Kanchanaburi Day Tour

Trip Start Oct 13, 2007
Trip End Nov 01, 2007

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This is an early morning, we have to meet Tong in the lobby of our hotel at 6:00am and then pick up the older couple that we allowed to tag along with us (They didn't plan enough ahead to book a time and were only here in Thailand for one day on a long layover.  The only benefit to it was it cut our cost for the day in half since Tong charges by the trip not per person), unfortunately this is quite a while before the breakfast buffet in the dining room opens up so no gorging this morning.  We left the hotel at about 6:15am in preparation for the long drive up to the Kanchanaburi area for the day tour.  Along the way we drove past a large  stretch of salt fields and shrimp fields that are fed from the ocean.  Our first stop was a quick look around a street market that sets up each morning on an active railroad track.  Three minutes before the train arrives to come through the town an announcement is made and everyone scrambles to pick up their store items from the tracks.  The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, herbs, and prepared foods was simply amazing in this fairly small area, but it was nothing compared to what we saw later at the floating market.  But, before we get to the market, we also made a quick stop off at one of the countless Wat's in the Kanchanaburi area.  The main interior area of the Wat was an extremely impressive collection of 3-D teak carvings covering the walls and ceiling telling a story about the life and death of Buddha.  Unfortunately, we were in a little bit of a hurry so we didn't have time to see all of the remaining buildings, we were in a rush to get to a Benjarong factory for a quick look around (mostly for a restroom break) and then to the Damnoen Saduak floating market.
Unlike most of the tourists that came here, we went past the long lines of boats with car engines attached to a small propeller and made our way to a flat-bottomed paddle boat.  The allowed us to traverse the canals at our own pace without the pollution (both air and noise) of this engine.  Tong is here on a routine basis with tour clients, so she knows the best places to have the human-powered motor (the paddler) stop the boat for purchases.   Most of the merchandise was overpriced and therefore not worth buying there according to Tong, however the food was a whole different story.  The selection and quality of the foods was beyond belief, especially the fruits and vegetables.  The same things that we pay three to four dollars per pound for in the United States could be found in the market for about twenty-five percent of the price.  The our breakfast consisted of an odd combination of barbeque chicken drumsticks, pork satay, fresh fruits, a vegetable stir-fry, a noodle and sprout soup with beef, and a noodle dish with chicken.  While there, we picked up quite a bit of fruits and vegetables for later in the trip and some extra pork and chicken for the canal dogs that tend to wait for handouts.   After that, we spent about another 35-40 minutes paddling through the back areas of the canals where tourists in the group gatherings will never see.  One last trip through the main tourist-trap area of the market netted us another 4-5 pounds of mangoes and some Chinese pears.  After leaving the boat, we wandered briefly in one of the dock market areas to look at the merchandise there, but didn't buy anything since it was mostly merchandise for non-discriminating tourists that would buy anything just because it said Thailand on it. 
An adventure in getting the van out of the tight parking area led us back on our journey towards a hand-crafted furniture and decoration gallery (again, mostly a stop for a look around and a quick restroom break).  The work being done on the slabs of teak was amazing, some of the projects taking between 6 and 9 months for the completion of one work.  Most of the work was for sale, but only to people in a slightly different economic demographic that we're in.  With the exception of the small pieces that could just about fit in a wallet, everything was a little out of our range.  Small pieces of furniture ran about $1,500 excluding shipping, while some of the larger pieces like a ten foot by ten foot wall hanging was $23,500, but that included shipping.  After gawking for a little while, it was time to get back on the road and on our way to the Tiger Temple.
The journey from the Handicraft Center to the Tiger Temple took a little bit over an hour through the mountainous regions of Kanchanaburi.  Turning up the road towards the temple you'd never know you were heading in the right direction except for a little sign at the turn off point.  When you get to the entrance area, there's a small reception spot for paying your 300 baht (about $8.50) admission into the walled in temple area.  Immediately upon entrance, you follow a gravel pathway towards the main area and the number of animals living inside that are not tigers becomes clear.  Everywhere you look there's cows, goat, deer, water buffalo, horses, pigs, chickens, peafowl, ducks, and even a permanently injured hawk that lives in a wire enclosure that could be a little bit larger.  Off to the one side you can see the some of the older built cages that are used to house the tigers and behind that the construction site for the new tiger island can be seen.  On the other side of the pathway is a new enclosure with a moat surrounding a small but nicely laid out grassy enclosure for the tigers.  There's a small waterfall that initially wasn't running due to electrical problems (the enclosure just opened up in the last week so they're still working out the kinks) and access to the back dens through the rockwork.  It's not much different than what would be expected to be seen in most small zoos in the US.  The old cages are about 20' by 20' each with a ceiling height of about 12' roughly, but they are sparsely decorated with cage furniture.  There were several types of toys in each cage for the tigers, so they had things to keep themselves busy if desired.  All in all, the enclosures could be better, but they could also be a lot worse.  And, the new area that they appear to be making good progress on looks as if it's going to be a nice setup with several acres for the tigers.  The surrounding wall and interior wall that together form the moat to keep tigers in and other animals (including humans) out are mostly in place. 
At this point, one of the monks brings a tiger cub out to play in the yard, and then another, and another, and another.  All told they had four cubs out, the oldest being seven months (a recent genetics trade from Laos) and the youngest three months.  The seven month old was very rambunctious and was on a lead, the other three just wandered around the yard at their own will with a handler following behind.  This went on for about 45 minutes until they rounded the little ones up and started bringing some of the adults through.  Three full size cats were brought out to the area on leads and were leashed down in the yard for a while allowing the cubs to climb on, harass and chew on the adults, who took the abuse very well.  After about 30 minutes of allowing them to play and keeping the visitors back from the area, they began the walk down into Tiger Canyon with the adults and the seven month old cub.  During this walk some of the people that were there visiting that day were allowed to walk alongside one of the tigers for a brief time while the handlers took photos.  Once all the cats were down in the canyon, they were allowed some time to work off their energy and then were separated for naps in the warm sunlight of the canyon. 
Each person that was at the temple that day was allowed to be led through the canyon by the staff members and have their picture taken with the cats that were in various degrees of sleeping.  When approaching, people were posed near the hindquarters of the cats and the staff would take several photographs before moving on to the next station.  After getting photographs taken with the seven sleeping cats, those of us that made an extra donation towards the construction of the new housing for the cats were allowed to have photographs taken with one of the cats from a different perspective, with the cat's head at our lap.  During my time up there the cat decided to wake up from its nap briefly and then went back to sleep.  It's a bit of a different experience having a 350 pound carnivore laying with you, even if it is a sleepy cat with a full stomach.  Danielle was the next up after they allowed the cat to get back into a little deeper nap, and she got her photos done about five minutes later.  We spent a few more minutes in the canyon watching the cats and the handlers before heading out to visit some of the other animals living at the temple. 
Our next destination was up to the enclosure that houses a sun bear that was turned over to the temple as a very young cub and had to be hand-raised.  The sun bear has a bit of a sweet tooth and is very friendly as long as she has plenty of food.  We fed her some raspberry cookies, milk tablets, mangoes, and soy milk.  She's in an area that tourists typically are not allowed to go to, but this is one of the advantages of hiring a tour guide that is very well known in the area.  Tong is allowed to take her clients there and to other areas of the temple that are normally not available for visitation or are out of the way so tour operators don't take the time.  Some of these areas included a pair of lion cubs that were dropped off at the temple as youngsters, a leopard from a similar background, and many species that would fall into the domesticated designation.  Finally, before leaving the Tiger Temple, we made a stop-off at the construction site to see the progress of the new housing area.  Progress is slow right now since they are digging the moat divider right now, which has to be done with explosives due to the rocky terrain. 
After leaving the Tiger Temple, we got to make a quick stop on the side of the road for a troop of wild monkeys that have trained people to bring them food.  Not the best of ideas since the monkeys can tend to be pretty aggressive when they're not getting what they want.  They were pretty well-mannered for the most part when we first arrived and they were catching chunks of corn-on-the-cob and munching away.  Unfortunately, a few minutes after we pulled off to see the monkeys, a bus full of rude, obnoxious, idiotic visitors came and started chasing the monkeys, trying to touch them, and throwing things at them.  Three people got charged by monkeys and one just about got bit when he decided in his infinite wisdom that pulling the tail would be a great idea.  It was time to leave and get away from the idiots before someone either started yelling at them or got bit.  Not that they would have understood the yelling anyway...
Back on the road again, and this time heading towards a elephant facility so the older couple that had joined us could fulfill their "lifetime" dream of riding an elephant.  While they were off on their half hour journey, Danielle and I spent the time watching some of the resident elephants and talking to Tong.  We didn't see much of a good reason to spend money here since we're spending quite a bit of time with elephants in both Chiang Mai and Phuket.    
Finally, our last two stops of the long day were at the Death Railway and then on to the Bridge over the River Kwai.  The Death Railway was a beautiful spot for photographs since it's high up in the mountains of Kanchanaburi with a view of several valleys.  On the other hand, the Bridge over the River Kwai was less interesting.  It pretty much looked like any other metal bridge crossing a river, the historical significance didn't do too much for us.
After the completion of a fourteen hour day of touring, we ended our day back at the Majestic Grande Sukhumvit.  We grabbed a quick snack before getting ready for bed since there was another early morning coming up for our tour of Bangkok tomorrow.  At least it's not as early as today was, we don't have to get up until about 7am instead of 5am.  More to come tomorrow.
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