“Don’t be gentle with them…”
This was the instruction when approaching the first tiger. The 120lb. guide led me by the hand to the rear of the relaxing 300lb. tiger and says, “Tiger feel soft touch, tiger think it is fly. Tiger swat fly.”
Since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved animals. Favorite of all was the tiger, and I always have wanted to interact with one (preferably not as my last act on earth).
I don’t like zoos, circuses and the like for the most part. As I’ve gotten older, I have become less tolerant of animals being caged for human amusement.
But I shrugged all that morality aside for the chance to visit a Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand! It was the first side trips planned when I got to Bangkok.
Thailand’s Tiger Temple
With only a couple dozen visitors that day to visit the 10 or so tigers they had laying out in shady spots on the grounds on short chains, each of us got to go pet as many as we wanted.
After about an hour of this, they moved us to one side to group up. Then a Monk would unchain a tiger and lead a group down to a play type area in a shallow canyon for the tigers to spend the day.
Beyond the obvious safety lecture we got prior to walking up to a now essentially loose tiger, we followed it single-file down the winding dirt road. The lead tourist would walk a few paces next to the tiger with a hand on his back and the leash in the other hand, while volunteers took photos with your own camera. You ended up with photos that make you look like you aren’t scared shitless and hoping they remembered to feed your tiger while trying not to wet yourself.
I was in the first group, so while we waited for the rest of the tigers to come down we got to hear the guide tell us all about the facility, the handling of the tigers, the philosophies of the facility, etc.
You can read more about them or even apply to volunteer on the Tiger Temple website here.
Feeding, Bathing, Exercising the Tigers
There are a couple of add-on packages they have available.
For about $33US, you can bathe and exercise some juvenile tigers. Tigers love water and it’s always hot here. The one I bathed was more than happy to get the scrubbing and massage she got from me. Or she was about to kill me. Hard to tell from her face.
After her bath, they hand you a chicken for you to feed to the tiger. I was least enthused about this part, but the finger count came up good after it was over, so I call it a win!
The tiger’s play area looked suspiciously like an average gladiatorial arena with pools. Entering first into the water with my 90lb. trainer was a bit surreal. She had a piece of bamboo in case one of the 4 loose tigers in the enclosure started to play too rough with me.
They give you a bamboo pole with bags on the end. Basically a larger version of a cat toy you’d see at any pet shop. The tigers got bored with some of the toys, and if they grabbed it, they would not give it back. I kept my guide close should one of them leap too close to me.
The other activity you can do if you also want to also pay the $33 or so is to interact with the tiger cubs in their indoor enclosure. I didn’t do this one, but Maria wrote a bit about it on her personal blog.
So that was all I paid to get in and do all that: less than 60 bucks.
What Else is Included
I mentioned the volunteers using your own camera to take tons of photos for you. Since they do this every day, they tend to get some good shots. There is no charge for this! They don’t take their own photos and charge you $100 to buy a print like places in the U.S. I have tons of great photos from the day.
Another nice thing was after I survived the gladiator arena, I was free to roam around the property. Two of the monks had tiger cubs out on the grounds that you could basically just play with. Since most of the people were in the cub feeding thing, I was there with only a few other people for about an hour.
Since it is an active Buddhist Temple, all animals are free to roam the property. There are dozens of water buffalo and other cattle, as well as a bunch of little wild hogs and deer running around. The deer would come up and lick your salty skin if you let them.
Tigers are Fake! They Drug them! Photoshop!
I wasn’t entirely excited to be able to go to this place, as I had heard some negative stories about how they drug the tigers to keep them from dining on tourists, beatings, and other unpleasantness.
I saw nothing of the sort while I was there. The Monks seemed to love the Tigers, the volunteers and employees genuinely care about the animals in their care, and they weren’t at all lethargic. While it’s still a money-making venture for them, and they are using the animals to get dollars from tourists, feeding tigers ain’t cheap.
There are issues about whether the animals should be used like this at all, so I can see how it’s a sticky issue for some people.
The trainers on hand were very knowledgeable and cared a great deal about the animals. They would answer questions all day, and I felt better about the place after visiting myself.
I didn’t get here alone
Petting a tiger is something that’s been a dream since I can remember. Growing up, I just assumed it wasn’t something I’d ever get to do without being a big cat trainer or vet.
Back in 2010, I saw this post by Chris Guillebeau about his trip to a similar place in Chiang Mai Thailand. I had no idea this could be done! Thailand was already on my short list of places to go (I found Chris and so many others while looking at how to get there), so this post just made it more concrete for me. Now Thailand was a must!
The things I’ve learned from him and others is how I got to scratch this one of many things off my lifelong bucket list. I learned everything I could from Chris and others who live unconventional lives, and it was of tremendous help to get me where I am today.
Click on any photo for larger versions, check out the gallery below, and tell me if you want to visit the Tiger Temple in the comments below!