Snake phobia in Pang Mapha

Snake PhobiaPictures: 1-2: Naja kaouthia, Tak Province. 3. Naja siamensis, Tak Province.

Hello Sjon Hauser,
I often travel to Pai and Mae Hong Son, and because I have a sort of phobia of snakes, can you give me some information? People living there said to me that “we have no snakes here”, but I would like this to be confirmed. What common species can I find there? Are there cobras?
Thank you,
M.

Hello M.,
I am just back from a trip to Mae Hong Son. We saw one snake crossing a path during the day, a harmless Chequered Keelback. There are 60-70 snake species living in Mae Hong Son Province, many of them restricted to evergreen forest at elevations of 1000 meter above sea level and higher.
In the hot and dry season very few snakes are active, but when the rains arrive in May, snakes become a common sight. Among them are also species such as cobras and kraits that produce very potent venom (“poison”). Most of the dangerous snakes are active at night, and rest hidden somewhere during the day. Nearly all snakes will flee immediately when they spot humans. People usually got bitten when they try to catch a snake or when a snake is cornered. For example, in the evening venomous pit-vipers may enter gardens en strike when you step on them or step very close to them.
So don’t walk in gardens or in the jungle at night without a flash light, and do wear high shoes and long trousers—also the best protection against mosquito bites, which can be dangerous and are much more common than snake bites. With these precautions the risk of snake bite is almost zero, a trip on a motor bike to Pai is definitely more dangerous, especially for inexperienced foreigners.
All the best, S.H.

Dear Sjon,
Thanks a lot for your reply. I know, for you it is normal to deal with snakes, but I come from Italy and I have never seen one of these snakes, such as cobras or king cobras. It is very hard to think about coming across one in the resort’s garden. I’m sure you understand what I ‘m trying to say. I occasionally go to Pang Mapha near the cave. Local people say they don’t see and do not have snakes there, but I ‘m quite suspicious. Anyway, do you think there are also cobras and King Cobras in this area?
If one is unfortunately bitten by a snake, how does the hospital staff identifies the species before treatment?
Thanks again.

Snake bite mural Li-400breedPictures at left: Murals in Wat Phra That Duang Dieo, a temple in Li District, Lamphun. They depict episodes from a legend. 1. The hero, a local leader, is bitten by a Siamese Spitting Cobra (Naja siamensis) with buff color and spectacles-mark on the hood. 2. The hero suffers from great distress. 3. In the village  the bite site is treated by a local healer. A concoction of herbs is smeared onto the wound. Villagers prey to the spirits, weep, and release birds to bring good luck.

Dear M.,
I know the fear of snakes is hard to extinguish in many people, just believe me that the chance of being bitten is quite remote when some precautions are taken, as I told you earlier.
Snakes avoid humans and flee whenever possible.
Pang Mapha is full of snakes but without searching for them you will seldom see them, so it is understandable that locals say that there are “no snakes”. If you spot a snake, it is usually in a wink of the eye, and then the snake has disappeared.
Most snakes in the area are non-venomous. For example, in the forest along the road from Sop Pong to Tham Lot, the White-spotted Slug Snake and three kinds of wolf snakes are quite common, all little creatures, harmless and active at night. Kukri snakes, bronzebacks and Chequered Keelbacks are other common ‘non-venomous’ snakes in the area, they are most active during the day. When they are cornered and you try to catch or beat them, they may strike and bite, but their bite is harmless.
But the area is also home of the reddish Mac Clelland’s Coral snake and at least two species of cobras. I also came across young King Cobras. Little Eden, a nice resort in Pang Mapha, once sent me a picture of a cobra beaten to death in their garden. I am quite sure the Malayan Krait also occurs in the area. These are all potentially deadly snakes. (Lot Cave is probably home of the beautiful, large Cave Racer, which is non-venomous).
You will find many descriptions and pictures of northern Thai snakes on my website, most of these snakes also occur in Pang Mapha District.
Local hospitals may have anti-venoms, but if given when bitten by a different kind of snake, they may do more harm than good. Some sources advise to capture the snake that has bitten you and to bring it with you to the hospital. I think that could be a bad advise in Thailand, as hospital staff have little knowledge of snakes and some very poisonous snakes look surprisingly similar to harmless species. What’s more, by trying to capture the snake you may be bitten again, this time more venom could be injected! Maybe making a picture of the snake makes sense, if this is possible—as usually the snake flees as soon as it can!
So, in case of snake bite, let yourself being transported to a nearby hospital, do not move much, and do not bind off the limb!!
Hospital staff will see from the symptoms how proper treatment could be started.
That is:
In a majority of snake bites the snake is non-venomous or very mildly venomous. A little swelling may occur at the site of the bite, that’s all. No treatment! Just wait to see what will happen.
In half of the bites by dangerously venomous snakes no venom is injected. Nothing will happen, no treatment! Again: wait!
When cobras or pit-vipers strike and bite, and venom is injected, the pain is very fierce. This fierce pain is a good indication of a venomous species that has injected venom. This is because the venom contains haemolytic substances and cause tissue destruction. Monitoring the changes in your blood and treatment accordingly will be done in a hospital, and in case it is sure which species has bitten you, anti-venoms will be given. These bites often result in extreme swelling, redness and blisters, and blackening from necrosis. In case of serious cobra bite (and the bite of one kind of pit-viper) there may be additional neurotoxic effects to the haemolytic ones, especially effecting the respiration. So a patient may need artificial respiration until most venom has been removed naturally from the bloodstream (which may take days).
Krait bites seem to be rare and bites of coral snakes are even more rare (the latter are actually unknown in Thailand, as far as I know) but they could be rather tricky as there is little pain. Then, after an hour or two the place of the bite becomes numb and paralysis may spread from the bite site gradually to the rest of the body, also effecting respiratory muscles and after many hours resulting in respiration failure and death (if not treated).
There are some cases of such snake bites described on my website, you have to search for Bungarus candidus or Bungarus fasciatus or Sinomicrurus macclellandi, but I am afraid it is in Dutch.
But again, the chance of snake bite is very, very remote!!! But phobics are hard to reassure!
You will be killed first three times in a traffic accident on the road to Pang Mapha, then you fall to death when panicking near a steep gorge when (wrongly spotting something that looked like a snake), you‘ll subsequently be killed in a plane crash on your way back to Italy, all riskier than snake bites (under normal circumstances—I do not talk about locals that walk nearly bare-foot in jungle or the flooded paddies).
Have a good time in Pang Mapha, which is a beautiful area. If you have asthma or bronchitis, be prepared, the air may be very polluted in March and April due to lack of rain and the frequent forest fires!

Dear Sjon,
Thanks a lot for your explanations about these reptiles. I was keeping my fingers crossed for the cobras because I get terrified when even looking at a picture of them. Now, I get scared to come across snakes even in towns like Bangkok, Pattaya or Chiang Mai.
I will try to convince myself that no snakes want meet humans at any circumstances and I will struggle to enjoy myself. Because the Pang Mapha area is full of people on treks, I thought it quite safe, but I was wrong.
M.