I've mentioned before about Management and I taking a round the world trip about 10 years ago. In all we spent about 7 months travelling around South East Asia and in that time we saw a LOT of temples of various denominations. Whilst in Thailand, we wanted to visit Kanchanaburi to see the Death Railway and the Bridge Over the River Kwai. Unfortunately as we were pushed for time by this point it mean't we had to take an organised trip and this included, oh no, another temple. And it wasn't even in the Lonely Planet.
During the journey though we found out a little more about Tiger Temple and discovered that it was newly opened to the visiting public and wasn't much of a temple at all. The big draw here was the fact that the monks had taken in some orphaned tiger cubs and raised them to be calm enough to interact with humans. They were very clear that these were not trained tigers, just calm, well fed, happy animals.
On arrival, we had to walk through the forest for a bit and we could hear the odd roar now and then. Our pulses were racing slightly already by this time and we hadn't even come face to face with these big cats! We were introduced to some 4 month old tigers which was an incredible experience. The boy tiger had to stay in his cage as the males are already bigger and more boisterous but the little female cub ran around us and we could stroke and play with her. There were other random animals around too like a strange goat called Bin Laden and a gibbon who came up for a cuddle. Gibbons are incredibly strong and the keepers in our local zoo don't even get in the cage to feed them because they can turn so easily and yet here we were with one wrapped around us.
If that felt unreal, we were going to be blown away by what happened next.
We were led to the small cages that the tigers are kept in for the vast majority of the day. The monks calmly got 3 tigers out on leads and started walking them down the lane. Then they handed us the leads. These are fully grown tigers weighing up to 300kg on the end of a thin bit of leather with only a wrinkled monk for protection. I don't know if I was more scared or excited. After a short walk, the tigers were let off their leads to play in the quarry area. They were about 20 metres away and so when they had a bit of a roar and a tussle over a tyre, the sound went right through your chest. It was incredible.
These monks are not trained tiger tamers and yet they were all that stood between a handful of tourists and 3 stripy killer cats. The phrase "Health and Safety" just had not been invented here. Strangely we always felt safe though. We were assured that tigers are naturally lazy animals and they will only attack if hungry or threatened, neither of which they were in danger of here. These awesome animals really felt like giant house cats that day.
I wish I could say that that was the end of the story, well it was until I came to do this layout.
This was the layout that won me a runner up prize at the crop but I had to wait to do the journalling until I got home.
I couldn't remember the name of the area so I had to look it up on our Travelpod blog. When I tried to search Google I saw that there were hundreds of links about Tiger Temple and so I had a little read around.
I had noticed that a few friends had recently had their photos taken sat with a lazy looking tiger while on holiday in plush resorts in Thailand. It appears that this temple started a trend and when they appeared on Animal Planet things really took off. Visitor numbers increased to up to 300 a day and over time the tourists had to be kept further and further away from the tigers at the temple although the resorts had caught on to this idea by then. The temple itself and the head Buddhist there (seen in the photo) were investigated by a wildlife organisation and found to be in breach of several laws. The tigers were sometimes abused, kept in inappropriate cages, they were illegally traded and bred. Although no proof has ever been found, many people believed that the "tourist tigers" are drugged. Although Buddhists are not supposed to have any money for themselves, there are "irregularities" surrounding the funding and finances for the temple. The suspicions are that what started as an innocent way of helping a few orphaned tigers, quickly developed into a incredible cash machine. I'm glad we were there in the early days but I'm really sad that it has evolved into such a controversial tourist attraction which has led to the probability of resorts drugging tigers too.
In a way I'd like to go back and see how it has changed but for now I am happy to remember the amazing experience we had back in the times when there wasn't such controversy and when we were able to get up close and personal with one of my favourite animals.