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A monk with a tiger at the Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi

Thailand 2009: Day 2 – Bridge over the River Kwai and Tiger Temple (Wat Pa Luangta Bua) in Kanchanaburi

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.

Early morning traffic in Bangkok
Taken from inside the taxi on my Nokia E72
Taking the taxi to the Southern bus terminal
Heading to the Southern bus terminal
Elevated toll highways in Bangkok
Most of Bangkok city is covered by elevated toll highways

My plan was to take a day bus to Krabi where I planned to spend most of my time in Thailand.

The Southern Bus terminal, Bangkok
You need to go upstairs for the ticket counters

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)

Southern Bus terminal where both state and private buses ply
Southern Bus terminal, where both state and private buses ply

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.

Inside the bus to Kanchanaburi
Inside the bus to Kanchanaburi

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.

Kanchanaburi town
Kanchanaburi town. Taken from inside the Mazda taxi

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.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Over 5,000 Australian, British and Dutch prisoners of war are buried here
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
The POWs were used by the Japanese to build the Thailand-Burma Railway

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.

Bridge over the River Kwai
The Bridge over the River Kwai
Bridge over the River Kwai
I didn’t bother taking the train ride

The Bridge over the River Kwai

The Bridge over the River Kwai
You can even walk on it

It was around 12:30pm and it was scorching hot, so I took a few more photos and then headed back to the taxi.

Jeath War Museum, Kanchanaburi
There was a war museum there as well… but I didn’t check it out

We then headed for famous Tiger Temple at Kanchanaburi.

Driving to Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi
Taken from inside the taxi
On the road to Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi
The pick up taxi I took
En route to the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi
The terrain looked fairly similar to what you would see in Karnataka

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.

Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi
The volunteers there wear the golden yellow t-shirts
Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi
Visitors are gathered at the spot where the tigers are
From here, volunteers take visitors one by one to each tiger
From here, volunteers take visitors, by hand, one by one to each tiger

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.

Me with one of the tigers at the Tiger Temple
The tiger wasn’t stuffed — he was just in that position — the whole time
A tiger at the Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi
See, I told you.
Me with the biggest tiger they had
This was the biggest tiger there. I believe they told me it was 4 years old.
Me trying to lie down with the tigers
Me kinda wishing I could place my head on the tiger
Tiger embarrassed too be seen with me
Tiger: “Let me sleep kid! Go away… no photos!”
If you want a photo like this, you have to pay 1000 baht
The 1000 baht pose

After spending around half-an-hour there, I went back up — where they had more tigers for you to pose with.

A tiger getting a massage at the Tiger Temple
In a country famed for massages, even tigers get them
A tiger getting patted at the Tiger Temple
Mounted the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 lens for these shots
A monk with a tiger at the Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi
Would have been nice if I got this shot without the tourists at the back
A tiger at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi
“Great, another moron who thinks he works for National Geographic”
A young tiger staring at me. Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi.
“Water … waaaterrrr …”

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.

Kanchanaburi town, taken from inside a taxi
From inside the ‘furnished’ 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:

Getting ready for my trip

The day I left for Thailand

Day 1 – Suvarnabhumi, Pantip Plaza, Fotofile & MBK

Taking the bus to Chiang Mai from Bangkok

Day 3 – Maesa elephant camp, ‘long-neck’ tribe village near Chiang Mai

Day 3 (Part 2) – Chiang Mai Night Market

Day 4 – Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai… and back in town

Day 5 – Leaving Chiang Mai for Phuket

Day 5 (Part 2) – One night in Phuket

Day 6 – Leaving Phuket for Ao Nang by bus (via Phang Nga)

Day 7 – Touring Koh Phi Phi (Maya Bay, Monkey Island & Bamboo Island)

Day 7 (Part 2) – Exploring Railay, Krabi

Day 8 – Flying from Phuket to Bangkok

Day 8 (Part 2) – Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok

Day 9 – MBK, Siam Paragon… and ‘little Arabia’?

Day 10 – Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha

Day 10 – Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and finally leaving Thailand

Figures, lessons learned, and things I couldn’t do

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