That's Grrrrrreat!

Trip Start Sep 19, 2002
Trip End Sep 22, 2003

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

14th July - Found a nice guest house by the River Kwai for about 3 quid and booked a tour for the next day to take in the major sights. We've only got a short time so we wanted to be led about rather than trying to get to places ourselves but the down side is that they always take you to a place that you're not really interested in. In this case it was the Tiger Temple - oh no, not another temple - and it wasn't even in the Lonely Planet. However we discovered that it is quite new and is named so because of the tigers ther - obviously. But they are real! Of course we got quite excited about that but that was tomorrow.

We'd come to Kanchanaburi to see the Death Railway and the bridge etc as this is where the famous bridge was constructed. We visited a small and odd museum to the people who died there called JEATH museum (Japan, England, Australia and America, Thailand and Holland). The railway was designed by the Japanese in WWII to go from Thailand to Burma so that they didn't have to run supplies across the sea where they risked bombings by the Allies. Engineers esimated the 415KM railway would take approx 5 years to build due to the rough terrain etc but the POW's and conscripted labourers were forced to complete it in just over a year. Of course they had little machinery, little food, lots of hideous diseases, heat and rain, and Japanese yelling at them all the time. The figures are a little confusing as records wern't kept of the labourers. These workers came from Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia and India and totalled approx 100,000. Because of their lack of organisation ec, it is estimated that 1 in 3 died working on the railway. Of the 60,000 POW's (over half British), 1 in 4 died. Of the Japanese, 1 in 13 died. The museum has pictures drawn by ex-pow's showing the harsh treatment and conditions and also has a bomb that the allies dropped on the bridge trying to break the supply route. In the evening we managed to watch the film "Bridge over the River Kwai" with Alec Guinness which is a good fictitious film but did show some of the conditions they might have endured.

15th July - Our tour started with a visit to Hellfire Pass where most of the victims of the Daeth Railway died. The name is also taken from the fires that cast eerie shadows of the emaciated workers on the walls when they worked at night to complete the railway. The pass is a huge area of tall rock that they had to break through and we saw drill holes and a broken compressor part lodge in the wall of rock. Some of the railway has been re-laid there as a memorial and there are a few original sleepers still in place. Most of the rest of the un-used parts of the railway have been taken over the years by refugees to make houses and sell off. It was quiet and not too hot but we could see jungle for miles in either direction and understood why not many tried to escape.

Next was a visit to a hot springs which was busy with Thai's on their lent holiday. We dipped in the cool river and then the hot spring water in pools of 35 degrees. We then headed to a waterfall which was just as busy. The water comes down smooth rock making it look artificial and it flows between the stepping stones and over the site of the former railway.

We then headed out to the tiger temple for one of the most amazing experiences of our whole trip. Pet, our guide, led us through the jungle grounds and we could hear the occassional roar of a tiger in the background. We entered a concrete area where there were two cages each containing a four month old tiger! The little boy tiger seemed bigger and had darker markings but the little girl was very cute. Pet suddenly opened the cage and jumped in with the female tiger and began playing with it just like a normal cat (only bigger and much stronger!) We took turns in sitting in the cage and playing while avoiding the strong paws but she never got her claws out. When she yawned you could see her sharp teeth and we knew it wouldn't be long before she was too big to play with like this. She got out and ran around a bit but it wasn't a problem and when we had taken squillions of photos we headed off to see the bigger ones.

On the way we fed rambutans to weird looking goats (one called Bin Laden) and walked among the geese, chickens, horses, foals, peacocks etc etc etc. It was a very surreal experience, especially as the animals are all so chilled out. We even stroked a deer with huge antlers! We popped across to see the gibbons and one walked up to Pet and gave her a cuddle as she sat down. The ones in cages put their arms through the bars asking you to hold their hands and give them a stroke. All too soon, or not soon enough, depending on which bit you like best, it was time for the big tigers. We walked along the cage area and saw just how big the big ones were compared to the cubs we played with. There are 7 adults there who have been left there over the years by hunters who didn't need cubs or villagers who had found the cubs abandoned. Of couse now there are 7, some male and some female, they do have "boom boom" as Pet called it and hence they have cubs born at the temple now. Tigers usually have one or two cubs a year that survive in the wild but one of the tigers here currently has a litter of 3. Indeed we did see the 3 two week old cubs being licked and pushed around the floor by their proud mum.

Because of the rain (every afternoon) they don't take them all out together as they don't like it so we all then stood back while they put 3 on leads for their daily walk. Just one monk took each tiger and we followed behind heading for their play area. Then, and this is the best bit, we each took it turns to walk the tiger! We have it on film if you don't believe us but there is just us and the tiger, no-one else. The monks are always close by but the tigers can be up to 300kg and the monks don't eat much, nor are they professional tiger tamers, they just have a serenity that the tigers seem to take to. Despite being in a cage for most of the day, the tigers just sit about in the sand pit, sometimes rolling around in the water and we just sat there watching in awe. The tigers were off their leads, untethered, uncaged, about 20 metres away! Suddenly two of them had a brief fight and they let out a mighty roar which echoed around the valley walls and made all our hearts jump into our mouths. Just a little reminder that these are potential killers! They soon went back to sitting about and we had to leave to catch the train. As we left, scores of people turned up and we realised how lucky we were to get them to ourselves for so long so that we could play and pet them.

We caught the train on the original railway and headed off for an hour back to Kanchanaburi. Our route took us over the infamous bridge which although strnegthened over the years, most of it is still original and is testament to the work of the POW's and labourers but also the skill of the Japanese in it's construction and design. They then dropped us off at the cemetary where we walked among the thousands of Allied POW's graves in the very well kept gardens.

16th - Yesterday we started and ended with the railway and today we went back to the bridge to take photos and visit the WWII museum. It contained much of the same photos and info as the other museum but had some interesting exhibits all the same. Some of the language was quite interesting too - there is a comment regarding the atomic bombs dropped on Japan saying "the entire community of Hiroshima was wiped out in a jiffy".

After lunch we headed back to Bangkok for the night and tomorow we head for Ko Samet to check out some more of Thailands beaches before the chaos of India begins!
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