Date: Dec 14th, 2009
The next day, I woke up by 7am. Went down to the reception area for breakfast, which was included in the hotel room fare. I checked out by 8:30am and took a metered taxi to the Southern Bus terminal which is where all the buses to South Thailand set out from.
My plan was to take a day bus to Krabi where I planned to spend most of my time in Thailand.
But it was not to be. When I inquired, from the Southern Bus terminal, apparently only evening buses were available. Or maybe the lady figured I was a tourist and thought I was expecting the luxury buses. (Tip: Found this blog in case you want to more about the Southern Bus terminal)
Instead of wasting time in Bangkok, I thought I’d go to Kanchanaburi instead, which is 130kms from Bangkok city. So I bought my ticket (77 baht/Rs. 107) and boarded my bus which was departing soon.
It was pretty hot outside and the A/C in the bus was minimal. Fortunately, the bus was barely full and the journey wasn’t too long (1 & 1/2 hours).
We reached Kanchanaburi bus stand by around 11am. I was approached by taxi drivers as soon as I got down from the bus offering tours to all that Kanchanaburi has to offer but I first wanted to check my e-mail and get some water. While I was at the internet cafe-slash-computer repair shop, I checked the weather forecast for South Thailand. BBC Weather said it was going to rain in the coming days. “Oh crap” moment #2.
Kanchanaburi maybe a fairly popular tourist destination but the town is fairly small and a far cry from madness of Bangkok. After sending out a few mails, I took a Mazda pick-up truck taxi (something I haven’t done since the early Gulf years) and set out for the famous Tiger Temple which was 35kms away.
The driver said he would first take me to the Bridge over the River Kwai, which I didn’t know was en route to the Tiger Temple. But even before that, we stopped by the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
After that, the taxi took me to the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and you read about its history here. It’s mostly a tourist attraction now with short train rides available and surrounded by restaurants and street vendors.
It was around 12:30pm and it was scorching hot, so I took a few more photos and then headed back to the taxi.
We then headed for famous Tiger Temple at Kanchanaburi.
We reached the Tiger Temple a.k.a Wat Pa Luangta Buaat around 1pm. I was wearing a sleeveless vest and I had to change to a non-red coloured T-shirt as there is a dress code. Not to do with the fact it’s a place run by Buddhist monks but more to do with your own safety when getting close to the tigers.
The ‘temple’ is only open to the general public from 12pm to 3:30pm. The entry fee is a rather steep 500 baht (Rs.700) & video cameras weren’t allowed (or you probably had to pay extra for it). I walked in and was asked by the volunteers to run and join the group who were being led to the area where you get to see the tigers.
There are a lot of controversies surrounding the Tiger Temple. Despite being run by monks, many accuse it of exploiting the animals for money and some even question if the stories of how the temple acquired the tigers are actually true. You can read their response to all these queries in their FAQs but I did question their money-making means.
For the 500 baht entrance fee, you get to sit next to the tigers and have your photo taken by the volunteers using your camera (& bottles of water). If you want to have a photo taken with a tiger’s head placed on your lap, that will cost you 1000 baht (Rs. 1,300). I was approached by one of their foreign volunteers, a young woman, who asked if I was interested in spending the night at the reserve, feed the tigers the next morning and see them play — all for 1500 baht (Rs. 2,100). I kindly said no, citing I had to head back. I actually had to head back and I would have loved to spend more time with the tigers, but I just didn’t feel like giving them anymore money.
Even their international volunteers looked like a questionable lot. All young guys and girls who looked like they got into some sort of trouble and sought refuge in Tiger Temple with easy jobs as supposed to actually knowing a lot about tigers. I could be wrong, but that’s how I felt.
Anyway, back to why I actually came all the way here. The tigers.
I-LOVE-tigers! I have always loved big cats — especially since I was a child when I came across a photo book my father had on wild cats. Of all the big, furry, cute (yet dangerous) wild cats, tigers have been my favourite. It’s sad to know our national animal is on the decline the world over but a chance to be this close to them was something I would not have ignored.
After spending around half-an-hour there, I went back up — where they had more tigers for you to pose with.
By 2:30pm, I was done. They do have few other animals at the reserve but they were all animals most Indians have seen before (buffaloes, peacocks etc.). I headed back to Kanchanaburi town in the taxi.
The driver stopped at a bus heading back to Bangkok city. The ride to all the tourist spots and back cost me 600 baht (Rs. 836) and I tipped him 50 baht (the initial quote I was given when I arrived was 800 baht).
I boarded the bus and headed back to Bangkok city. I contemplated my next move. If it was going to rain the next few days, why bother going to Krabi now itself. So, I figured I’d go to Chiang Mai instead — and do my trip in reverse order. Something, I hadn’t planned for and something that would eventually cost me a lot more than I had budgeted.
Other posts in this series: