Monday, August 27, 2012
Monks and Tigers and Elephants (oh my!)
We got out of Bangkok yesterday for a day tour in the Kanchanaburi province. The day started out very early when the guide picked us up at the hotel at 4:30am. Of course, I am also having Crin.one every day so I had to set the alarm for 3:45am so that I could do that and whilst I was lying down for the requisite half and hour afterwards, I called my boys to check in with them. Thank goodness for technology honestly, I would be a lot sadder if I couldn't see and talk to my boys every day.
The drive out of Bangkok wasn't too bad - there was hardly any traffic and nothing was open at 4:30am!! I really don't like driving (or being driven) in Thailand - the traffic is a scary anything goes type of situation and they like to drive fast. We stopped to get a coffee (no decaf so I had to have a hot chocolate) and then got to the Bridge on the River Kwai at around 7am. We had a quick look around there and our guide told us about much of the horrible history of the Burma railway where thousands of allied soldiers died construction the railway line from Burma into Thailand.
We then got to the Tiger Temple. This temple for Buddhist monks was built in 1994 as a forest monastery. The villagers gave the first orphan tiger to the temple in 1997 and over the years, the temple has become a breeding place for the tigers. JourneyMan and I first visited the temple on our honeymoon, we went in the afternoon when the tigers were very sleepy in the heat of the day. The fact that they are very docile in the afternoon has led people to believe that the tigers are drugged, after our experience yesterday, I definitely don't think that this is the case!
When we first arrived at the temple, we gave food to the monks. We all had to line up and place the offerings in the bowls of the monks as they went by. As a sign of respect, we had to dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered) and take our shoes off. We also had to make sure that we didn't touch the monks or the bowl that they were holding. As they came past, we had to use two hands to put the offering in the bowl and then bow to the monk as they went past. When we were given all of these instructions (by an Aussie guy no less!), my bestie and I looked at each other and said 'what the?', we were stressed that we wouldn't remember everything and offend the monks. Once the process started though, it was okay but there were some stressful moments in there!
After we had given all of our food, we then went up to the temple where we able to feed some tiger cubs! My gosh, this was so amazing but once again we got a good talking to that these are not domesticated cats, they are wild animals and that even the babies can do damage if they get a hold of you. So, once again, it was an amazing experience but there was also quite a bit of fear there. There were around 10 cubs being fed (we gave them bottled sweet milk) and they would put their paws onto our knees while they scarfed down their bottles. Once they had all had their fill, we sat down and the monks gave a blessing, to the food and to everyone there.
Once the blessing was finished, we all sat down to have breakfast together. Our guide was wonderful through this whole experience, helping us out with the tigers (there were many wranglers there as well), explaining the blessing as it was being said, taking pictures of us with the tigers and then getting our food for us (wonderful Thai dishes, delicious!!). He also gave us many of the fruits to try, longan, longon, rambutan and mangosteens - the mangosteens especially were amazingly delicious!!
After breakfast, we took a tiger for a walk (yes, I know!!!) to go and have a wash and then (if you can believe it) we helped wash the tigers and fed them some chicken. I always knew that we were going to feed the tiger some chicken and it was something that I thought 'no way, too scary' but they were amazingly gentle - JourneyDog who is Woolly is way chompier than these tigers were!! Then we went into the tiger play area and were given big poles with play toys on the end of them and the tigers came in to play with us. There was one wrangler per person in this area but still, the terror doing this was overwhelming. My bestie and I lasted probably 5-10mins and then moved to a more remote area to watch - it was just so scary.
People then had pictures with the big tiger but my bestie and I sat that one out. It had been such a full on morning, it was hard to believe that this had all happened before 10:30am!! Once the pics were done, we took it in turns to walk with the big tiger to the canyon where we saw the big tigers at play in the water. It was amazing to watch these big cats - such an overwhelming, exciting, scary, once in a lifetime experience!!
After we left the tiger temple, we had an early lunch at a beautiful outdoor Thai restaurant. We sampled many Thai favourites - chicken in coconut, pork with hot basil and chilli (my favourite Thai dish) and chicken and cashews. It was absolutely yummy and one of my favourite things of Thailand, sitting in a lush outdoor setting eating fragrant, delicious food!
We then went on to the elephant farm where the amazing experiences continued for the day. We met the most beautiful, fun loving elephant called 'Full Moon' and we rode on her (bareback) in the water. She sprayed us with her trunk and then took great delight in bucking us off into the water. We got back on a few times and then she would buck us off again - of course there was a handler doing all of this as well but honestly, she was the most charming creature, we had a ball! We had a water fight with her - she won!! She also picked us up (singly) with her trunk and allowed us to hug her. Her hide was leathery and bristly but so huggable - it was really the highlight of the day but once again, it wasn't without fear attached to it. Sitting up on top of Full Moon, I couldn't help but think 'I am here for a cycle, I am a mother, I can't be hurt'!!
After getting changed into some dry clothes, we headed out to a section of the Burma railway that was built by hand, it was absolutely amazing - I can't believe that these poor POW's had to do this. There was also a cave that the Japanese used as a hospital in the war and there was a Buddhist altar in there. We asked our guide how we pray and then did what he said. In the past, I have always asked for help for things in my life - usually around cycles for the past 5 years. This trip, whenever I have prayed, I have just said thanks for the blessings that I already have - I do truly feel very lucky. My mindset is so different this cycle.
Then we were finally on the road back to Bangkok. This is always my least favourite part of the trip because we are on the scary roads, and I just want to get back because I am exhausted! The drive was made that much more hairy when it started to rain quite heavily. We had two things happen on the way back, my bestie needed to go to the toilet so badly and we got stuck in a traffic jam and she nearly had an accident in the car before we were able to stop for the toilet. The other thing that happened was that to pass the time, we started looking through the photos that the guide had taken of us through the day. Pretty soon, we realised that most of the photos showed us grinning, rictus like as if to say 'I'm having fun but am terrified of being eaten', we also realised that we are really two of the most non-photogenic people going around. Then it got silly - we started laughing at the photos and couldn't stop - we were howling laughter and had tears pouring down our faces. The worst photo was one of us at the Burma railway in what looks like a very downmarket clothing catalogue pose - everything about the photo was wrong and we couldn't look at it without tears of mirth running down our faces. The poor tour guide did not know what the hell was going on and still, we couldn't stop laughing.
Once we got back to the hotel, I had a chat with JourneyMan (JBB was in bed, sadly) and then we went and had a massage. Life is pretty good here waiting for the transfer!!!