Third time tigers

Today would be my third visit to the Tiger Temple after one touristy excursion and then a week working there in 2006. And things have changed. A lot.

Again, there may be repetition in this post compared to the earlier ones, but I will try to highlight the differences. First of all, a few points to note about anyone visiting – get there early. Virtually every trip from Kanchanaburi runs from 2pm to 4pm. If you do this, you will miss out on a lot. Get up there for 11am if you can. This may mean hiring your own transport or getting the public bus up, but it is worth it.

The public bus runs frequently from the main bus station and costs pennies, but drops you on the main road – a couple of kilometres walk away. Making your own way by moped is certainly an option if you have access to one. Cycling is a long way so bear in mind the distance and the heat.

The most common way is to get a converted flatbed with seats in the back and fill it. Drivers usually charge for the trip, not per passenger so the more you get (maybe a capacity of 10) the cheaper it is. These are the vehicles used for the organised tours.

After breakfast, we met Sam himself – the owner of the Rafthouse and two other places in the area. He’s Thai, fluent in English, and an incredibly nice and helpful chap. And a qualified pilot. With his own airfield out near the Tiger Temple. Cool. He called the taxi driver we’d used yesterday  and he gave us a good price for a return trip to the Temple. A few minutes later he was sat outside waiting for us and we hopped in with all our luggage.

The trip up was fun, watching the usual sights. The first thing I noticed that was different was the road running from the main “highway” to the Temple itself. Two years ago it was unpaved dusty gravel. Now it’s tarmac, with walls in some spots as well. Money is definitely being spent. At the Temple itself, parking is more organised, a couple more buildings are in place and the price had risen to 300 Baht for entry. You still have to sign a “these are tigers and might rip my throat out and I realise I can’t sue monks” declaration before entering.

Entering the Temple itself, the pathway up to the cages has changed a little. What used to be the female accommodation for volunteer staff now seems to be administration offices. To the left is the start of (I guess) the “wild” area where future tigers will play without human interaction. This wasn’t there last time I was here. Neither were the larger cages for the cubs with play areas. Or the waterfall. Or half of the tigers, come to it – they’ve had quite a few births since I was here in 2006.

One of the things you’ll miss if you go up late is being introduced to the smallest of the cubs. Leah got to cuddle one of these little beasts while I took photos. The largertigers were introduced and the tourists taken down in small groups to the Tiger Canyon area. The opportunity was given to “walk with the tigers” and have photos taken with your hand on the tiger’s back as it is led down by one of the monks.

More changes were visible at the Tiger Canyon. Guests are spoken to more frequently, there’s more organisation and more rules. Basically it seems more “touristy”, but this also means more organised. The tiger “teeth” on sale for 30 Baht last time are now 100 Baht and you can buy belts as well. Also, to have a photo with a tiger’s head in your lap is now 1000 Baht. Previously, this was done on spec – you got one if you wated long enough and were lucky. Still, there was a huge queue for these photos – the only ones where you can get more than one person in a picture. The other photos are still free, so don’t worry if you can’t afford to fork out £15. Water is still ice cold and free!

Fancy doing what I did for a morning? Mucking out, feeding the cubs and having breakfast with the monks? 4000 Thai Baht to you, guv’nor.

So, yes, it’s more regimented. It’s more of a “tourist attraction” than it was. But costs rise and there is definitely money being spent on the place. I can only assume that someone upstairs has started to look seriously at the money situation and these decisions have been based on getting the work done that has been the aim of the project since the start.

Oh, and no – they’re not drugged. As ever, I heard this… crap being whispered by various tourists. Here’s hoping this makes it onto Google: The tigers at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, are not – and I repeat in big letters with italics NOT drugged, doped up, tripping or otherwise maltreated in any way. The only drugs they get are for medicinal purposes (vitamins, antibiotics or anabolic supplements such as clenbuterol and others)

Yes, they look dozy when you visit. They’re used to people. They’ve just been fed. It’s the hottest time of the day when tigers, by their very nature, will sleep. Watch one of them being walked down to the canyon when it’s not in a good mood. Or how fast the staff move when one of them rolls over and could – just could – be about to “play” with a tourist.

They. Are. Not. Drugged.

Soapbox now goes away.

Our driver dropped us off at the bus station in good time to jump on one of the aircon buses for Bangkok. We had one transfer partway along the route where I panicked when I didn’t see my luggage being shifted between buses – all was fine, though, and we got to Bangkok South bus terminal in good time. There’s a new shopping mall at the terminal that we walked through (and had doughnuts in). The information staff were very helpful indeed, giving us various options for getting into the city.

We chickened out and opted for the taxi. Bus is cheap but would have taken ages.

In the evening we popped back to the cinema (so cheap!) and watched the surprisingly good Hancock. Will Smith does it again. I had my fears with the stories of reshoots weeks before it was released, but this is a great bit of cinema. No classic, but good fun.

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