery was established in
1994 and “an injured wild boar stumbled into the monastery and the
monks cared for him until he could be released back into the forest”,
says the brochure. His friends and family must have followed him back
to the temple along with other species of deer, buffalo, horses and
wild goats that freely roam the monastery grounds.
The Tiger Temple has become a sanctuary for tigers whose family
members are victims of poaching on the Thai-Myanmar border. The adult
tigers are poached for their skins, which fetch very generous prices,
and the cubs are left in the wild to fend for themselves. Back in
1999 the first tiger cub was introduced into the Tiger Temple and it
has become what it is today ever since.
So my friend and I walked about 350 meters to the “Tiger Canyon” where
a large cluster of male and female adult tigers attempt to cat nap
while being bombarded by both Thai and foreign tourists keen on
getting their pictures taken with them. From the start I realized the
commercial interest of the volunteers as I was approached by a young
Australian my age who attempted to convince me of the unique
experience of watching these tigers play in the water for an
additional 500 Baht. Perhaps this money will be passed on to an
interesting fund for feeding the tigers or helping to build their new
tiger island, however I wasn’t buying into it. You find yourself
surrounded by volunteers who take you by the hand as they take your
picture with the tigers who are chained to the ground in what seems to
me an inhumane fashion. And folks – for an additional 1,000 Baht, you
can get an extra-special photo taken with the tigers.
Of course it is a unique experience to touch these beautiful beasts
and take your picture with them, it is my opinion that this must all
be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, you cannot discount the
experience of visiting this interesting place. Whether you are an
animal lover or a pure tourist, whatever your motivation, you can gain
something new by witnessing the Tiger Temple. Although it is not so
simple to get there, it is more or less a recommended place to visit
if you have the extra time – at least one day dedicated to going there
– and you are prepared to sit in public transport for many hours. And
anyway, if you don’t escape your fish bowl, you will never see the