The Tiger Temple in Sai Yok, near Kanchanaburi, was one of the big highlights of our first visit to Thailand. We’d heard the bad stories about mistreatment of tigers and the monks only being in it for the money, but we’d also met travellers who had given up 3-6 months of their lives to work as volunteers in the Tiger Temple, so we wanted to see it for ourselves.
On the surface there seems to be plenty not to like about it … not a temple to be seen anywhere, tigers forced to sit around all day in a dusty canyon being mauled by tourists, reports of maltreatment and even drugging of the animals, the occasional story of a tiger taking a snap at a tourist (role reversal?), etc, etc, but that was not our experience at all.
When we arrived at the Tiger Temple there were two queues to get into the canyon where the tigers are kept during the day. One queue already had about 50 people lined up, while the other only had a handful. So we decided to check out the shorter queue and see what the deal was.
In the long queue, people were waiting 1-2 hours to get in for and spend some time with the tigers. Their 500Bt entry fee into the temple park covered getting in to see the tigers and they seemed intent on wasting half their day to do that for no extra cost. They were not allowed to take a camera in and they only got to spend about 10 minutes in the tiger enclosure. It’s a long way to go for a 10 minute tiger encounter.
In the shorter queue, a handful of smart people were paying an extra 1000 Bt each (sounds a lot, but it’s really only about $33) to get a personal guide to walk them around in the enclosure, visit several different groups of tigers, get photos and video with the tigers and the full story about the temple. It seemed like a no-brainer to us. And we loved it! When in your life will you get the chance to get up close and personal with a wild animal like this?
So how can they justify charging 1000 Bt per person for this VIP service? Well, they say it costs about 3000B a day to care for and feed each tiger, so the money goes to a good cause. The temple began life in 1999 when some villagers donated a tiger cub, left orphaned after its mother was killed, to a local temple. Although that particular cub didn’t live very long, other villagers found and donated other tiger cubs to the temple and soon a thriving conservation activity was born which is now home to over 90 tigers, big and small, as well as lots of other interesting wildlife.
Most of the staff at the Tiger Temple are volunteers who actually pay their own way to work there with the tigers. I’ve not heard of too many of them complaining about what happens there. If you happen to stay until later in the day, as we did, you’ll have a chance to bottle feed the tiger cubs and see the big tigers at play as they are walked back to their den by the monks and handlers. There’s also a pen where they keep the tiger cubs and you can take your children in there to play with the baby tigers. It’s awesome.
There are lots of different package tours out of Bangkok that include a visit to the Tiger Temple. If you pick the right one, you can get to take part in breakfast with the monks, bottle feed the baby tigers, walk them to their morning exercise routine and even help walk the fully grown tigers down to the canyon. Check out Bangkok Day Tours package for the Tiger Temple. It’s expensive at 13,600 Bt for two people, but one of the best.
If you’re not going as part of a package tour, you can hire a songthaew from Kanchanburi railway station or bus station for less than 1000B round trip. If you’re self-propelled, it’s just off the road to Sai Yok, a couple of kilometres down a reasonably well sign-posted dirt road.
Note: This is a temple (although I couldn’t see it) and a tiger refuge. So wear appropriate clothing for both. This means shoulders and knees covered for the ladies so as not to offend the monks, and no red clothing or loose sleeves so as not to upset the tigers! They can get snappy.
If you feel you could spend more than a day here, see the best hotels close to the Tiger Temple
Feeding tiger cubs at Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi
If you wait around until the end of the day at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, you can watch or even take part in the bottle feeding of tiger cubs and walking the adult tigers back to their night enclosures.