A few weeks ago some Andaman Discoveries staff went on a mission to Oliver’s durian farm. Oliver’s been living around Kuraburi for 14 years, and remains defiantly English with a handful of Thailand expat quirks. We piled into the back of his pickup and zoomed 16 miles out to the land. Oliver wandered around in wellies, a fanny-pack, and machete. He looked like a properly eccentric jungle man. Fanny-packs — or as the English put it ‘bum-bags’ — are an essential accessory for all macho jungle men in Asia.
After wandering past a shockingly blue mountain pool we went into a field of long grass where Oliver uttered the reassuring “I don’t think there are snakes here, but…”
Snakes are not a common sight for most tourists in Thailand, but they exist. Reticulated Pythons and King Cobras are the two most impressive and discussed snakes where I’m living.
Reticulated Pythons usually grow up to 10-20 feet long. Some Reticulated Pythons grow longer than 20 feet, making them the longest snake in the world. Anacondas might be heavier, but reticulated Pythons are longer. Young pythons will often swim from the mainland to smaller islands where there are fewer large predators. When the baby snakes are large enough that no mainland predator will pester them, they will swim back to the mainland. The six to ten foot snakes I encountered on Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi mostly menaced local cats and puppies. (Bear in mind that these islands take almost two hours to reach on a fast ferry — these snakes are impressive swimmers!)
While visiting the villages around Kuraburi one of my hosts showed off the skull of a python he had killed a few days earlier. He estimated that the snake had been about 18 feet long. He chopped off the snake’s head as it ate one of his goats: a pregnant goat. That was the twelfth, and last, goat this snake ate. My host stated that the pythons were far more dangerous than the other serpentine island resident: the King Cobra.
King Cobras are the largest venomous snake in the world, and are common in parts of Thailand. Most people I’ve met around Kuraburi aren’t overly fussed about cobras. Pythons will attack without reason and prey heavily on agricultural livestock. King Cobras mostly eat other snakes and don’t bother humans when left alone.
Ban Lion on Koh Phra Thong is a village built with donor funds after the 2004 tsunami. The village is a sad case study in well-intentioned, but misguided, international giving. Most people abandoned the oppressively cookie cutter houses, leaving only 10 out of 150 homes occupied. King Cobras moved into many abandoned houses. However, the prevalence of large poisonous snakes was of less concern to residents than the issue of loneliness in the barren village.
Though, the people I’ve met are generally sabai sabai about the proximity of somewhat dangerous snakes, there are others who wouldn’t hesitate to decapitate a python that hadn’t eaten over 10 goats. Phuket, Thailand’s largest island and one of the most developed and debauched mass tourism destinations around, is starting to see more human-snake conflict. Due to Phuket’s development people perhaps aren’t used to seeing cobras near their houses. Recently a Phuket snake wrangler begged locals to recognize that they must share the land with the snakes, as the snakes were here first.