Our cups of coffee were held tightly in our hands as we bounded down the dusty street in search of Mr. Sandwich and his yellow taxicab. Caffeine heightening our senses in the haze of the morning, we waved to him from across the gas station and hopped in, the air conditioning clinging to our damp faces, the condensation from our iced lattes dripping on the torn leather of the seat. We headed north, the cab weaving in and out of the sparse traffic on the Bangkok highway. Arriving two hours later, jittery and anxious, we slipped out of the cab and headed straight to the ticketing office where a Thai woman glared down at us from behind a lifted counter. “Can no enter with shorts” she delivered us the broken English with an air of rehearsed insincerity. Summer and I looked at each other, realizing this was technically a temple, and offered her our blank stares, as we had brought no other clothing. We learned that because we were inappropriately dressed, we had to purchase these ‘one size fits all’ gigantic navy blue pants that came down to the middle of our calves, yet could fit about four of us inside. We tied the rope tightly around our waist and returned her exasperated look as she added the price of 200 Thai Baht we each ended up shelling out for our gorgeous attire. We walked away and up the designated hill in our baggy pants, excitement jolting through us. I’d like to say we were scared once we entered the Tiger Temple and saw about ten of the 300 pound 8 foot beasts lying tethered to the ground. But as we approached and they kept getting bigger, so did our admiration for the fact that these gorgeous, magnificent, lethal Tigers were part of the feline family—one in which Summer and I were already aficionadas.
For the next three hours, we sat, crouched, pet, walked, and snuggled with the Tigers, feeling their fur with our tentative fingers before we leaned in closer for our photos. Though they were quite bored with us, we were fascinated by these vibrant creatures of which we had previously thought would maim us with one swipe of their gigantic paw. No, they were not drugged into insensibility, as many believe. In fact they were sober and peaceful, most being raised by humans and living their entire lives surrounded by them day after day. The reason they were so lethargic was because they had just eaten their ration of four chickens and multivitamins, and being nocturnal and having extremely slow metabolisms, they were exhausted and couldn’t be bothered to kill the small human fawning all over it. The temple was a refuge for them since poachers would do anything to get their hands on every part of the Tiger, which they would sell on the black market at a steep price for Chinese medicine. So many were bred here, joined by some who were rescued like a one year old they found living in a small apartment building in Bangkok, or two baby lions being used as guard dogs for a drug boss’s home. We were fascinated as we listened to all the stories and facts of the many guides who came all over the world to live and raise the Tigers, Summer and I treading lightly into a world we only had a small glimpse of. The brilliant burnt orange supported the jagged stripes of black as the Tiger arched its back, yawning its sharp teeth at us, nonthreateningly and much like a domestic kitty cat. We were entranced and obsessed, picture after picture capturing our enthusiasm and adoration. We left only when they tore us away, waving goodbyes to our indifferent furry friends. We met Mr. Sandwich and headed away from the temple, purring softly the entire ride back to Bangkok.