Wild times (Thailand with children)

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Roo alluded in his last post to the stamina of Lao revellers who spend three days throwing water on each other and passersby in celebrating Pii Mai Lao (Lao New Year). For me, the ultimate testament to both their stamina and water-throwing skills came towards the end of our stay in Vang Vieng when took a late afternoon elephant ride around town. The only time we were in the street was on elephant-back and we still managed to get soaked.

Open-mouthedRiding an elephant wasn’t our only close encounter with wildlife on this trip. The three of us also experienced the thrill of patting tigers at Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno aka ‘Tiger Temple’ in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok.

Not surprisingly, it was a surreal experience. We left Kanchanaburi town in the back of a songtheaw pick-up driven by a ‘Tiger Temple Thailand’ staff member at breakneck speed, arriving only 15 minutes before the tigers were due to leave the Tiger Canyon where they’re taken for their afternoon exercise.

Roo walks Wan the tigerWe couldn’t imagine how we’d accomplish the taking-photos- whilst-patting-tigers routine the temple is famous for, but we did. We joined a queue and were taken one-by-one by a minder who steered each of us by the arm among the tigers, sat us down with them, indicated where to place our hands, waited while another staff member took photos with our own camera, and steered us away again, ensuring at all times that we were behind the tigers.

I got to go twice as Tash bucked the rules and insisted on us going together. The process took about 1-2 minutes per person.

My favourite solo moment was being led towards a rock where two tigers were lying side by side and my minder flicking one of their tails aside so I could sit down.

Phra Phusit, Wan, Tash & RooMy favourite moment with Tash was seeing the huge, fearless grin on her face when she got to pat a ‘tigey’.

There turned out to be a few benefits in getting there late in the day. We got to escort one of the largest of the tigers, a male called ‘Wan’, from the Canyon with Phra Acharn Phusit, the Abbot who founded this forest monastery in 1994.

Just so you know, when you walk a tiger, stand on his left and place your right hand firmly on the center of his back. Walk at the same pace, stop when he stops. When you’ve finished step aside to your left and fall out. Never turn your back on a tiger. Tigers hunt by stealth and seeing your back will give them ideas.

At the end of the walk, Roo and Tash got to pat Wan’s head with Phra Phusit watching over them.

Late afternoon also meant feeding time for the rest of the temple’s menagerie. The staff threw pellets and vegetables on to the pathway and the animals swarmed in out of nowhere: families of wild boar, goats, Brahmin cattle, little horses, sambar deer, serows (an indigenous goat-like deer), buffalo, peacocks, roosters and chickens. The atmosphere was strangely calm, considering we were in the middle of a feeding frenzy.

The literature about the Tiger Temple notes a spiritual basis for the practice of wildlife rescue – the monks ‘respect all sentient beings as reincarnates’ – and describes the objectives of the monastery as ‘to propagate Buddhism and to conserve forests and wildlife’.

The resident tigers have all been rescued from poachers, brought to the sanctuary of the wat by villagers and even police, or born at the temple. FAQs on the temple website explain the tigers have been hand-reared on cooked meat and do not associate hunting and blood with food, but all the same visitors are required to sign a waiver on arrival that they will not sue the temple if they’re savaged by a tiger.

We were also warned not to wear red, pink or orange (thank goodness I packed one blue top), strong perfume, sunglasses (tigers see another tiger reflected on your face and want to play, advised our queue guard), and ‘no sexy’ – the latter out of respect for the monks, though, not the tigers.

[Note: I’m still sorting through our 300+ holiday photos and will upload a big batch soon. But I just had to have a few to go with this post].

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2 Responses to “Wild times (Thailand with children)”

  1. Helen Morgan Says:

    Thanks for the tiger tips! I’ve almost consigned the tiger idea for the next book to the backburner, but I’ll remember this just in case!

    I can imagine how you felt – patting the cheetahs in Botswana is still one of my biggest thrills ever. Just amazing.

  2. Two nights in Stung Treng… « Oh, the places you’ll go! Says:

    […] that’s a bit rich coming from a parent who let her kid pat tigers, but I lived in Laos long enough to get affected by the apocryphal stories of the Mekong claiming […]

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