Waking up on the playa any crisp morning, the world is filled with every possibility. The smells of sage and palo santo burning mixes with the smell of instant pancakes and bacon while the hippies wander naked or in tutus to morning yoga workshops.
An excerpt from one Cuestonian’s travel diary directly from exotic Thailand
“Touch and Take Pictures With Real Live Tigers!!!” read the cheesy roadside advertisement in bold neon lettering with multiple enticing exclamation marks. A true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Might as well touch the tigers while they were within reach.
It was part of the choke-down-that-spicy-food-and-let-your-eyes-water, taste-it-while-it’s-in-front-of-you game, a significant factor in the live-each-life-for-the-moment movement.
Bogged down with cameras and I’m pretty sure I spotted a fanny pack or two, the school vans pulled over to give us students our tourist-trap opportunity at Kanchanaburi Tiger Temple in the west of Thailand.
Once when I was about twelve years old, we were on a family vacation driving around near Santa Cruz, with little to do in the mode of entertainment.
A succession of yellow billboards alluringly advertising the seductive, “Mystery Spot!” kept us excited for long stretches of road on end as we neared this so-called questionable zone.
With so much anticipation, and ambiguous miles of pre-destination billboards, there was no way possible we could just drive by and call it a day.
Unloading the car’s passengers onto the dusty gravel parking lot we set out to sleuth about this skeptical spot.
Letdown of the century is all I can think of to describe the intensity of the anticlimax of our adventure.
We were bent down sideways with laughter the entire tour due to the fact that the hokeyness factor seemed to be set at a billion and two as we watched a ball mysteriously roll uphill and other miraculous gravity defying feats.
I think the most impressive part of the whole charade was the amount of merchandise the gift shop was stuffed solid with.
Mystery Spot mugs, bumper stickers, key chains. “Someone who went to Mystery Spot Loves Me,” and, “I survived Santa Cruz Mystery Spot” T-shirts. Ample amounts of apparel stacked floor to ceiling stamped with that bright yellow seal of mystery.
Walking through the entrance of this tiger temple I could sniff out the similarities to the Mystery Spot in a single whiff. Same tacky pamphlets, informational bulletin boards, five dollar per photo fee charge, and I could already spot the gift shop gracing the horizon.
Supposedly a “temple” but bearing much closer resemblance to a monk staffed zoo, hordes of lined up tourists centered around a small arena encompassing about twelve tigers chained to rocks.
After waiting a long, sweaty time in line with prime-time people-watching, an attendant grabbed your hand while another took your camera and guided you around to the various furry tigers. They posed you just so before snapping away and then leading you to the next tiger and so on and so forth.
I honestly felt like I was at a portrait sitting for my senior pictures; all that was missing was that studio fan to float your hair sexily in the breeze. Smile just so, crane your neck an inch more and put your hands on the tiger carcass that happens to be plopped at your feet.
We’re pretty sure the tiger is still alive, but no guarantees. I saw them prodding at it with a stick every now and then just to be certain. The entire process from start to finish takes about three minutes as you’re led from tiger sitting on a rock to tiger perched beneath a tree, for a little variety in the background.
I’m not sure if my new potential addition to the game, “Two Truths and a Lie” is necessarily worth the emotional trauma one endures petting lumps of drugged up tiger. But I’m making a wild bet as to not.
As far as the other thousands of tourists goes, I’ll let them speak for themselves, the general consensus appeared to be overall enthusiasm about having a stellar pre-made Facebook profile pic.
Nearing the exit, and unavoidably dipping into that merchandise-filled market, I couldn’t help but wonder just who bought that premium leather photo album with which to document your exotic Tiger Temple journey.
Exercising excessive amounts of self control, I refrained from purchasing the T-shirt, and bought naught the coffee mug.
However, the one thing I certainly could have benefited from purchasing; an ounce of peace of mind, I wasn’t able to locate between racks of burnished postcards and garish tiger print boxers.