For the jaded traveler who thinks they've seen and done everything, Thailand still has a surprise or two in store. For the chance to see wild tigers interacting with trusting monks, head to Pha Luang Ta Bua Yannasampanno Monastery.
This enchanting forest monastery is located just 38kms outside the touristy town of Kanchanaburi. Run by Abbot Pha Acorn Chan, Tiger Temple allows visitors the unique opportunity to interact with fully grown tigers and perhaps play with tiger cubs too.
Visiting the Tigers
Visitors who arrive at Tiger Temple in the afternoon can follow a path through the forest until they get to a canyon, where several large tigers lie in wait. Visitors are gently led by helpers over to the waiting tigers and told where to sit and stand in order to have their photographs taken.
Although the tigers may look tame, it is important to remember that they are wild animals. Each tiger is tolerant to certain parts of their body being touched and the helpers are experts at reading the slightest signals from the tigers to gage whether or not it is safe to approach. Even so, visitors are asked not to wear bright colors such as red and pink as these can make the tigers aggressive.
One of the reasons that the tigers may seem tamer than those usually seen in the wild is that they have been hand reared from cubs by Abbot Pha Acorn Chan and the other monks.
Top tips for touching tigers:
The monastery's Beginnings as a Tiger Sanctuary
Pha Luang Ta Bua Yannasampanno Monastery started life as an ordinary forest monastery. However, the compassionate monks always provided food for the forest animals to eat and the monastery soon became known as a place of refuge for sick and hungry animals.
However, all that changed about 10 years ago when an injured tiger cub was brought to the monastery by a local taxidermist. The taxidermist had been paid to kill and stuff the tiger cub, but he couldn't go through with the macabre task and instead brought the cub to the monks to look after.
Sadly, the cub was too weak to survive and soon died. However, soon afterward the monks were brought a pair of healthy tiger cubs to look after and a new chapter in the monastery's history had begun.
Poaching is common in the jungle surrounding Kanchanaburi and over the next few months several cubs were brought to the temple for the monks to take care of. The cub's mothers had been shot and killed by poachers for their fur and the cubs were unable to fend for themselves.
Through their continued care and compassion, the monks were able to rear these tigers and calm their wild natures so that they could be around humans. Faced with the enormous costs of feeding several hungry tigers each day, the monastery finally opened its gates to tourists so that they could use the admission fees to cover food costs and create a better home for the mighty beasts in the future.
How to Reach Tiger Temple
Getting to Pha Luang Ta Bua Yannasampanno Monastery is relatively simple. Visitors to Kanchanaburi will notice several tour companies lining the river offering trips to the temple. These companies herd tourists into minibuses in the afternoon and drive to the temple in time to see the afternoon feeding and bathing of the tigers, which lasts from 14:00 until 17:00. Those who prefer to travel independently can hire a motorbike in the town and simply drive to the monastery by following highway 323 northwest.
Another option is to book a daytrip to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok, which includes an early morning trip to a nearby floating market and a visit to Tiger Temple before taking visitors back to the bright lights of the city in time for dinner.