Today we bid farewell to Bangkok and shift to Pattaya for the remaining three days of our trip. Num, our driver for the Safari park trip agreed to take us to Pattaya and also halt at Sriracha tiger zoo enroute. It suited us too. (Sriracha is 1.5 hours from Bangkok and half an hour before Pattaya, so I recommend you do it on your way to Pattaya rather than plan a special trip here from either cities).
(This is the eighth post in a series of posts of my trip to Bangkok and Pattaya. Though each post can be read independently, its best to read them in sequence)
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I started the day early and went for a photo walk around the hotel area hoping to capture morning life in Sukhumvit, but didn’t get much success. Rashmi got busy shopping some trinkets she had promised to buy for her friends. (She is still upset that I didn’t take her to Chatuchak market). We had an early breakfast at the hotel, our first since check-in. The buffet was good, a combination of Thai and continental, we gorged on it filling ourselves well for the journey ahead. It had started to drizzle by now.
The expressway to Pattaya is pretty good and once out of the city, we easily touched 120 km/h. Aarav was already excited about the tiger zoo and couldn’t contain himself. So far, he has managed to gain free entry into all the parks, but looking at the way he is growing, we’ll soon have to budget for him too. The drizzle had turned into a heavy downpour by the time we entered the tiger zoo, but Aarav’s squeals on seeing the huge tiger statues outside the entrance ensured our spirits weren’t dampened.
While the tigers here are the main attraction, it also has elephant shows, crocodile shows, pig races and a scorpion queen. The pig race was very childish and didn’t catch our fancy. Half a dozen pigs locked in a pen with food at the other end of a passage, will obviously dash across the length to grab it. There was more noise than substance here.
There are probably a hundred tigers in this park. But what I didn’t like about this place was that even after paying a hefty entrance charge of 450 Bahts, you are expected to pay for most activities inside too.
To get clicked with a full grown tiger, there is an additional charge, to (get clicked as you) feed a baby tiger one has to shell out money, to touch a crocodile there is a fee. At some point, the authorities have stared milking the customers along with milking the tigers. Watching a few people pay to get clicked as they fed a tiger cub helped me decide it was not worth it. You are made to sit on a platform, while a female pulls out a hungry tiger cub from a cage and places it on your laps. Another female inserts the nipple of a milk bottle inside the cub’s mouth and forces your hand under it so it looks like you are feeding the cub. By the time you figure out what’s happening, time is over and you are out. No time given to hold the cub, feel it, play with it. Ditto for the session with the grown up tiger. A tiger tied to a post sits on a platform, its probably very old and definitely disinterested in what’s going around it. It could as well be a statue, you put your arm around it, get clicked and move on.
The tiger cubs are very cute and you want to cuddle and carry them home. Their shrill cries also make you sad that they’ll spend their life in a small cage whereas they should be roaring their way through the jungles.
Their main attraction, the tiger show is amazing, right out from a circus of yesteryears. Tigers stand on their hind legs and follow their handlers, roll across the floor like a playful baby and even jump over each other.
In between, a pig came on stage and correctly identified sticks of various colors strewn on the ground and placed them inside boxes of same color, pretty impressive. Aarav was meanwhile totally unimpressed with all this, claiming that even he knew how to identify colors and he can roll on the floor without much prodding. His non-stop chattering amused us as much as the acts inside the ring.
Watching a tiger show is as much a humbling experience as guilt inducing. Humbling, because it shows what the human intellect and endeavor can conquer, and guilt ridden to see such mighty and ferocious creatures perform silly acts. The only reason I can fathom is that they are physically tortured and hence live in fear and are deprived of food.
Next was the crocodile show and this was a first for us. Two handlers played around with 7-8 crocs in a small arena as onlookers cheered and gaped. Most of us have seen crocodiles sit still for hours with their mouths open, waiting for a prey to mistakenly enter inside.
What we haven’t seen is how fast they can snap their jaws once something enters it. The speed with which the jaws close shut is faster than a camera’s shutter speed and the sound generated when its teeth crush against each other can send a shiver down your spine. It can instantly break a piece of wood into two. And by no stretch of imagination are crocodiles considered smart or intelligent or trainable. Hence, to see the handlers shove their heads inside a croc’s open mouth was nerve-wrecking. Agreed that such shows are conducted daily for years on, but what about the theory of probability, what if the crocodile decided to bite, today!
Another attraction here is the Scorpion queen. A lady is pretty pally with scorpions and carries them all over her body. Poor girl, she stands there all day as visitors come, click her and move on.
Overall, I was unsatisfied with my experience at the Sriracha tiger zoo, that Indian feeling of ‘having got value for my money’ was missing. Maybe it was the incessant rain, or the additional charges, but I’d rate the Safari park much higher than this.
The evening light was fading as we drove into Pattaya. After a long check-in process, we went out for a stroll. As luck would have it, a small shanty nearby was offering motor bikes on rent. What better way to explore a beach town than on two wheels. Within minutes, we were speeding across town. There are several Indian restaurants in Pattaya, we saw one named Madras Cafe on the 2nd beach road and stopped here for chicken biryani. In the past week in Thailand, I’v had more chicken than in the past year. No option but to adapt.