Traveling with Gary and William to Kanchanaburi

Even though Tawn and I had a chance to visit with them in Los Angeles just a few weeks ago, it was a pleasant coincidence that Gary and William had scheduled a trip to Bangkok for the end of June.  We were able to see them several times during their visit, and they invited me to travel to Kanchanaburi Province with them to visit the Tiger Temple.

First stop was the town of Kanchanaburi itself, about two hours northwest of Bangkok.  This town, located on Maenam Kwai (“River Kwai” – pronounced “kwae”), is the site of the bridge made famous in the 1957 David Lean film, Bridge Over the River Kwai.  We made a quick stop at the very good Thai-Burma Railway Centre, the better of two museums in the city about the building of the bridge.

Next, after a delay of about 45 minutes, we jumped on a train pulled by a 40+ year old GE diesel engine for a trip across the bridge and about an hour towards the Burmese border. 

Riding in a nearly antique (but still considered standard, third-class quality by the State Railways of Thailand) car, our interest quickly faded as the passing scenery blurred into a hazy green.

William, leaning out the window, takes a few shots of the countryside.  Fear not, we were actually stopped at a small country station when he did this.  Otherwise, he would have been whacked in the back of his head by overgrown bushes alongside the tracks.

A lone motorcyclist travels a country road as we pass a pair of houses.

Young rice grows a vibrant green in rich, volcanic soil.

Can you identify these crops?  Our tour guide disappeared for most of the train ride, but I was eventually able to learn that these are cassava plants, from which tapioca starch is obtained.

After much too long on the train, we disembarked at a dusty whistle stop and boarded our van, which had been chasing after us.  About twenty minutes later we arrived at the Tiger Temple.  The temple itself started out as a forest monastery in the mid-1990s.  Over time, the monks came to care for insured birds, an injured boar, and other animals they either encountered or were given to them.  The large grounds of the monastery developed into something of a wildlife sanctuary.

In February 1999, the first tiger cub was brought to the temple.  The cub had been orphaned by poachers and then had been sold to someone who was going to have it stuffed.  The cub survived the botched procedure to euthanize it and was brought to the temple.  Over the next few years, other orphaned cubs were brought to the temple and the head monk cared for them in following the principles of compassion for all living beings.

My last visit there was five years ago and the temple has developed quite a bit.  It remains a very popular tourist destination and the visitors’ fees go to support projects to protect the tigers.  The temple has also come in for some criticism from animal rights activists, which I won’t go into here other than to say that I did not witness any signs of ill treatment of the animals.

Okay, not a tiger, but a very large fire ant.  I was impressed with the macro focus on my camera!


The tigers, much like all cats, were napping in the warm afternoon.  There were about three or four staff members and volunteers for each cat and we were instructed about how to approach the cats and then the staff would take pictures. 

There were also plenty of other animals roaming about the large temple grounds, including this very friendly deer named Ta Waan – Sweet Eyes – who knows our tour guide because he always brings a bag of dried corn with him to the temple.

After feeding her, Ta Waan became our new best friend, following us around the temple.

Many of the tiger cubs are handled by various monks.  They play with them and keep them out of trouble.  This one made a lunge for Ta Waan, who bounded away, and the monk literally had to grab the tiger by the tail to keep him from running after the deer.

Since my last visit, the temple has introduced several programs that allow more interactivity with the cats, all for an extra price.  One of the programs was being able to feed and play with the cubs.  Gary and William opted for this and ended up with some wonderful pictures and great memories.  You’ll have to stay tuned to Gary’s site for those pictures.

Another program was being able to exercise the big cats.  Visitors are escorted by staff members into the exercise enclosure (Daniel in the lion’s den?) and get to play with them much in the same way you play with your cat at home: by holding something at the end of a stick that they will want to pounce on.  The enclosure has good vantage points from which you can see the big cats enjoying themselves.

 

As for the danger level, these are definitely wild cats and I observed that a lot of work is done by staff and volunteers to ensure that visitors don’t do anything that would startle the cats or cause their natural instincts to kick in, causing harm.  I suppose that also keeping them fed (boiled chicken) and happy do a lot to minimize some of the risks.

While I was standing there filming from the wall (standing about where the man in the white shirt is taking a picture in the photo above), I suddenly sensed that there was something just over my right shoulder.  Sure enough, the tiger cub (pictured with the monk several photos above) was walking along the top of the wall and had stopped because I was in his way.

This picture, one of three that turned out very nice, wasn’t taken with any zoom lens!  I was about two feet away from his whiskers.  Beautiful animal but a bit unnerving to be caught unawares.

I’ll leave you with this video compilation, about three minutes of footage of the tigers playing in the water.

All in all, I think Gary and William had a fantastic time and I’d include a visit to the Tiger Temple on the itinerary for other guests.  It is certainly an experience you won’t have at home.

0 thoughts on “Traveling with Gary and William to Kanchanaburi

  1. WOW! I LOVE big cats! We have a wildlife sanctuary in Colorado… but you don’t get to interact with the cats… I would LOVE to actually get to pet one!! =]

  2. Heh… I know it doesn’t come close to acknowledging the power of a tiger / big cat, but my first thought upon seeing all of those beautiful photos? “Pretty kitty,” just like I say to my cat. Those are gorgeous animals.

  3. Very lively blog! Definitely I will have an adrenaline rush there. I noticed that Gary and William were braver than I am. They dared to hold the tigers by the tail, mmm.  Somehow, I am chicken and worry that this place might experience “accidental attacks” someday?   I have visited a Tiger place in NE China, but those tigers were in cages.  This is quite an experience.

  4. Beautiful animals! I would certainly enjoy visiting there. As child, maybe 9 or 10, I had the chance to pet a tiger who was in a zoo. I don’t remember where but I do remember my mum was against the idea. I did survive lol.

  5. Wow… I love cats and this would be a great experience. The close up pic of the cub is just too cute. It’s great to see pics of Gary and William! Maybe one day there will be a Xanga meetup in BKK?I just went to your 2006 entry. How odd… no comments?

  6. I love them! Another wonderful adventure with you two. This one is extraordinary! Saw the movie Bridge on River Kwai when I was 14 with my mother. Traumatic experience. Love the old train and the GE sign on the diesel engine. As always, your photos are beautiful. Video was thrilling!

  7. It was a great outing and I’d love to do it again! Thank you for showing the wonderful sights and sceneries, Chris. I’m glad you had fun too! Splendid job taking all those wonderful photos and videos, especially the up close with the tiger cub! We should spend at least one more week in BKK next time. How about a Xanga meetup, as Matt has suggested, would be great!

  8. the tigers look AWESOME. i wanna bring one to bring home 🙂 how far is that place from bangkok anyways? would love to visit the tiger temple the next time i go to bangkok.

  9. I enjoyed watching the video and Gary and William’s pictures. The monk smoking the cigarette was funny. I thought they renounced all wordly pleasure. Cute cub on the parapet, looked like it was scared to go into the water. Thanks Chris, this was beautiful.

  10. Cool. I love trains! They recently re-opened the express sleeper trains from the city to the southern part of the island of Luzon. I’m looking forward to try that out one of these days. Anyway, playing with TIGERS! Is that safe? But so cool! I would really love to travel to Thailand…next year perhaps!

  11. I went to Kanchanaburi ten years ago, saw the bridge, never rode the train though, visited the memorial museum and graveyard, stayed overnight by the river. Never knew about the Tiger Temple but I hope to go see it in November. Thanks for that!

  12. @Passionflwr86 – When I was shooting some of the videos, there was a lady standing next to me who kept doing that.  “Oh, good kitty.  Yes, who’s a good kitty?”  I almost turned and asked her, “Really!?”@Fongster8 – Ten years ago, the temple wasn’t very much.  It has grown quite a bit since.  When will you be here in November?@oxyGENE_08 – Is it safe?  Ultimately, they are wild animals and accidents could (and in one case, did) happen.  That said, the tigers are fed, well cared-for, and generally content so the impetus for an attack is lowered.  Also, there are lots of staff and volunteers and they enforce rules very strictly to ensure guests don’t do something that would incide the cats.@ZSA_MD – I’ve had questions about monks smoking.  Technically, they are forbidden to take intoxicants but smoking is not considered one.  That said, most senior monks have acknowledged that smoking isn’t a very proper activity for a monk.@lcfu – @rudyhou – Okay, you guys need to put it on your to-do list.@CurryPuffy – @ElusiveWords – Given the number of Xangans coming to BKK (four of the commenters to this entry) we certainly should do an official Xanga meet here.  As to your question Matt, I don’t think there were that many readers in 2006, just my family and a few friends.@nurseynursey – Thanks for the recommendation.  I’m so glad you enjoyed the entry.@LostSock21 – I didn’t opt for it because I thought I would be able to watch while William and Gary played with them and take pictures.  Later, realized that I couldn’t do that.  Next time I go, I will pay the extra money.@RulerofMasons – Well, I wouldn’t consider them “tame” at all.  They are cared for and fed by humans but are still wild animals.@murisopsis – Seeing them so close definitely gave me even more appreciation for how beautiful they are and why it is so important to protect them.@Fatcat723 – With both hands intact?  =D@The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – Oh, there’s actually quite a bit of time between most events.  I just manage to spread out the entries so it appears to be one continuous swath of happenings.@I_love_Burma – Didn’t know that you are in Bangkok.  What brings you here?  You can drive up to Kanchanaburi Province, take a bus, or take a train.  Once there, there are many song-taews (two-rows of seats in the back of a pick-up truck) that can shuttle you to the temple.@npr32486 – I worry about the profit issue, too, Nick.  There isn’t anything I saw that looked like extravagence so that is probably not a concern, though.  As for the safety record, there has been once incident several years ago.  The person did survive.  The staff and volunteers work hard to enforce rules of behavior that protect the guests.@agmhkg – Except for the part about enjoying the water, they really are like housecats.@slmret – Yes, that close-up was amazing, wasn’t it?  I was REALLY close so there wasn’t much to do but get a really nice picture.@awoolham – Thank you for the recommendation.  Glad you enjoyed it.@yang1815 – Thanks for the recommendation.  We’ll add this to your to-do list for the day when you both come and visit.@DScott5377 – Closing the distance from seeing them to touching them really makes a big difference in appreciating just how large and powerful they are.@stevew918 – Actually, our guide instructed Gary to grab the tail.  Also suggested he rub the tiger’s balls.  LOL@Roadlesstaken – Will get you one.  Game smuggling isn’t very closely monitored, right?  Ha ha… 

  13. @I_love_Burma – Nope, no restaurant! Just enjoy cooking. I’ve lived here almost six years now and work freelance in corporate training. For your holidays, have you considered heading north to Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, and Chiang Rai? Beautiful areas and should be nice this time of year.

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