I like seeing wild snakes in Thailand as long as I’m at a safe distance as it reminds me of the tropical nature of where I live. There are a good deal less in the city but once you get to the outskirts they thrive, especially the rat catchers; the constrictors. If you’ve ever walked past a pile of Bangkok city garbage in the street at around 4 am, you’ll know the size of the rats here. Bigger and chunkier than the cats.
I’ve a few friends who live on the outskirts of Bangkok, in Prakanong. Well that area used to be the outskirts of Bangkok. Now, with the skytrain’s expansion it seems much more a part of the city, although there remain many undeveloped spaces. (Around 17 years ago I was in a taxi traveling up Sukhumvit 73 and saw a mother with buggy having to walk in to the road to avoid a buffalo which was wandering along the pavement.) Even in the city, in this tropical climate, undeveloped areas, no matter how small, quickly grow into mini jungles and eco systems very welcoming to snakes and other interesting creatures. One of these friends lives in a town house off one of the Pridi sois, a short distance from the Prakanong sky train station, and they keep rabbits, which I think have quite an alluring aroma to some serpents. They have a resident tree snake; a delicate, bright green frog catcher that keeps out of the way when my friends are gardening, and the occasional rat snake can be found finishing a meal in the area. This is the snake pictured in this blog, and when my friends sent it to me I assumed it was a cobra. Neither of these are dangerous however, but their prevalence in the area alone is enough to discourage some people from a townhouse in the burbs. One morning, as my friend was watering plants on her 1st floor balcony, the birds in the area were creating a huge fuss, squawking and flitting about in a tiz. She turned round to find a sizeable but young python hanging round in the rafters immediately above the door to the balcony, under which she’d just walked. I’ll ask her for that picture again to post here as it was a stunning, brightly coloured, red eyed and nosed specimen with an almost multi-coloured body, so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking my friend had doctored the picture. Despite appreciating it for its beauty, if it found a way into the house it would have meant the end of the bunnies, so they called a remover, who caught it and took it away for release. Brightly coloured snakes in dreams, according to Thai superstition can mean something good is coming your way, but one in the waking world, could spell doom for furry animals.
I live in the Northern suburbs of Bangkok where snakes are very commonplace. Big pythons, hugely venomous varieties – all sorts. However, the gated community in which I live and work gives the security guards extra money for each snake they catch for release somewhere outside the development, with more paid for venomous and large varieties. It gives me peace of mind that I’m less likely to have an unfavorable encounter with one, plus the guards get supplemented income. 15 years ago, when I’d worked at the company for only 5 years, the area was a lot more rural than it is now, and I had my own office in the country club facility which I managed at the time. Anything caught in the proximity of my office would end up bagged and placed in my office until someone could take it out to an unpopulated area after work hours. Frequently I would have a sack containing a very large and powerful python on the floor of my office, tied very, Very, VERY tightly at the neck, which would, through the course of the day, travel across the room. On those days I did not take a lunch time nap (as is Thai office tradition) in my office and it was a challenge to concentrate!
I’d like to think all the snakes caught are released to unpopulated areas, but I’m almost entirely sure that the poisonous ones will sadly have their brains smashed to a pulp. Where I lived around that same time, a guard who caught two slithering home intruders in my apartment immediately squashed them, explaining that there are so many children in the neighborhood, he wouldn’t risk releasing it to threaten the lives of the local kids. At that time I lived in what’s called a kangkeyha in Laksi, Don Muang. That’s a kind of government housing development. The apartment had no air conditioning or hot water and to my knowledge not another foreigner was living in the area – I must have really been trying to acclimatize and absorb Thai culture, and it was genuinely quite a wonderful experience living there, though I’m also glad I don’t any more. I was on the ground floor of the very rear building in the project, which backed on to a large area of overgrown and tangled waste land. My wooden front door opened inwards, and was covered by a metal framed security door which also opened inward. All parts of that metal framework were covered in a fine wire mesh aside from a sliding hatch to access the door knob and key hole. I got home early evening one day and reached out as usual towards the door to unlock it (I usually kept the hatch open). With a start I pulled back in response to sudden movement and a hiss. I’d just awoken two greenish snakes that had been curled up in the hatch, who after a lethargic strike at my approaching hand, (which thankfully missed,) slipped down behind the metal door frame and my wooden door……both of which opened inward!!! I went to find the guard on duty at the building and asked him if he could catch and relocate them for me, offering money of course. Thank god he was game, even after he’d seen them and told me they were very poisonous! After a while it was evident there was no way of getting them out from behind the metal frame and every effort to do so was making them more alert and annoyed. The only thing to do was to open the door. As soon as it was a fraction open, both snakes shot in to my apartment, which was as usual a total mess. “Right, I’m moving,” was my initial thought. I didn’t really need anything in that apartment – I could start afresh somewhere else! At that moment I’d have paid the guard ANYTHING to hunt them down, but thankfully he didn’t take advantage of the situation, and ventured in slowly and cautiously moving clutter and furniture until he’d caught them both. I think I paid him twice what he’d asked for anyway, I was so relieved.
Around 10 years ago I had the terrible habit of frequenting seedy male go-go bars in the Suriwongse area of town with a very close, straight female friend of mine, not to procure services from any of the staff, (although we did once hire a few of them for my hen night in 2007) but to drink and be entertained by the variety shows. The shows were always very entertaining, frequently graphic, but occasionally impressively skillful. Somewhere in the usual line up at “The Boys Bangkok” of lip sync drag numbers, glow in the dark body painting gyrations, penetrative sex, candle dances and odd comedy acting skits, was an exceptionally skilled dancer who performed ballet and interpretive dance often with his young pet python, who we got to know very well. On nights we visited, he’d invariably come over and have a chat with us, and it was during this period I lost most of my fear of snakes, as we’d usually pet his python which enjoyed people being gently tactile with it. One night though, we’d got immersed in conversation and our friend suddenly realized he was supposed to be starting his routine in mere seconds, which that night did not include his snake. Hustling to get ready he flung a pink plastic basket at us and asked if we’d pop the snake in there while he performed. The basket was much like the wicker one Dorothy carries Toto around in in the Wizard of Oz, but much smaller, garish pink but similarly hinged in the middle with lids that opened at each end. Here we were trying to feed a friendly python into a small basket, hurriedly before the show started, and each time the tail was nearly all in, a head would pop back out again. Then, all the lights went out for the start of the show, and seemed to stay off for an eternity, probably because our friend the performer wasn’t actually ready to start. You get over any fear of snakes when trying to keep control of one in pitch darkness, and when the lights eventually come back on, find its head centimeters from your nose, about to nuzzle you like a pussy cat.
Other snake anecdotes over my time in Thailand have included one falling out of a tree at breakfast on Railay beach on to a very unsuspecting and subsequently traumatized resort guest, and my taking a pee on one at an impromptu road stop driving back from Hua Hin, (not sure whether the snake or I was most surprised and alarmed,) but thankfully to this day I have not been bitten by one.
Whether you’re scared of snakes or not, I advise great caution reading this paragraph, as it still scares the hell out of me when I think about it, and I fail continually to put it out of my mind in certain moments, it being so harrowing an encounter with a snake. The title alone should give you nightmares, and reads, “Man Wins Desperate Struggle to Free Penis From Toilet Python.” This is no myth and was reported in the Thairath newspaper back in November 2016. In the early hours of the morning, a man went to his outside squatty type toilet to empty his bowels and found the jaws of a 4-meter long python, (which had crawled up the sewage pipes and come out into the bowl of his toilet,) clenched tightly round his genitals. Every time I go to the loo this is now present in my mind, and I will no longer use squatty toilets. I’m also very nervous using toilets on ground floors. Be warned that there are pictures at the link provided which could potentially impact upon your life and….hum…freedom of movement!
Here’s one last horror story which comes with advice if you live here and employ a maid – ask her to keep the mosquito screens closed on all doors and windows if she leaves them open while she works. One family living near me in a duplex condominium, on the 5th and 6th floors, were disturbed by screaming shortly after their 5 year old son had gone to bed. They rushed up to find him in bed with a cobra, which had entered most likely via an open window earlier in the day, and found warmth underneath the child’s bed sheets. I’m pleased to say that despite multiple bites, the boy was fine after being rushed to hospital and given antivenin.
No matter where you live I Thailand, snakes are quite commonplace, so be aware of the types, precautions and where treatment for bites can be sought.
I you’re interested in what snakes represent in Thai superstition http://phuketelephanttrails.com/snakes-in-the-belief makes for an interesting read.