Thailand as a country is considered one of the best natural wildlife reserves in the world. It was on my trip to the western province of Kanchanaburi when I encountered my first ever one to one wildlife experiences. Kanchanburi is located where the river Khwai Noi and Khwai Yai converge into the Mae Klong river of Thailand. It is mainly a Buddhist town housing primary tourist attractions like world war II cemeteries, the JEATH war museum , Vipassana center, elephant camps and my personal favorite- the Tiger temple!
Our day started early and we were picked up from our hotel at 6:30 AM by the Thai tourism group. A group of friendly, sweet guides -they explained the history of the place we would soon be visiting with so much passion we were instantly motivated to cross some milestones in our lives! Kanchanaburi is a small historical town scattered with silk houses, handicrafts shops, war museums and the famous bridge over river Khwai Noi.
A good 3 hours away from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi appeared to us as a small, quaint town with a lot of history attached to it. Our itenary included a trip to the war cemetery which till date pays homage to 7000 prisoners of war that died while constructing the “death railway” over river Khwai. The JEATH war museum is another tourist attraction which helps understand the role of Thailand in world war II, a lesser known angle.
The JEATH war museum is one of a kind, It is the “once upon a time” home of the prisoners of war and one cannot ignore blatant reminders of the plight of the victims who once suffered under the same roof. We took the speed boat from the JEATH museum to the famous bridge over Khwai river.
The bridge was was destroyed by the Japanese during world war II killing hundreds of British soldiers who were building a railway across the bridge that would finally connect Thailand to India via Burma!
Located very close to the border of Burma it is often referred to as the death railway!
Next, we moved on to the elephant base camp and this is where I met my darling friend Malador!
The elephant camp is located in the midst of the Thai jungles and is an absolute delight for anyone who loves nature. The elephants are well looked after, and seem to understand Thai very fluently! 😉 Riding elephants sounded like a dream when I came across the intenary months before I was in Thailand.. and I remember standing in awe as we watched the elephants gracefully walking around in camp.
My first encounter with Malador was when she nudged me on my stomach with her trunk! Naughty Maladar was the one I then chose to ride with.. the elephant ride is a walk along the jungle trails leading all the way down to the river! While this sounds fun, I must say we were scared out of our wits as we wobbled on top of the huge animal trying to trek her way down a steep slope.The most gratifying part of the experience is reaching down to the river bank where the elephant calmly washes itself playing in the water.
Our Mahaut was a shy little man who I casually asked if I could ride Malador myself. As he did not understand English, I was in for a surprise when he crisply jumped off the elephant and gestured at me to take his place on Malador’s neck! Riding Malador that day was an incredible experience, and I felt a deep connection between us as she took me around camp, letting me pet her along the way.
The elephant base camp also offers the opportunity to go bamboo rafting, which gives you another chance to be one with nature and take in the stunning landscapes.
The experience costs way less than it is worth as this is one place in Thailand which has to the potential to leave you with lasting memories.
Finally, we arrived at the place I was waiting to be at for months! The tiger temple is mainly run on donations and tourism funds, and as we made the long walk to the tiger canyon we saw several varieties of deer, buffalos, swine and monkeys! Imagine our surprise when we learnt that the Tiger temple runs on one philosophy and that is of peace.. this implies that no animal is hurt and all animals are conditioned to live together in peace- even tigers and deer!
The Tiger canyon is probably one of the most visited tourist attractions of the world, and yet..not many people happen to know anything about it. Let me therefore, take the liberty to take you through the tiger canyon the way I Saw it.
The tiger canyon is the main hub where the tigers rest through the day, usually in the presence of one monk. Tourists are allowed to visit and take pictures with these tigers in the presence of a local staff. As is expected, the tigers look magnificent, and like nothing else you will ever see. To see a tiger up close and personal, to touch it and pose with it is the bravest thing I have done in Thailand.
This royal beast is elegance personified. Surely, the experience of sitting in front of this gorgeous animal is better than the best HD cinematic experience in the world. Take my word for it.
We walked around and posed with several beautiful tigers- some willing, some not so much. One even swatted me with its tail as it sat growling. This, I was told was because feeding time was approaching and the animals were starting to get hungry. Natural instincts are probably the most powerful forces in the world, and yet to see how calm and patient these tigers seemed gave me a sense of joyous inspiration I hadn’t felt in a long time.
The most fun I had was with the adorable young tiger cubs. My favorites, these cubs were playful, patient, curious and kicked and rolled around like little bundles of joy.
If you’re lucky and there at the right time, you can walk along with the tiger and the monk as they make their way to the curb for feeding. If at the tiger temple, do not miss this. Watching a full grown tiger lovingly feed on milk through a bottle is an incredible sight. It is utterly stunning to see this bond of faith and is one of those things which are reminders of how much beauty there is in the mornings and moments that pass us by into oblivion.
I planned my trip to Thailand keeping the ancient tiger temple in mind. The first cub was found and rescued by the temple in 1999, and since then the temple has persisted as a natural sanctuary for Indochinese, Indian and presumably Malayan tigers.
I urge everyone to make an effort to save these beautiful animals from extinction.Save the tiger campaigns are worth your time and effort and I say this with all sincerity. You can log onto www.savetigersnow.org and be a part of this movement.
We spent the rest of the day and the rest of the trip indulging in Thai delights, but nothing after this compared to the tiger temple experience. I remember my day in Kanchanaburi as a day filled with love, spirit and adventure.. and isn’t that what travel is all about?