February 28, 2012

Bathing with Elephants, Feeding Wild Monkeys, and Walking with Tigers

Lady Hiva did extensive research before we headed out on this trip. One of the things we did was read other people’s blogs about their time in Thailand and the things they did. We compiled a list of things we wanted to do and then hunted for the best way to accomplish the whole list.  We found Tours with Tong, a tour group that operates out of Bangkok. 

We exchanged a few emails with Tong and set our itinerary for a day trip to Kanchanaburi, the western province that borders Burma. Our guide, Nang, met us in the morning with the driver. I guess they normally pick you up at your hotel, but due to some miscommunications they had told us to meet them at the wrong hotel…(Note to anyone, just verify with them one more time the day before your trip.  We thought we had it down but apparently they had a miscommunication between the scheduler and the guide). After we were finally together we set off on our 2 hour drive to the country. As we drove Nang filled us in on Thai history and interesting facts of the area.

The first place we stopped was the World War II cemetery in Kanchanaburi. Thousands of Europeans, Australians, Danish, Americans and Southeast Asians died in this area working under Japanese rule during the War. The railway that stretches between the two Thailand and Burma was built into solid limestone by POWs using only hand tools. Thousands died in the grueling process and scorching heat (Kanchanaburi is one of the hotter provinces of Thailand) and thus it is named the Death Railway. It is a somber place signifying the evils war can bring. 

Hiva and Nang look over a map of the Death Railway

The beginning of the railway flanked with old bombs. Nang was kind enough to point out the dangling wires out of the end explaining they would not blow up because the wires were cut (Just in case we were worried about it I guess)

The only thing the whole tour that we did not think much of was when Lady Hiva asked to use the bathroom Nang took us to some guys house that was a brick building with a faded red metal door with the word ‘toilet’ painted on it. It was so dirty and was just a hole in the floor with water leaking, creating a shallow pool of water on the floor-who knows else was in the water...Needless to say, Hiva was not impressed and never asked to use the restroom again that rest of the day. 

We then drove a bit farther to meet Full Moon, the elephant we were able to ride, and her mahout (elephant trainer) named Thr. Thr recently moved to Thailand from Burma with Full Moon because she does not speak Thai. She only speaks Burmese so the Elephant farm needed a Burmese mahout.  Thr must be a fan of betel nuts because his teeth were stained red so it looked like his mouth was bleeding. It was so fun to be around the elephants and watch them tease each other by pulling on ears or saunter down a lane with someone riding on their backs. 

Most of these elephants were bought from families that once used them as pets and work animals but were unable to afford to keep them (elephants eat something like 60 lbs a day…yikes!). Elephants were used by the King in days past to fight battles with the Burmese and therefore and some of the most respected animals in the kingdom. They now give rides to tourists to pay for their food. Lady Hiva did not just want to ride the elephants; she wanted to swim with them. So we rode Full Moon to the river and there spent a good portion of our morning splashing around and playing with Full Moon. At one point I caught myself thinking, “this is fun but when you think we are getting covered in water coming out of an elephant’s trunk! Snot filled water is trickling into our mouths! YUCK!” yet it was still fun.  After being splashed in the face for a good 5 minutes, we grimaced each time we heard Thr mouth the command to splash our faces with water.  You can only take so much water in the face. Either way, it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Our Asian version of a rodeo

Playing water fight with Full Moon.  It's obvious who's winning here.

Hiva's stance for most of the water fight.

Notice our wimpy splashes compared to Full Moon's.

The Korean tour group preferring to remain dry

Hiva thinking, "please don't whack my head with your trunk."

How they roll...

How we roll

Full Moon stopping for a snack...water fights are hard work.

Full Moon accepting our tip

We headed to the Tiger Temple and on the way stopped and fed some wild monkeys papaya. It was interesting to watch their personalities show. Some were lazy and fat. Others were mean and would take food from the little ones. What Lady Hiva and I both thought intriguing was how human-like they seem when they stand and reach out with both hands to take the fruit and then look at you with intelligent eyes before scampering off to eat.  

Our lunch at a cute province restaurant

The Tiger Temple is another popular attraction we visited in Kanchanaburi province.   The temple opened in 1997 by some Buddhist monks. People started to donate their animals to the Temple that they could no longer take care of them. It first started with tigers but now they have deer, bears, wild boars, goats, and cattle. They said the Tiger Temple now has over 104 tigers. We were able to kneel down and pet the tigers and take photos.  I was the first to take a photo and the staff in their accented English said, "hold tail. Hold Tail!" "Yeah right! I am not grabbing its tail, it wipes its butt with that thing" is what I thought, but I said, "No thank you, I am good" Lady Hiva held the tail though...and then she held my hand...

 The tigers were chained to concrete slabs hidden in the dirt (I guess when guests are not around the tigers roam free, but for safety reasons they have to be chained) and there are about 4-5 helpers around each tiger.  So as you approach the tiger, a helper takes you by the elbow and guides you in a wide perimeter to the back of the tiger where you kneel, firmly pet the tiger and put up a fake smile as they take your picture, hoping that the tiger doesn’t pull a “Siegfried and Roy” on you. They also let us take a leash and walk with the tiger for a little way.  They were all male tigers so some of them would pause to mark their territory by urinating which really was more like a backward spray at whoever was behind him.  I could not help but think that Trevor, with his love of tigers, would have liked it here. The tigers really were like big house cats—with only a few differences: the strength and teeth to kill you when they think they are playing. Minor details. 

It was a fun filled day! We took hundreds of photos—Kanchanaburi is definitely something worth remembering or trying out if you go to Thailand. Nang did really well (minus the bathroom and the morning confusion).  She let us sleep on the way back, they always had fresh cold water for us and at the end of the day cool moist towels to wipe off our faces.


  1. omg this is so awesome!!! looks like heaps of fun :D love the elephant shots!

  2. what a fun trip! I should add them to my bucketlist, especially a water fight with the elephants! I love all the pictures!