Tigers always fascinated me and its been a long dream of mine to see them in the wild. However i never ever dreamed that i could get close to one and touch it. Ever since i saw the documentary on the Tiger temple in the Discovery channel i've wanted to go there. And it should be no surprise that when i decided to go to Thailand the tiger temple was on the top of my list of places to visit.
The temple itself is located some 35kms from the Kanchanaburi town. Most guesthouses organize day trips to the temple for about 130 bhat, but i was in one of those moods and decided to rent a motorcycle and drive down to the temple myself. The map given in the temple's official website was very useful and i easily managed to find the temple using the map.
Having paid the 300bhat entrance fee, i went down to the tiger canyon where the monks bring the tigers for their afternoon exercise session. The canyon was relatively small, maybe some 50 meters long and some 15 meters wide. There was a small area for the visitors where they can sit on benches and watch the tigers. Occasionally the keepers would invite the visitors to cross the line to go pet the tigers and pose with them.
It was especially interesting to see how the keepers handled the tigers and kept them in check when they start to act a little grumpy. They just squirted water from small plastic water bottles on the tigers face and it seemed to calm them down and be more submissive. It reminded me of the novel "Life of Pi", its all about establishing dominance with the beast and remind them time to time who is the boss.
The keepers encouraged the visitors to go into and pet/pose with the tigers as many times as they wished. They also encouraged the visitors to leave a tip which would help them to build a new home for the tigers. It all looked a bit commercialized but later when i read about the history of the temple and their future plans, i believe all this is necessary for them to raise the necessary funds. I guess they want people to have a good time with the tigers here and rely on them to get the word out to their friends and them to their friends and so on. Such word of mouth advertising could be very effective indeed.
I went in three times, first time i went in to pose for pictures. Touching the tigers was an surreal experience which i guess i would never be able to experience again (unless i go back again to Kanchanaburi again, which i might). The tigers were huge and the hair on their back was hard and rough to touch, not like your common house cat. The experience would've been better if there were bit more responsive and appeared to enjoy someone petting them, but then these are no house cats.The next two times, i just went in to shoot some close up pictures of the tigers. The third time was the charm as one of the tigers got real active and went down to take a swim and cool off in the pool at the end of the canyon. It was in the water with only its head out of the water and looking at me. Making direct eye contact with the tiger was a bit chilling and the keeper asked me to back off a bit, just in case the tiger gets any ideas. Anyway guess it had different ideas in its mind and a little later it got out of the pool, stalked up to a tigress nearby and started doing you know what. Fired off some quick shots and was happy to see the tigers being active and not just dozing off in the afternoon sun.
After the initial disappointment of seeing the tigers appear sedated, i was happy about seeing the tigers moving around and going about the daily 'business'. I left a 100 bhat tip and headed off to explore the rest of the temple compound. They were providing refuge to all sorts of animals there, i saw some elephants, spotted deer and sambar deer, peacock, horses and wild boars roaming around freely within the compound and mixing it with the visitors. There were also some tiger cubs kept in cages, and i guess these must be the off springs of the tigers down in the canyon. The cubs were all playful and were playing with whatever they could get their paws upon. After about an hour or so of wandering around, i drove back to the Kanchanaburi town, satisfied.. with memories to last a lifetime and some amazing pics to boot.