Tiger Temple & Death Railway tour
We do not condone animal cruelty nor do we intentionally support it. Since this trip we have heard a few bad things about Tiger Temple, that the handlers hurt and drug the Tigers, this was not something we personally experienced during our time at the Tiger Temple (but we are not saying that it doesn’t happen). We were like any other tourists out there, we research activities to do while in certain destinations, we saw the Tiger Temple and decided that this would be an amazing experience, being able to get up close and personal with tigers. We read a lot of reviews both good and bad and decided we should see for ourselves.
Woke up a 4am, which is almost unheard of for us. We met our tour guide Ms Daeng and our driver Mr Nook from Tour with Tong. They told us it would take approx. 1.5 hours to get to our first stop the bridge over the River Kwai, then 30mins to Tiger Temple.
On the way we stopped at a service station to buy coffee and use the bathroom. I’m not sure “bathroom” was the right word as it was a small stall with a Thai toilet… it was an interesting experience to say the least… A Thai toilet is It is a porcelain bowl on the ground that you squat over and to flush you use a small bucket of water.
When we got the “bridge over the River Kwai” (a part of the Death Railway), Ms Daeng told us about the history of the death railway aka Burma Railway. It is 415km of railway between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar). It was built by Japanese POWs (prisoners of war) during WW2. There were about 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 POWs worked on the railway. Of these, around 90,000 Asian labourers and 16,000 other POWs died as a direct result of the “project”. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders. It took 17 months to build 415km of railway; some of the areas were very hostile environments to work in. Incredible yet so sad!
We arrived at the Tiger Temple around 7am, we were required to make an offering to the Monks of Tiger temple before entering. We were told that the monks only eat once a day (at breakfast). Our guide gave us some food and drinks and gave the instruction on how to offer the food to the monks. Females are not permitted to touch monks or anything they hold. We are told to “wai” the monks (the wai is performed by placing your palms together at chest level with your elbows close to your body and your fingers pressed together) it’s a sign of respect. I personally didn’t feel that the monks could care less that we were providing them with food or giving them “respect”, they grabbed their food and put in their bowls or in huge bags that the staff standing beside them had and continued along the line of people ignoring everyone.
Once the “offering” was over, we made our way to the Tiger temple/Sala. They had various sized “baby” tigers chained up. We are both animal lovers so to see animals chained up was a little daunting but I can understand why they were chained up, it was for the safety of the staff and visitors. Something to remember is that the tigers are still a wild animal. We were told by the handlers that the tigers are not chained up 24/7. While we were there, there was only 1 tiger cub which was 2 months old, which meant there was a bit of a “battle” for everyone to play with it, the handlers told us not to grab the cub and to wait til it came to us. We were also told that we would get to bottle fed a cub but there is only so much the poor little thing could drink. We bottle fed a 5 month tiger cub, it was huge compared to the 2 month old cub (note to others – don’t wear white pants while doing this, the cubs slobber everywhere!). The both cubs had huge paws, they looked a little clumsy. Their fur felt rougher than I had expected it would be. While we were feeding the cubs, the monks and staff were having their breakfast.
After their breakfast wee watched a Monk hand feed the tigers eggs and milk tables, it was an interesting interaction as the tigers seemed to be a little different our the monks, more at peace. We played with the baby tiger cub but as there were lots of people, everyone was trying to grab it and hold it, the handlers reminded people time and time again to let the cub “come to you”. Much like our cat “stinky”, the cub hated being held it was too busy doing its own thing and occasionally visiting people. It screeched like a baby and just wanted to be put down. One of the handlers suggested we get into a big circle and the cub would come around for a pat or cuddle but most people didn’t really listen and kept trying to pick it up, so the cub kept trying to run away.
We moved from the tiger temple to walk the smaller tigers down to the bathing/playing area, we were told repeatedly not to let the tiger behind you as it’s in their nature to attack if you turn your back. There was a staff member with us at all times and so we calmly and slowly made our way down to the bathing area and gave our mini tiger a bath, giving them a good soapy scrub, it was a lot of fun. Once they were all nice and clean we hand fed them whole cooked chickens, making sure our fingers weren’t in the way, it would be unfortunate to loose a finger.
Next we headed into the “play area” which was a big area with little pools of water and grassed areas. At the door we were given a tiger handler and a “toy”, which was a long stick with a bag or bottle on the end. They don’t look that great but the tigers seem to love them, and I when I thought about it our cat stinky loves toys on sticks or anything that makes noise. I was a little apprehensive about paying with the tigers as I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of these large cats getting super excited and jumping towards my “toy” or me. But once we got in there, it was fun and if the tigers got too close the handlers would step in between us and the tigers and make sure we were safe. The handlers had super fast reflexes, but I guess they have to if you are going to be looking after 300kg tigers.
After our fun with the tigers we had a nice cold drink and relaxed, while we sat back and relaxed, the handlers introduced us to two very large male tigers. We took a few photos with the tiger and then took turns walking them down to the canyon. When my turn came to walk this giant large tiger (which I could have probably ridden like a horse), it saw a horse in the distance and went into “stalker” mode, I thought he was going to run off with me dragging behind him. The handlers quickly got the horse out of sight and took control on the tiger before it did something to “scar the little tourists for life”, like tearing the horse in half.
Once we reached the canyon we sat back and relaxed and had a chat to one of the “head” handlers, he had been there for quite some time and told us that they have a vet that lives at there at Tiger temple in case of emergencies and that every year a whole group of vets come to the tiger temple and give ALL the tigers a COMPLETE check over, they seem to be very well looked after. We moved to “the cage” where we were able to watch the tigers playing in the water, with each other and with the toys and handlers. They really are like big cats and they can jump really high! This was the finale of the tiger temple tour for us.
As we were leaving we saw a really tiny new born baby pig! The handlers told us it had just been born and it had walked off from its mother and got lost, when I say it was a new born I mean brand new, It still had its umbilici cord attached.
After the very fun but tiring morning at Tiger temple, we headed to a local restaurant and had a very Thai lunch. Which included chicken and coconut soup(yum!), Love heart rice, spring rolls and pad Thai.
After lunch we drove toward the Elephant cam and made a stop at another section of the death railway. Our guide showed us the Krasae Cave which was used as hospital for POW’s during WW2. It now houses a large Buddha statue. It had a really nice view of the river, you could even see along the railway line, Ii can understand why there were so many deaths as It would have been very scary not to mention dangerous having to work on a cliff face.
We continued our adventure to an Elephant camp where we had an Elephant Bath with Full Moon the elephant.
Cost of the tour: at the time that we took this took which was October 2012 it was approx. 5,000 Baht per person, which included the VIP Morning program at Tiger Temple, lunch and an Elephant bath with Full Moon the Elephant.
Time frames: Pick up from Bangkok was at 5am and we were on the tour til later in the afternoon but it does depend on how many activities you have the energy to get through.
You can go back to Tiger temple in the afternoon to have a photo taken with a tiger head in your lap.
Our feelings at the end of the tour: I seem to get a lot of “crap” for having written about our experience. Was it right for us to go to Tiger temple? I don’t know… we had a great time and got to interact with tigers which is something I never thought we would never have done before. We can only write about what we experienced and for us we didn’t experience any drugging or abuse (other than the staff poking the tigers in the eyes with twigs – that upset me). We saw tigers interacting with the monks and the handlers, we saw that they were cleaned, well fed and exercised.
I believe there are a lot more tigers than the few we saw and who knows what happens to them. There I no doubt that this is a tourist trap and I personally don’t understand why so much of the money collected from these activities is going to building a new temple for the monks rather than providing better facilities for the tigers.
In the end we can only write about what we experience, we don’t condone animal abuse or animal cruelty. What is the difference between the Tiger Temple and a zoo? They are all caged animals… if they go free they are hunted and may end up extinct – it’s a catch 22. I’m not saying that the Tiger Temple is a good idea but is it better than being slaughtered?
Would I go back to the Tiger Temple? It was an enjoyable enough experience but given what I have learnt since visiting and read Turner’s articles on the Tiger temple, I don’t enjoy supporting a group that’s more interested in building a temple than they are looking after the animals that bring in food and money for them.
Turner Barr from “around the work in 80 jobs” has written some great article about the Tiger Temple as he was a volunteer there for 18 days a few months ago. A few of Turners articles about Tiger Temple: