THE day with the TIGERS!

Trip Start Jan 28, 2013
1
9
32
Trip End Mar 02, 2013


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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oh I am so excited that I can hardly contain myself to write this blog!! Everything exceeded our expectations! I cannot believe I/we were SO CLOSE to the TIGERS!! Let me calm down and start from the beginning ....

We met our guide Kung, a very nice young Thai lady, in the hotel lobby at 4:30am. Got our box breakfast from the front desk and off we went. We had a spacious, clean, and nicely air-conditioned van for the 6 of us, plus Kung and our driver, Roger, who was a handsome and polite young Thai man but did not speak much English. Kung gave us an introduction of today's activities including detailed schedule for the tiger visits. Of course it was still dark, and there was not too much traffic on the road (even though there were plenty of trucks for that early hour). 

The tiger temple is in the province called Kanchanaburi, which is about 2.5 hours drive from Bangkok, about 100 miles. It is close to the Burma border. Our first stop was the famous bridge on the river Kwai. We got there shortly before sunrise, great time for photos. Unfortunately I have not seen that movie, but now I definitely will get the DVD to watch. There were a couple of food carts already in business - the barbecued meat with sticky rice, and the porridge, were SO enticing!! But I did not dare to get them:-( We were at the bridge for less than half an hour, and we watched the day getting lighter and lighter.

We got to the tiger temple before 7:30. We were among 20+ visitors for the morning tiger program, which was the BEST time for the tiger visit. It is more expensive than the afternoon program, but is worth every single penny! 

The first thing was to give food to the monks. Our guide had already bought the food, which included instant noodles, candies, etc. etc. All the visitors were lined up behind a row of tables. There were big platters on the tables, each platter was filled with food for the monks - e.g. boxed juices, cooked hot food (e.g. noodles) in individual plastic bags, instant noodles, candies, etc. etc. There were 10+ monks who would walk by the tables. We would take the food using both our hands, respectfully place the food in the container in their hands (make sure that we WOMEN did NOT touch their container!), then pay our respect by pressing our two hands together. We would do this for each monk. Oh, we must take off our shoes - we stood on our shoes - and no hats. There were a lot of volunteers there, who walked alongside the monks and dumped the food from their container into big bags (the containers were not big enough to hold all the food). We were told that these monks had no money and they did not cook. People gave them food every day, to show their respect. And the monks eat only 1 meal a day!

After giving food, we walked into the ground of the tiger temple, where we saw wild boars, "skinny cows", deer, donkeys, etc. We were told that when some people no longer wanted to keep their animals, they would bring them to the temple. The monks would help keeping them alive.

The first encounter with the tigers was in this big temple without walls. We took off our shoes and walked up to the temple where there were a number of baby tigers who were about a month old, and a few tigers that were a few months old, and two tigers that were 14 months old. They were chained to the ground (or to the poles) - the collars on their necks were wrapped in thick plastic so they did not hurt their necks. There we got to spend quite a bit time with all the tigers! We fed the little ones with bottled milk, we stroked the bigger ones, we took photos with them, I was in seventh heaven!! When the monks started chanting, everybody had to sit down. Then the visitors were invited to join the monks (and the volunteers) for breakfast. For those of us who did not want to eat, we continued playing with the tigers. The baby tigers were only 4 weeks old. They seemed to be much much more muscular and stronger than the lion cubs I held at the Lion Habitat. I wonder if these tigers got fed more milk ....

After everyone was done with breakfast, we walked out of the temple. Next was to walk the tigers to their habitat. I chose to walk one of the two big teenage tigers with Bob, the rest of our group chose to walk the little ones. Since there were 20+ visitors, we each got to hold the leash to walk them for a little bit, while the staff took photos of us using our cameras. By the way, there were quite a lot of staff members who were mostly volunteers. They were very very attentive to the visitors - no visitor was allowed to interact with the tiger without a staff member present.

Next thing was to wash the tigers and to feed them. The staff members put shampoo on the tiger's back, we walked behind the tiger and rubbed the shampoo in, then the staff rinsed them off. Bob and I were assigned to wash and feed the teenage tigers. The place was a little stinky - not sure if it was from the tiger cages nearby or what. These tigers were fed cooked chicken - if I remember right, they needed 400+ chickens per day total. The monks are not allowed to kill. The chickens were prepared by the town people. To feed the tigers, we were instructed how to hold the meat. I held a chicken leg to the big mouth of the tiger. I don't think the tiger was too hungry. He bit the chicken, ate it, without too much enthusiasm. I was a little scared and did not dare to get my hands too close to its mouth. I think if I get to stay there longer, I would be able to be more brave and feed the tigers like the staff members. Note that most of the staff members were young Thai girls, probably in their early twenties. They had no fear of the tigers and fed them using their hands just like how I feed my dogs! How I envy them!!!

After feeding the tigers, it was time for play. We were given long poles that had some plastic bags or stuffed animals tied at the end. We were supposed to use them to get the attention of the tigers, let them chase or jump, just like when people play with their house cats. We were in the yard with the tigers, with no barriers. But the staff members were with us each step of the way. We had strict rules for NOT approaching the tigers from the front. A Thai girl staff member was very nice to me - when she saw that I wanted to take photos, she took my arm and led me to the spots I wanted to be, and pointed me to tigers around me. She was so sweet and I was very thankful!

After the play, it was time to walk the teenage tigers to the canyon. We were divided into 2 groups, each group walking one tiger. One of the male tigers was well known for peeing. We were instructed about how to avoid being sprayed on :-) We each got to hold the leash of the tiger and walked behind him. The staff members took photos of us with our own cameras.

Then it was the time to put the big tiger's big head in your lap!! Not sure how old that tiger was, but his head was quite big - bigger than the teenagers' earlier. We were instructed to sit on the ground at a specific spot besides the tiger's head, then the staff put the tiger's head in our lap, then we put our arms around its neck and we should NOT move our hands to scratch him or do anything. It was quite exciting! Funny thing was that that tiger seemed to be sleeping through this whole thing, person after person. Later on I asked our guide if they drugged the tiger to make him so drowsy and docile. She said no, but they just fed the tiger meat and milk, so he was full and sleepy. Any way, believe it or not, I am just very happy to have hold that LIVE tiger's big head in my lap!!

Last thing of the morning program was to watch the big tigers play with 4 staff members. We stood behind the chest-tall temporary fence (which the tigers could easily jump over if they wanted). The tigers played in the water with 4 staff members. It was AMAZING! You will have to see the photos to get a feeling of it. 3 of the 4 staff members were Thai, 1 was an Australian. I spoke with him earlier - he was a volunteer before and came every year, but later he got a job. He's now probably the program director. It's obvious that he genuinely loved the big cats! I wish so much I could be one of them, to hug and to play with the tigers, like I play with my dogs!!

The morning program with the tigers concluded around 10:30. It was the most amazing experience I've had, in such close contact with one of my favorite big animals! It was really a dream coming true!!!  

I want to include the URL to the tiger temple here:
http://tigertemple.org/tigertemple_new/page_article.php?article_ID=153&id=67

After the tiger temple visit, we were taken to an elephant park and did the elephant ride. Our elephant had a one-month-old baby walking with us, which was special. Since we have ridden elephants a few times before (in Thailand, Cambodia, Africa, etc.), this was not that special to us. We chose not to do the elephant bathing and playing the water thing, as none of us wanted to get in the river.

After the elephant ride, our guide took us to an authentic Thai restaurant for lunch. It was SO GOOD! Much much better than the Thai food we had in the hotel restaurant.

We got back to the hotel before 4pm. That was 12 hours after we got up this morning. A hot shower felt very very good!

We met Lucy and Chris for high tea at 5:30 in the hotel lobby, which was perfect for dinner, as we were still pretty full from the lunch. We will go to bed early tonight. Tomorrow our guide will be here at 9am to take us for a full day's tour of various places. 
 
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Comments

luv2cruise
luv2cruise on

What an amazing adventure! The tiger's paws are huge!! You look quite at home with the tigers. Glad that it was everything you hoped for and more!

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