Although taking a photograph with a magnificent tiger may seem like the ultimate insta-shot, the dark truth behind Thailand’s Tiger Zoo may want to make you rethink your ‘gram choices.
THE DARK TRUTH
The infamous Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi – now known as a ‘Tiger Zoo’ – is back in business despite being raided by police and wildlife authorities back in 2016 for tiger trafficking and illegal breeding (amongst other atrocities). In the interim period between being ‘shut down’ in 2016 and reopening earlier this year many of the remaining wildlife such as buffalo, deer and peacocks were undernourished and left in terrible conditions after the star attractions – the tigers – were taken away. This just shows the lack of respect and responsibilities the so-called zookeepers have for all animals and why they should be avoided at all costs.
Questions about the state of the tigers’ welfare had been bubbling under the surface for years before the Tiger Temple was actually raided, with both tourists and wildlife authorities claiming the tigers were clearly drugged in order to make them more compliant. Thousands of backpackers, families, and tourists alike smiled boastfully for photos with these tigers without even thinking about what was happening behind the scenes.
Wildlife conservation officials, alongside the Thai government, are trying to police establishments such as the Tiger Temple, but with around 1500 tigers thought to be held in captivity throughout the country, it is a seemingly impossible task!
You may think “surely once people have heard about these atrocities nobody will visit tiger zoos anymore”, but unfortunately at least eight new venues offering tiger entertainment have opened in the past seven years. It’s not just Tiger Temple that is known for treating the big cats without respect or compassion, Sriracha Zoo puts on a regular circus show with tigers being made to jump through fiery hoops and dance with trainers.
Just because the Tiger Temple should be well-and-truly scratched off your bucket list, doesn’t mean that Kanchanaburi, on the whole, should be too. The town in western Thailand relies on tourism and it would be a shame for the local businesses who are completely unconnected to Tiger Temple to lose out because of someone else’s wrongdoings.
Here are some of our favourite alternatives for things to see and do in and around Kanchanaburi:
Erawan National Park
Perfect for lovers of the great outdoors, Erawan National Park is a sprawling nature haven that is home to some incredible waterfalls and caves. Erawan Falls is a seven-tier waterfall stretching over 1500m which is ideal for a dip (when water levels allow). The cave complexes at Erawan are also well worth a visit with a spectacular array of natural stalagmites and stalactites.
The historic city of Ayutthaya was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The archaeological ruins give an insight into the former prosperous life of the city with hundreds of temples (wats) and other ancient buildings spread throughout the site. The site lies around 2-3 hours from Kanchanaburi but can easily be done as a day trip from here or Bangkok.
The JJ Night Market is perhaps the biggest and best-known market in Kanchanaburi with clothing stalls and street food galore. Wait until the sun goes down before heading out for an evening of local delectable treats from succulent skewers to stir-fries and smoothies.
There is so much to do around Kanchanaburi and in Thailand on the whole that you shouldn’t be reconsidering a trip just because you can’t visit Tiger Temple. Hopefully, now you understand a little more about the poor welfare of animals in such places as Tiger Temple you won’t want to go anyway! We suggest avoiding any types of circus/animal handling experiences (including elephant rides) in Thailand and beyond unless you are 100% sure of their conservation credentials