Tiger temple – Wat Pa Luangta Bua, Thailand

Tiger Temple, or Wat Pa Luangta Bua, is a Buddhist temple in Western Thailand (about 38KM from Kanchanaburi). The temple keeps numerous animals, among them several tame tigers that walk around freely once a day and can be petted by tourists. Rumours have it that they are drugged to stop them eating the tourists – although this is certainly unproven.

In 1999 the temple received the first tiger cub; it had been found by villagers and died soon after. Several tiger cubs were later given to the temple, typically when the mothers had been killed by poachers. As of 2007, over 21 cubs have been born at the temple and the total number of tigers is about 12 adult tigers and 4 cubs.

Once a day, the tigers are led on leashes to a nearby quarry. Originally they would roam around freely in this area, but now with the increase in the numbers of tourists, as well as tigers, when they are brought to the canyon they are always chained. Thai staff and western/Thai volunteers lead tourists around by the hand to pose with and take photographs of the tourists using the tourists’ cameras. I generally felt quite uncomfortable with the tourist petting session as the tigers looked like they had been sedated with something. Apparently this is “the way they are” after lunch, in the afternoon heat, but I still decided against it and opted for simply taking a couple of photos.

According to some information I found on Wikipedia:

The Tiger Temple practices a different conservation philosophy than in the west. In western zoos and parks, the emphasis is on providing a natural environment for the animals. In the temple, at least until the sanctuary is completed, the animals seem to be treated more as family members. Although it may be possible for the offspring of the current generation to return to the wild, their parents will live out a life within the temple grounds. Their conservation philosophy seems to be working, as while projects elsewhere often need to resort to artificial insemination, over 10 cubs have been born at the temple in the last three years despite having no breeding program whatsoever.

Costs and getting there

The temple opens daily for visitors at about 1pm, and the tigers are walked back to their enclosures at around 4pm. Due to the pressing need for income, the temple now charges 300 Baht admission. The most common way of visiting the temple is to go on a tour from nearby Kanchanaburi for 300 Baht per head, or to hire your own Songthaew from the bus station for a group for less than 1000 Baht. Day trips are also available from Bangkok. Prices current as of July 2006 and do not include temple entrance fee. The temple now receives 300 to 600 visitors a day and above the 300 Baht admission fee, there are donations boxes all over the temple. To get ‘special’ photos with the tigers (ie more ‘intimate’ ones than just petting them), visitors are asked to give a mandatory ‘donation’ of 1000 Thai Baht. Insane.

Kanchanaburi – The bridge on the river Kwai

Has anyone seen the Academy Award-winning 1957 film The bridge on the river Kwai? It’s one of those classic war films that I loved so much as a child.

The film is apparently a fairly inaccurate depiction of the construction of the Burma Railway, also known as the Death Railway, or the Thailand-Burma Railway – a 415 km (258 mile) railway between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma, built by the Empire of Japan during World War II, to support its forces in the Burma campaign.

The living and working conditions on the railway were horrific. The estimated total number of civilian labourers and POWs who died during construction is about 160,000. About 25% of the POW workers died because of overwork, malnutrition, and diseases like cholera, malaria, and dysentery. The death rate of the Asian civilian workers was even higher; the number who died is unknown, as the Japanese did not count them.

The most famous portion of the railway is probably bridge 277 over the Khwae Yai River, immortalized by Pierre Boulle in his book and the film based on it: The Bridge on the River Kwai.

I visited Kanchanaburi for the first time in 1991 whilst backpacking in Thailand, and we had a rather bizarre experience staying in a house boat with an apparently psychotic English traveler who was utterly convinced he was being tailed by the CIA. This time around was a rather more civil affair, but no less interesting.

What to do in and around Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is a town in the west of Thailand, about 2-3 hours from Bangkok. It is the capital of Kanchanaburi province.

Apart from a trip to the bridge, also in Kanchanaburi are a war memorial and two museums: The Thailand-Burma Railway Museum (opened in March 2003) and the JEATH War Museum about the bridge and the Death Railway. The city is also home to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. It is the easiest access point to the nearby Tiger Temple, and Erawan National park and its spectacular Erawan falls.