Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tiger temple Thailand-accusations and response

Between 2012 and 2014 I had the opportunity to visit the famous tiger temple in Kanchanaburi province of Thailand, 3 times. Please see some up close pictures here and a Kannada article here. People are surprised by the total lack of aggressiveness in these cats and this makes them think there's some foul play involved. Each time I talk about tiger temple or mention it, there’re a set of people who believe these tigers are drugged and another section of online community prefers to have this place closed.

I don’t have a way to verify the accusations of drugging, illegal trade of tigers etc. In the absence of convincing evidence, I wish to take a neutral stand. In this post, I am writing the official explanation given by the staff at tiger temple on matters related to animal abuse and other accusations generally made on tiger temple, Thailand. 
Q: Why are these tigers so soft behaved, without slightest sign of aggression? They must be drugged- am I right?
Explanation by Tiger temple staff (Answer): What tourists get to see up close are 15-20 best behaved cats at the sanctuary. While there are 130+ tigers of various ages in the temple, only those which are well behaved and accustomed to humans are brought forward to interact with tourists.

Further, just before the tiger temple opens for tourists (between 12 noon to 3PM), these tigers are well fed (mostly chicken). Since they are not hungry, they have no intention to harm anyone. They are sleepy and used to seeing humans around, hence they don’t mind a few people coming close and patting them.
Some of these tigers are brought up in the temple since their young age, hence they are well accustomed to having people around them.

Also most of the tigers tourists see are male tigers. Male tigers are more easier to handle than females, which tend to wander around (for shopping I guess?).

Note: Temple staff said tigers are nocturnal, prefer to hunt during night and sleep during day. Generic information on internet says tigers are not nocturnal, though they might hunt mainly in early morning/late evening or even in night.

Q: Do you ever drug the tigers at tiger temple?
A: No, except once an year during annual health checkup, when  they are given sedatives so that medical staff can inspect them closely & treat where necessary. 

Q: Why are the tigers chained?
A: They are chained purely as a precautionary measure and only during the visitor hours. Rest of the day they will be roaming around freely.

Q: Why do some of the tigers have injuries/scars?
A: Most of these injuries occur when they fight among themselves occasionally. They are big, powerful cats and sometimes even a joyful fight can result in minor injuries, which heal over time.

Q: What is the life expectancy of these tigers?
A: If left in the jungle, a tiger would survive for 10-12 years. But in the sanctuary, they last for 20-24 years easily. This is because in the wild, one has to hunt everyday- as they get old they loose their ability to hunt effectively and often loose their territory to other younger tigers. When finding food becomes difficult and because of non availability of any medical care, tigers may die earlier in the forest. In the tiger temple, however, situation is different. Since tigers are fed and given medical care, they can survive much longer.

Q: Have there been any attack on tourists by the tiger?
A: There’s been no fatal attacks. The last known attack was in August 2013, wherein a tiger cub bit the hands of a tourist during cub feeding program. The injury was negligible and was rectified with a bandage.  Tiger cubs tend to bite everything that comes close to their mouth, hence there could be instances where a tourist feeding the cub may find his fingers bitten- but these cubs won’t have the strength of a big cat and the bite is hardly effective, most of the times treated with bandage.

Apart from these there have been instances where volunteers suffered minor injuries as they attempted to separate two fighting tigers. 
Q: If I buy a tiger tooth, can I get it past the customs?
A: We can’t assure you of that- you will have to explain to the customs and get it cleared. Customs officials have all the right to confiscate it should they suspect some foul play.

People in our group had different opinions about the tiger temple, before they visited it. Many quoted online reports of drug abuse, few were scared to go near and others were just curious. Being there twice already, I had the privilege of explaining what to expect once at tiger temple. After the visit, many had mixed feeling- while it was good to touch and feel the tigers, complete absence of their natural behavior and instinct disturbed some. Instead of getting to touch and pat tigers, many seemed to be happy if they could see them from a distance, but in their natural state of activeness and aggression. Almost everyone I spoke to did agree on one thing- there is no viable alternative if we close the tiger temple. 
If we have to close the tiger temple, then what is the next alternative?
Given the above information, if you still feel tiger temple is bad and needs to be closed down, I suggest you first prepare ground work for that by working with governments and other agencies.  If Tiger temple is to be closed tomorrow, where do we send the tigers? If released into the forests, they would be dead within days because of poachers. Also tigers are territorial and need massive forests- unless we can build large dense poacher free forest and other supporting ecosystem, releasing the tigers to the woods is not a viable option.

I don’t think they should be sent to zoos. They are better off in their current habitat where they have more space, freedom and care than what confined chambers of a zoo can offer.

Also most of the cubs don’t have any training on hunting and are used to food coming their way. How do we teach them to hunt and survive on their own?

Of course Tiger temple charges an entry fee (which has been stable at 600 baht per person since my 2012 visit) and little more for cub feeding and up close photo sessions. Which I think is fine, since they do have considerable expenses in running the campus. Any tourist facility would do that to generate some income.

So if we’re advocating closing of tiger temple and freeing of these cats, first we should work on the required support ecosystem-massive forests which are free from poachers and human intervention. Specific accusations like drugs etc can be verified by competent government agencies. If the accusations can’t be proved [This report says NO Evidence could be found], then we should give the temple some credit for taking care of all these cats and facilitating a unique man-animal interaction.
You are welcome to debate on this. Since closing down doesn’t seem to be a viable option because there’s no safe alternative, I feel we should let the tiger temple keep doing what they are doing- taking care of the tigers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bangkok Dinner Cruise Experience and Photos

During my first visit to Thailand we’d skipped dinner cruise for various reasons. This time, got to experience the same. This post shares my experience and photos during the Bangkok Dinner Cruise. 

What to expect from the dinner cruise? As the words suggest, it is a buffet dinner on board a moving boat, pretty large one at that. This is the primary objective. Apart from these, the dinner cruise lets you view the scenic Bangkok riverside and its giant buildings in its full glory at night. The whole ride lasts for about 1.5-2 hours. Alcohol can be bought separately on board, a small dancing floor is facilitated on the deck of the ship to let overenthusiastic public to dance to the tunes of music, sung by an enthusiastic lady host.
We went on Chao Praya Princess, which has 4 ships offering dinner cruises. Each ship could seat approximately 400-500 people, both upper and lower decks combined.. There’re many other operators providing dinner cruise on boats of various sizes. Journey started at about 8PM and ended at about 9.30PM. Tickets can be bought at Riverside Mall or can be booked online. Cost in the range of 1200-1400 baht. (in 2012, I remember our tour guide quoting an amount of 700 baht- probably it was for a different boat).

Guests get to have their photos clicked with a lady dressed in traditional Thai princess dress, to be bought as a souvenir for 200 THB later on board the ship. I noticed that many customers didn’t care to buy this, as they got their friends to get a photo clicked in their cameras, effectively neutralizing need to buy a physical copy. I took photo of many of our group members, though couldn’t find anyone to click mine.
A small music band welcomes guests as they boarded the ship, but we were the last few to enter and as we were boarding, music troupe was wrapping up. Once inside, we were given a brief safety instruction that life vests are under the table. Our table was in the upper deck, which offers better views for photography. Lower deck is more stable, ideal for romantic setting as crowd movement is less. I am not sure if customers will have a choice of opting the deck.

I was happy to see good amount of vegetarian options- samosas, rice variants, rotis and so on.
Ship cruised slowly, crossed under the Rama VIII suspension bridge, to turn back to boarding point. Many of Bangkok’s biggest hotels- including Sheraton, Shangari La etc could be seen on the banks of Chao Praya river. Bangkok flyer could be seen at the distance and so are some of the popular temples. Did manage some photographs as you can see below.
What you see above is the close up of Lebua tower, where Hangover Part 2 was shot...

The staff don’t speak proper English. I asked few people the name of the bridge, but they couldn’t understand my question. Also another staffer who was serving soft drinks spoke some English but largely gave answers based on what she felt could be the question… (For example, she had three kind of drinks- orange, black and transparent (essentially equivalents of Fanta, Coke and Sprite)- on being asked what drinks are they, she replied “it is free”, assuming that people wanted to know if it is free or have to be paid, which will be the typical questions Indians ask). But by and large language is not a problem. Should you really need help, your tour guides can assist you or there’re a few senior staff who speak better English.
To entertain the audience, lady host soon started singing Bollywood numbers, as the customers that day were largely Indians. She couldn’t pronounce the words properly, but that didn’t count, as the music was good and guests didn’t mind the lyrics. Soon a small area on the deck was made dancing floor, where men of all ages started dancing around the lady host. A few tamil, telugu numbers were also played.  I think the lady host is used to this kind of overenthusiastic crowd so she managed the situation well, quietly moving out of the dancing area whenever situation seemed to go out of control. She got lots of photo session requests from men, women and kids alike. While they were dancing, I experimented with my goPro, trying to make some video from the top angle, moving the camera over the heads of the dancing people. At one point, someone noticed the goPro and started dancing right into it and soon others followed the lead. I got scared seeing so many people focusing their attention on goPro, so I withdrew and walked away J
Otherwise, night time photos clicked in GoPro were effectively useless. Nikon did most of the job that night.

Overall it was good experience- I got good veg food and some nice photos. 
Update: A short 3min video on Bangkok Dinner cruise is now live.. watch it here.
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Thailand Tourism International Media convention

Last Friday, I attended a mega convention organized by Tourism Authority of Thailand in Bangkok. Over 900 delegates from all over the world, which included media professionals, bloggers and travel agents were invited for this event. This was my first experience at an international media event and feels privileged to be one of the chosen few. The conventional hall is on the 22nd floor and offers nice view of the city.
Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
As we arrived we were given a wrist band which had a USB drive with all the press data (we realized it a little later)- no physical kit were given, to help reduce luggage we will have to carry back home. Good thought. Most of the paper bags and print brochures given at press meets often go waste. The wrist band also signifies friendship, the theme for the evening being Thailand Best Friends Forever...[Checked later, the press kit has lots of good images and info about Thailand tourism, but nothing much about the speeches given that evening. I was expecting a profile of the dignitaries, transcript etc. It was good that I took some notes using sheets borrowed from Anuradha.
At the Bangkok International Convention Centre, Clicked by Nisha Jha
We were also given an audio device, on which we could hear the speeches translated to English. (The Thai leaders who spoke would speak in Thai language). This is my first such experience and I began to feel as if I am representing India at the United Nations. 

The eat and drink all you can snacks spread was exhaustive, with special counters for Indian snacks. I met Mridula Dwivedi here, India’s top travel blogger near one such counter- she promptly pointed me to try the coconut ice-cream and I grabbed one. Mridula had flown in from Delhi that morning and is currently touring Thailand. It was nice meeting her after several years. We could have chatted more, but we were there on a mission- to spread the message about Thailand tourism. Soon it was time to enter the convention centre- being some of the early few to enter, myself, Nisha Jha and Anuradha Goyal took some of the front row seats.
Clicked by NIsha (
We could see Vir Sangvi few rows ahead (Vir Sangvi is a celebrity journalist with Hindustan Times media. I didn’t recognize him, until Nisha and Anu pointed it out).
Within sometime the hall was full and the activities on the stage would begin. Without beating around the bush, the talk was short and to the point. First we were shown an amazing video of Thailand’s mesmerizing landscape and culture. You see that video and it will single handedly influence you to book a ticket to Thailand [But unfortunately this video is not present in press kit and nor the agencies I know had them]. Mr Thawatchai Arunyik, Governor, Thailand tourism spoke assuredly Thailand is safe for tourists and there is no reason to worry.  
Next to speak was Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, Commander in Chief of Royal Thai Navy and Deputy Chief, NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order-the military body that virtually runs the current government administration in Thailand)- his message was to the point- We welcome tourists with all our hearts- they are like our guests. The assurance from the chief of armed forces assumes significance, since Thailand is virtually run by the army.
Subsequently there was a short dance performance- that began amidst the audience and concluded on stage…



The performance prompted Vir Sanghvi to get up from his seat and take a photo from his mobile phone.

The conference ended earlier than expected. There was no Q&A session either. A street festival was about to be inaugurated downstairs, about which I will write separately. We returned the audio device, had another round of snacks and went downstairs.

In my personal opinion, the political scenario at Thailand is no reason not to visit the country. The streets of Bangkok is as safe as it was during my 2012 visit. Hotels have 40-50% occupancy only, hence you will get good deals. Tourism being one of the primary source of revenue, everyone there realize the importance of making tourists comfortable, hence are more attentive than ever. Both during December 2013 when we toured 2000 kms all over Northern Thailand and last week when we covered southern part, the life on the street is very much normal. With an objective of boosting tourism, there will be several offers, schemes and festivals, which could give you extra advantages. If you have Thailand on your radar and are hesitating because of political unrest, take my word that there is no reason to worry.

In a related news, Thailand tourism has launched a tourist friendly insurance scheme, which at 650 THB per week, gives much better coverage than standard travel insurance schemes available from tradition vendors. More details:

Pretty faces of Bangkok

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Last in, first out: This was the last event I witnessed in Bangkok before heading back home and I thought of writing about it first.

We had a free day last Saturday and I headed out to Grand Palace area. Next to the palace is a big ground, with stalls set on its periphery and a big stage in the centre. As I went close, I noticed that some cultural events were being practiced.

A group of young men and women were rehearsing the dance sequence, which I was told is meant to be performed on August 12th, on the occasion of queen’s birthday. They were performing classical dance using earthen pots, coconut shells and other traditional items. Clad in colorful dresses and topped up with some make up and jewelry, I could take some good portrait shots of their faces and made some videos of their performance.


After the rehearsals they took group photos, which gave me an opportunity to click some more snaps

Will publish videos later once I edit them a bit...

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3D art gallery at Venezia Mall, Hua Hin- Photos & Video

Venezia mall is a popular shopping complex in Hua Hin town of Thailand and one of the interesting attractions here is the 3D art gallery. Art gallery has over 2 dozen different images, based on wide variety of themes to entertain the visitors. Painted smartly in such a way, using both wall, floor and some projecting objects where necessary, these pictures give a good 3D impression. Visitors love to click themselves infront of these huge paintings, which creates an impression that they were actually part of this illusion.

I stop writing too much and let the pictures do the talking. Go through the images below.

 Bull fighting - now everyone can tame a bull
 Birds in action
 Golden gate bridge
 Love birds and statue of liberty
 Flying carpet
 Lady at Vegas
 Scary creatures
 Snow ride
 The last supper
 Leaning tower of Pisa

Crushing shoe 

 Forest Safari simplified

 Magic bottle

 Monkeys on the tree

If you’re in Hua Hin, don’t miss to visit Vennize mall and the 3D art gallery. Open during normal business hours and there’s an entry fee. Might be crowded in the evening, so morning/afternoon might be best time.

I have made some videos at this place- watch it below in a 2 min short version..

Here's the official website of Venezia Mall:

Check more of my Thailand posts here