June in Thailand: The Tiger Temple

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The real reason why I wanted to go to Kanchanaburi was to visit the Tiger Temple. I know it’s vaguely gratuitous to see wild tigers in captivity, but getting close to these beautiful kings of the jungle was an irresistible premise. Before they let you into the area, you’ll have to sign off the back of your ticket. Doesn’t help that it’s all in Thai. I’m assuming that the sign below in English was what it said, rather than something like were I to die from a tiger mauling, the temple would get all my worldly belongings.

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No matter, the Tiger Canyon beckoned.

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It was a bit of a walk inside and I was glad to have met Tom, who was on the same tour. His enthusiasm and anticipation rubbed off mine and we got well excited just getting down the path.

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Only to come to a long queue in front of the tigers. They were all chained and the yellow-shirted volunteers thronged them, making sure that both tigers and tourists alike behaved themselves. Here you could choose between simply having a picture taken with a tiger for a small fee or paying an exorbitant 1000 baht (approx S$40) to have a picture with the tiger’s head on your lap. Being on a tight budget, we both agreed that we’d go for the regular picture, at the same time looking longingly at those who were happy-snapping away at tiger on lap.

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Needless to say, these were majestic creatures and we were surprised by how placid they were. Tom struck up a conversation with an Australian volunteer and he explained to us that the tigers had gotten used to the monks and the volunteers. As long as no red was flashed before them and the weather remained hot, they were generally non-aggressive.

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Despite knowing all this, something inside me was ready to run should the worst happen. They’d get someone else who ran slower, not me.

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Soon after, the unbearable humidity finally turned into torrential rain and the tourists started scattering. We were upset that having queued so long we still hadn’t our turn, but the volunteers insisted that photo-taking was over and that it was time for the tigers to retire for the night. The same volunteer told us that as the weather got cooler with the rain, the tigers would start getting restless and that was when any kind of aggravation would be dangerous.

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True enough, we noticed them starting to get up and pace and gradually getting more agitated. Reluctantly, Tom and I started up the slope. We were debating what to do as we’d come this far but hadn’t a picture taken yet, quintessential tourists we were. Tom spoke glumly about having to come back up the next day on another tour. We decided to hang around for a while and take shelter from the pelting rain before deciding what to do.

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The rain cleared and the Australian volunteer came by again. He told us that we could hang around and wait till some other tigers came out for a walk and we could get our pictures then. Soon the scattered remnants of wet and rather bedraggled tourists formed a queue behind the monks and volunteers. We gave our cameras to the volunteers and were given strict instructions to keep walking and to stay behind the tiger’s head. Before I knew it, I was holding the tiger’s leash, wondering what on earth I was doing as I’d obviously be dragged along the muddy ground if the fella decided to break into a run. Too soon, I had to give up the leash to Tom behind me.

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Thank God for second chances. This time I was relaxed enough to get close and pet the scratchy coarse pelt and force a grin for the camera.

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Tom and I returned to Kanchanaburi damp and smelly yet jubilant over our tiger experience!

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