Monday, April 05, 2010


Sooooooo last Sunday (28th) was my 49th birthday.

Over the years I've marked surviving another year in a variety of ways, from getting tattooed and/or pierced in odd places. Odd places on my body that is, not odd places in the world. I've spent it in Paris, Brighton and twice now in Bangkok.

I have to say that so far, Bangkok is my favourite place to move closer to the grave than anywhere else in the world - anywhere I've been so far that is - something about the vitality of the city makes me happy to be alive, even if bits of me are aging rather too rapidly!

Anyway last Sunday, just being in Bangkok wasn't enough for greedy old me, I wanted to spend it doing something I've been dying to do since I saw Chris Crudelli do it on Mind Body and Kick Ass Miracles a few years ago, and that is go to the Tiger Temple and cuddle some tigers.

The temple's proper name Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, and its about two and a half hours from Bangkok. I'd resisted the temptation to pay way over the odds by booking the excursion here or in the hotel and took Chris's advice and went to Khao San Road and booked it for a fraction of the price from lovely Mr Thai Travel.

I had to be there by 11am on Sunday to get the mini-bus, and being my usual anal self I left at 9.30 in a cab to get over there. Just as well I did cos the Red Shirts were having a huge old rally and that meant most of the roads were closed! It took about 20 mins longer than it should have to get across town, and pissed the cabbie off no end cos he again refused to put the meter on. If he had, he'd have made double the agreed price! Karma baby!

I was still there early enough to have some delicious cinnamon french toast and another watermelon shake - soooooo addicted! - before the bus arrived. It was fascinating seeing the Khao San Road at this time of day, everybody setting up their stalls and people looking slightly less bewildered than at night time!

Mr Thai was waiting for me and wished me a happy birthday which was very sweet of him. I was first in the bus so got the pick of the seats - yay! We made our way up the road collecting an unusual bunch of folks from various tour operators. There was a young German couple who were very sweet, a boy with the dreaded dreadlocks who turned out to be a systems analyst not a lost soul as the hair led me to believe, and a fab mother and son from London. We also picked up some woman who was from god knows where but was the rudest person I've ever met - and I've met some assholes in my time. I didn't know if she was going to the temple or not but she was dressed like she was on her way to a slut convention! I'm still not sure why she was so angry - other than the fact her hairdresser had given her a dodgy Glenn Close "Fatal Attraction" perm - but she threw her rucksack at the bus driver and tried to flounce into the bus. This didn't work cos there was only a couple of seats left and very little flouncing room. Daft cow. If I'd been the driver I'd have slung her and her fucking rucksack down the other end of the Khao San Road!

Anyway, off we went and Jan who was sat next to me, and I got chatting. The journey passed in no time, and we even got to stop off for ice cream and a wee half way. Yes it was a squat toilet and yes I did, and no I didn't pee all over my shoes! Check me.

As we got close to Kanchanaburi which is where the temple is, we swapped buses and thank god lost the stroppy slut. I could barely contain my excitement. I'd read up on the place and seen reports both good and bad. Urban myths that they eat a couple of tourists a year, that they're drugged, all kinds of stuff. I choose to believe as the monks do, that these tigers are reincarnated monks and that as long as your karma's good you have nothing to fear.

We handed over our 500baht admission and Jan had to buy a pair of trousers cos her's were reddish in colour and you're not allowed to wear those colours in a temple. Luckily I was in my black combats and white linen shirt, so no extras for me. The guy that sold them to her was an american volunteer. What a cool gig!

We went through and the rules were explained. There were tons of western volunteers working there, as well as Thai employees. Again there were "extras" - we could pay another 1000baht and have a photo with the tiger's head on our lap or squat behind em for free, we could come back an hour later and get in a cage and watch some of them playing in the water for another 500 baht, etc etc. A few people were moaning that it was all a big old scam, but the reality is it costs like £16 to get into London Zoo and you don't get to cuddle shit! They also have 54 of these suckers to feed not to mention keeping the monks fed and watered! Having said that I didn't pay for any of the extras.

I had to hold my tiger wrangler's hand as she led me around the dozen or so fully grown tigers that were lazing in the midday heat. As I squatted behind the first one, it just didn't feel real, I couldn't believe I was thisclose to a wild animal! She told me to stroke his back and as I did, I felt he was wet. Turns out they all were, seems wearing a coat like that in 90-odd degree heat makes ya sweat!

My guide took a photo behind every tiger, and it all felt a bit production line, but then we were told to go over the hill to the nursery. We weren't monitored the same and could kinda do our own thing.

Oh my god! Baby tigers from 5 months and up were there for us to interract with! Unlike the bigger ones they weren't all asleep either! I cannot put into words how awesome it feels to be talking to and stroking and cuddling a baby tiger!

I could have quite happily spent the rest of my life with that little sucker, he was sooooooooo gorgeous! The bond between him and the monk was incredible, you do have to really give reincarnation some serious thought!

They had other animals there too, deer and buffalo, who seemed to be a moveable feast for the main inhabitants. If you had any doubts about the wildness or the alertness of these tigers you only had to look at the lust on their faces as they watched the little Bambi wander past! They even had a leopard that had been brought in. It was up in the tree and took us a while to see it, but when I did spot it, it reminded me of the Banksy animatronic leopard at the Bristol Museum!

All too soon it was over and we had to pile back on the bus back to Bangkok. I gotta tell ya folks I am gonna really have to go some to top this as a birthday treat!

As if that wasn't enough animal interraction, when we got back to Khao San I treated myself to half an hour of fish nibbling at one of the multitude of fish spas they have here. I'm not sure these little creatures actually do feast on yer dead skin, but it tickles in a nice way and it was good to get the dust off my feet!

By 9pm I was bushed, so I jumped in a tuk tuk and went back to the hotel. Now as you're aware I was not exactly enthusiastic about this hotel, but there on my coffee table was something that almost made me cry! A bunch of roses, a fruit basket - including a dragon fruit - and a chocolate birthday cake!

Goddam I love this country!



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