We were hesitant about driving a car in Bangkok (they are crazy drivers), yet I had read about a place called the "Tiger Temple", located two hours North of Bangkok.
Before leaving the States, I had considered booking a tour in advance which included the Tiger Sanctuary but there was only one company I could find and it was really expensive. My advice… wait.
Get to Bangkok first and just hit up one of the hundreds of travel agencies along Khao San Road. We didn’t want to get ripped off, so I chose a decent looking agency that seemed to know what they were talking about.
It's about impossible to get a trip just to the Tiger Temple as the visiting hours with the tigers are limited; so we chose a tour that included other events also. Our mini bus picked us up the next morning, and we were a small group of six with a great English speaking guide. The driver was manic, like all drivers there, and we sped on out of Bangkok city and along the highways at breakneck speed. I noticed the hanging "shrines" all the drivers have hanging from their rear view mirrors and was pleased to see our guy had a pretty impressive collection. I hoped they protected!
The drive through the countryside goes something like this. Poverty, poverty, poverty, glitz gold temple, poverty, poverty, poverty, glitz gold temple… get the idea. One constant is the giant billboards of the King everywhere you go. That guy sure likes to have his face on display!
Our first stop was the Dameon Sukak floating market, which though touristy was very cool to see. We look a long boat along the congested canals and bought food which was being prepared from other boats. Foods, gifts, homemade crafts where all for sale from the river sides or other boats. From here we drove up to Kanchuburi where we got the chance to see what’s left of the original bridge over the river Kwai; built by the allied soldiers for the Japanese army. The small museum there was interesting too.
Then finally, it was on to the Tiger Temple which was another hour further north. The sanctuary is an old quarry surrounded by donated forest land. At three every day the saved tigers get released into the quarry for visitors to come and visit. I had done much reading up on the sanctuary previously and am well aware of the critics who believe the tigers are drugged for visitors' safety.
After my visit I’m inclined to disagree, overall this experience was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life! On arrival to the park we were given information on all the rescued tigers and the monks who care for them. We were handed new clothing (if ours was too bright so as not to piss off the tigers). Funnily enough one of the taboo colors’ to wear is orange. Odd only in the fact that all the monks wear Dayglo orange. You are given instruction not to make sudden arm gestures and to follow the monk’s serene movements as much as possible. We walked alone to the quarry (about ½ mile) and on getting closer could hear the occasional roars. I was getting nervous.
This side trip was an anniversary gift from Karl and I was beginning to wonder if he was trying to get rid of me or something??!! Our arrival to the quarry floor was greeted with an amazing sight… ten full grown tigers; all tethered on long (ten feet) ropes, basking in the sun and eyeing us greedily. GULP. We waited our turn (it wasn’t busy and some tourists just wanted to look and not touch) and then a Monk took me by the hand and led me to the first tiger.
I have to say my heart was beating so fast. I tried to move slow and copy the Monk as he sat me down right by the first tiger. I reached down and petted the creature and the thrill and emotions were unbelievable! What an experience. Then to the next tiger, and the next until my turn was over but just 5 minutes of waiting and I could go again and again. One particular Monk took a liking to me and had be lay on the tigers head and touch the huge paws.
There were a few scary moments when the tigers would bare teeth but the monks calmed them with some milky bread they would lay out, toys and pouring water on their noses for distraction purposes. At one point two male tigers did begin fighting but the Monks got everyone out of the way safely. It wasn’t a dangerous situation but the roars echoing round the quarry were a big reminder that these cats were not domesticated.
In all, it was the best experience of my life. Further donations are helping to build another 12 acres for the cats to live and play. All the cats there have been brought up as cubs and can never be released into the wild as they have lost their ability to hunt; but the next generation of cubs they are hoping to be able to release to live as true wild tigers. This will be easier once the next stage of their project is complete.
Check out www.walkingwithtigers.org for more info.