We have all made the argument before in our lives, pleading “I promise I’ll take care of it, I’ll feed it and walk it and bathe it everyday…it can even sleep with me.” This time the argument didn’t even need to be made, thinkCHUA wanted to take home a tiger too, only they weren’t for sale. On our visit to the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand we were able to pet the tigers, play with the cubs and take the tigers on a walk under the watchful eyes of the monks, but we couldn’t take them home. We were only able to take pictures and memories with us, even though the temptation was great to sneak a cub into our bags and back to our hostel.
thinkCHUA with tiger cubs at the Tiger Temple
The Tiger Temple or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua is located in western Thailand, an easy day trip from Bangkok. This temple is a sanctuary not only for Buddhist monks but tigers and other wild animals. The temple was founded in 1994 and received their first tiger cub in 1999. Villagers brought tigers to the monks at Tiger Temple in cases where their mothers had been killed by poachers or the tigers were injured therefore unable to survive in the wild. Slowly their tiger population grew until they turned the operation into a conservation project and started breeding tigers. Tigers are expensive “pets,” which is where tourists come in.
One of the many devoted monks that care for the tigers at the temple.
It costs roughly 100 USD a day to care for a tiger and being that monks don’t earn any money to cover these costs, tourists can visit the temple for 600 baht per person (roughly $20 at 30 baht to the dollar). This is substantially higher than visiting any other temple but gives you the opportunity, as I mentioned above, to touch fully-grown tigers and to play with cubs. The money brought in by entrance fees covers the costs of feeding and caring for the tigers. The temple is also reforesting a large amount of land nearby (‘Buddhist Park’) in order to give tigers a chance to be released into the wild in the future.
Me with a huge cat; “I got your tail.”
The temple receives between 300 and 700 visitors per day. However the throngs of visitors only meet roughly 20 tigers of the more than 70 that live on the temple grounds. Naturally with so many visitors there are many critics of how the temple operates and why the tigers are so “tame.” There is information all over the internet that support both sides of the story: one side is that the monks are wonderful and the conservation project is helping to bring tiger numbers up; or, the other side, the operation is a money-making scam keeping animals in captivity. It is difficult to find any substantiated evidence to prove that what the monks are doing is harmful and there is no doubt that the wild tiger population is decreasing, while those at the temple are protected.
Visiting the temple is beautiful even if you aren’t interested in the tigers, which are incredible. I have to admit we couldn’t resist the opportunity to get up close and personal with these majestic animals and I believe that the monks believe deeply in their mission to help wild animals. However, I also encourage any prospective visitors to the temple to do your research and make an educated decision about the project and your feelings about it before you join the masses in Tiger Canyon.
IF YOU GO:
If you make the decision to venture into the land of oversized house cats to play, make sure you are prepared for the trip. The following tips will make your visit stress free, unless of course you are afraid of tigers.
1. Dress appropriately, I know you’re excited about the tigers, but Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua is first and foremost a temple and you must cover your shoulders and knees. Also know that because you will be with the tigers you cannot use wrap skirts or scarves to cover up as the dangling ties will appear as toys to the tigers. Due to the heat, it is a great day for zip-off pants and a light t-shirt.
2. Have a camera with automatic settings, if you are on a long trip or an aspiring photographer you are probably hauling around a big SLR, but hopefully you also have a point and shoot. When you get your picture taken with the tigers you have to surrender your camera to a volunteer to do the shooting, make it as easy for them as possible and explain anything you need to before entering the area with the tigers where your movement will be restricted.
3. Bring cash, if you want to have a photo taken with a tiger in your lap or you want a picture with you and your friend with the tiger you have to pay (it was 1,000 baht when we visited) and there is no cash machine nearby. If you just want individual pictures there is no cost other than the entrance fee.
4. You won’t be alone, be prepared for lots of other “farang” and move quickly because most tours don’t provide you much time and you will probably have to wait in line to see the big cats.
5. A group tour is the way to go, you may not be a fan of group tours where you are herded around to all the popular sites, but this is the cheapest and easiest way to see the Tiger Temple. Book your tour in Bangkok as it is cheaper than in nearby Kanchanaburi and then you have transport covered to Kanchanaburi if you want to spend a night or tow out of the noise of Bangkok. Our guide was happy to drop us off at a hostel rather than bring us back to the big city.