During the first few days of being in Bangkok I felt pretty ill, being sick and a general lack of energy, I think just a combination of jet lag and the heat, but my next trip was to visit the Tiger Temple, something that I did not want to miss. So I dragged my sorry backside out of bed at 6am and off we went. The first part of the tour took me to Damnoen Saduak, which is the largest and most touristy of the floating markets. Yes, it is touristy, and yes, it is catered for foreigners with loads of souvenirs to be had, but this is how Thai people ultimately shopped, and still do in some of the canals of Bangkok, and so for this reason it is interesting to see.
At the floating market, you get in a long boat, which sits about 8-10 people and they take you through the network of canals. As you pass the stalls, if you so much as look, they will haul the boat in, saying “you wanna buy?”, and you can look at their wares at your leisure. Bartering or haggling is common in Thailand. The idea is that they will say one price, you offer at least half, they will then say that they have a family to feed and tell you another price, and you just keep going until you reach an acceptable price. You can pick up some real bargains. However, if you are happy with the original price then that’s ok. You will sometimes find yourself bartering over 10p!
We passed some Thai homes and it is really interesting to see how Thai people live. Some of the houses are just wooden and they are supported on concrete posts in the water. You think to yourself that they have nothing, but most Thai people don’t know any different and a lot of them don’t know about our 2 up 2 down houses, our cars, our belongings. It sort of makes you feel a little humble because they are generally a happy race of people. Having lived in Thailand, one thing that I have learned about myself is that I don’t need all the material possessions that I used to own.
Whenever you book on these tours, there can be 2 or 3 destinations in one day, which means that you get to see more stuff, but also you don’t get much time in each place. You could easily spend a whole day in one place, depending on what you find interesting. Nevertheless, the next stop was Kanchanaburi.
There is a lot of war history here, and I wanted to see the Bridge over the River Kwai. (Or as it is spelt, and pronounced in Thailand, River Kwae). Am told that the river was not originally called the Kwai, but because the bridge was rebuilt there, they renamed the river. Allied Forces bombed the original bridge in 1944, destroyed 3 sections of it, and if you are interested in this history, this place will be for you. During the building of the bridge, for every life that was lost there was a meter of steel laid on it, and you can visit the Death Railway Museum and war cemeteries if you are interested in learning more about what happened during these terrible times.
Moving on from Kanchanaburi, was my next destination- The Tiger Temple. On the bus I met a couple from London and a guy from The Netherlands, so I hung out with them for the day. It sometimes nice to see these different places with people because at least you can comment on how beautiful or interesting you have found it. If you are alone then you find yourself talking to yourself! No? Just me then! There was no entrance fee but you could leave a donation to go towards the tiger’s upkeep and to help them build a “tiger island”. There are a few other animals here like camels and deer but it was the majestic tigers that I wanted to see.
The tigers are looked after by monks and Thai and foreign volunteers. Every day at 4pm they are brought down to a canyon for the many tourists that arrive daily. Instead of queuing and probably not getting the chance to see them up close, I paid 1000baht to “jump the queue” and have photos taken up close and personal. When it was my turn two of the handlers took me by the hand and took me to the first tiger. There are about six or seven big cats including some younger ones. The handlers position you and then put this massive tiger’s head on your lap and then proceed to take photos for you. The tigers are pretty docile, but at the slightest move the handlers move you out pretty quickly. There are rules to be followed to ensure your safety- you are not allowed to wear red as this may excite the tigers, and the tigers themselves are all fed cooked meat. The tigers have grown used to being handled by humans, but all animals have a natural instinct in them and any one little thing could set them off and this could be disastrous for them and the Temple.
There is some controversy surrounding this Temple. People say that there is interbreeding going on, the tigers are kept in small cages during the times there are no visitors there, they are drugged, and the money from the donations isn’t been used to build the tiger island. However, I don’t believe that the Monks would allow any harm to come to these cats. (I intend to go back and visit when I am back in Thailand next year, just to see what changes there have been). But, you will just have to pay a visit and make your own mind up. I enjoyed my visit there and was even reduced to tears because I was so overwhelmed at getting close to these creatures.