I got an email from a guy interested in starting to herp for reptiles and especially snakes in Thailand and he asked what to bring. I started writing him an email, then decided to make a page about Herping in Thailand – covering equipment and techniques that I’ve used.
(Last updated: 7 April 2017)
HERPING IN THAILAND – SOME TIPS
I’ve been herping in Thailand for 10 years. I go 20-30 times a month during the May-August months and usually twice a week during other times of the year. During December – March the air and humidity isn’t perfect for finding snakes during herping field trips, but we nearly always find something cool to gawk at. Also during this time, there isn’t the abundance of lizards, geckos, and other beasties that I’m used to during the rainy season. Herping is something I do for fun, a hobby, not a career – so, I go when I think I’ll enjoy it. In 2016 I have herped more than I ever have – and my snake count – whatever that is – would show it. Sometimes I wish I kept a log of every snake found. I started it and stopped after 200 some snakes. I stopped because it sort of takes the fun out of it. I start thinking about numbers of snakes, rather than focusing on snakes I haven’t found yet that would be more interesting to find than say, whip snakes.
The following is how I go about herping in Southern Thailand. If there is anything else you’d like to add, do so in the comments or send me email.
THAILAND SNAKE BOOKS
You’ll need a couple of books that will help you get through your Thailand herping with the best experience possible. I have 2 books you can make do with – one of them is essential.
That’s this one:
Is That Snake In Your House Dangerous? Identify Deadly Thailand Snakes Within 5 Minutes! I wrote this one. This is in PDF format and has the 35 deadly terrestrial snakes of Thailand in detail and in high resolution images. There are ESSENTIAL FIRST AID Instructions included. Some snakebites need wrapped with an elastic bandage, and some don’t – you’d do much more harm than good by wrapping some bites. Sometimes the circumstances dictate whether you wrap it or not. This book has the ANTIVENOM listed for each snake – and WHERE TO GET IT, if the hospital you arrive at does not have it in stock.
GET THIS BOOK HERE, REALLY IT IS ESSENTIAL if You’re doing ANY Herping Tour in Thailand > Click HERE to GET IT!
Photos of Common Thailand Snakes! Venomous and non-venomous snakes listed. Photos and facts. This is FREE, and while not essential, it can be the source of some good basic information. You should get it – it’s helpful! > Click HERE to GET IT!
A Field Guide To The Reptiles Of Thailand. This one is available at Amazon as a MOBI file. You can get it there from between $18 to $35 USD. Yes, it’s expensive, but it covers all the reptiles of Thailand, and it’s fairly comprehensive with not all that many mistakes. It definitely has some. This Reptile guide doesn’t mention which snakes are venomous and which are not while looking at individual species. They do list it in the general comments about the genus before each group. The hand-drawn images are sometimes incredibly accurate, and other times really poor (B. jaspidea image is useless for instance.). Of all the books and ebooks I have, this one is the most comprehensive. It still has errors, but every book I’ve seen has some. > Click HERE to GET IT!
If I will be walking in high grass or thick brush, or on deep leaves, I wear simple $6 rubber boots that go above the ankle. These boots cover half the shin – and this seems to work well. The real danger for looking for snakes at night in Thailand is the Malayan Pit Viper. The worst snake you’d likely be bitten by in Thailand is the Malayan pit viper, or if you’re in the Pattaya or Central Thailand area – the Russell’s Viper. Russell’s would maybe go through that rubber. I doubt it, but they do have a strong bite and large fangs. I don’t walk through any thick grass that blocks me from seeing my feet, or around my feet. If you’re planning on doing that – you should wear the thick rubber boots, or thick leather boots that go almost to your knee.
I wear U.S. marine camouflage pants I bought at a local market. They are real marine issue – very tough material. They were 950 THB ($30 USD). They have a draw-string on each leg that tie at the bottom tightly – and this keeps the ants off my legs. I pull my socks up over the pants to help as well. Ants and termites are often active at night by the millions. A Malayan pit viper or Russell’s would bite through the marine pants, no doubt, but the pants would help mitigate the bite and maybe keep it from being a full on intramuscular injection. I feel a bit safer with the pants, but that is probably just psychological and they probably offer little protection from snakebite at all.
I wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep mosquitoes off my head. I wear a long sleeved very lightweight running shirt that wicks away sweat – and also keeps the mosquitoes off. They still bite through so I sometimes spray the outside of the shirt if mozzies are thick. A hat with a flap in the back to keep the bugs off your neck would be good. If not, I spray the back of my head and arms with mosquito spray (DEET 98). If I don’t spray it, I wrap a large snake bag around my neck like a scarf to keep the bugs off. Keep in mind, if you use bug spray, you cannot handle a snake with your hands, let it crawl on your arms – or wherever the spray is. It’s strong stuff.
HEADLAMP – FLASHLIGHT – TORCH
Flashlight technology has exploded. I currently use a horribly expensive Petzl Ultra Rush headlamp. Before that, I wore a Petzl Tikka RXP rechargeable headlamp which works at 1.5 hours at full brightness on manual. I also sometimes use my Petzl Nao+ (Plus) headlamp, or the Petzl NAO 2 which also gives about 1.5 hours at full brightness, or 3-4 hours on auto reactive mode. All of these lights work well – but the Ultra Rush is just awesome – the beams are just right and the best brightness level for finding wildlife at night.
I have a couple of Fenix HP 25 headlamps which have a too-bright center beam and weak flood light beam – so they’re less than ideal. Recently I was able to review the Fenix HL60R, and it’s quite good. There are advantages to a light like this, but I didn’t like the quality of light it puts out for herping. It’s quite orange, and for some reason, the contrast of snakes against leaves and dirt – is weak. I find many more snakes with the Ultra Rush, so I’ll never go back to anything else.
The HP25 is good for spotting snakes and lizards very far away with a small (tight) beam when road cruising. I also have a handful of UltraFire handheld flashlights with adjustable beam. Wider beams are best for herping, a tightly focused center spot beam can hurt your eyes before long. My flashlights put out around 250 lumens. My headlamps are all over 300 lm. You can buy either cheap Chinese flashlights, or good lights with 500+ lumens these days. The more light the better, but take caution with never shining the full brightness of your torch into an animal’s eyes. The 18650 rechargeable batteries are amazing, but at full power – one will last about 1.5 hours, depending how many lumens your light is cranking out. I bring many spares.
If you get a headlamp, try to get one that also accepts readily available AAA or AA batteries in an emergency when your rechargeable batteries fail. Be careful about buying cheap rip-off 18650 batteries made in China or elsewhere which will lose their charge in very short time over a couple weeks or months. I have a bag full of them.
I find the silver Energizer batteries you can find in the ‘Big Camera’ stores in Tesco or Big C, are the longest lasting. They are also cheaper there than in Tesco Lotus.
If you want the absolute ultimate herping headlamp – check this one out: Petzl Ultra Rush Light
SNAKE HOOKS – SNAKE TONGS
I bought snake tongs on EBay. The brand is Midwest and sold at Tongs.com, but they don’t ship to Thailand. Some guy on Ebay had them and sent them to Thailand for me. Cost was $110 USD + $45 shipping. I also bought snake bags from him. I use tongs ONLY for grabbing snakes out of trees gently. Once they are on the tongs, I just balance them on there and pull them down to the ground. Tongs are insidious for causing snake injuries – broken ribs being the big problem. Learn how to use them gently, or don’t use them at all.
To craft a snake hook I bought two metal paint rollers, took them apart and had someone weld them together in a make-shift hook. Total cost about 250 THB ($8 USD). I was never a fan of $30 hooks, until Al Coritz (ViperKeeper) gave me his awesome Midwest 3-piece collapsible hook! Thanks Al! Then I made another with a 3 iron golf club and had a metal shop worker bend the hook to the right dimensions. It worked VERY well and cost just $5 here in Thailand.
SNAKE HOLDING BAGS
I had some large meter-long and half meter wide bags made using some strong fabric I found at the store. They are double stitched and strong. I like big bags rather than small. I have a ton of small bags Al Coritz gave me, and I also use Tongs.com bags as shown above. They’re good as any. I do wish they had some black bags. I’m frequently alone and it’s tough to get a snake to crawl willingly into a white bag. I usually just shoot photos and videos of the snakes I see on-site. Occasionally I want to get more/better photos, in pouring rain for instance. I’ll bag the snake and keep it overnight, shooting the next day, and letting the snake go in the same place I found it that next night.
I carry a Gerber folding knife with 4-5 inch blade or a Ka-bar. There are bears where I go herping, wild cats, and large pythons. I am over cautious and always like to have some sort of weapon on me. I envision getting bitten by a 5 meter python and then him wrapping around me quickly – and dying there in a few minutes. No thanks!
With the knife, I’d try my damnedest to cut his head off before he wrapped around me. A wild cat I’d have some kind of chance against. With a bear, I’d just run fast and climb a tree and hope I could jump over to another tree if he followed me up it. Thailand has both the Malayan Sun Bear and the Asiatic Black Bears. These are supposedly two of the most aggressive bears on the planet, but I have yet to hear of anyone being attacked. They roam around the big national parks up around Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and anywhere close to Burma. Just be aware, and have some idea in mind what you’ll do if you see one. So far I’ve not seen any wild cats or bears, but I’ve seen some big pythons and some smelly hog badgers.
Pump spray bottle with DEET 98 or at least 50 – the highest number you can get.
I usually only bring a GoPro and my iPhone for photography these days. If you’re wondering which DSLR to bring, I have used the Nikon D610 for a couple years of macro photography and videography in the rainforest at night. With the D610 I use a 100mm micro (2.8F) lens. I know, it’s macro. Nikon for whatever reason has always called them micro lenses. I also bring a 35mm F/1.8 lens for wide angle video shots. For a flash diffuser, I wrap a dry baby wet-wipe around my flash in 3 layers and secure it with rubber bands. I shoot at 1/250 and F/16 usually around 800 ISO.
My iPhone gives incredibly sharp 4K video and average photos. I always have it, so I don’t bring any other backup camera – the iPhone (6s) is it.
You should always bring a charged mobile phone with Thailand SIM card. Before you go out at night make sure you download a flashlight app which will allow you to use your flash as a flashlight in an emergency. Some apps will give you more light than the supplied flashlight app your phone probably already has. Try a few out and get a bright one.
BEST TIME TO GO HERPING IN THAILAND?
I see some snakes during the daylight hours, and it’s very difficult to walk around looking for them during a hot day – or any day because there is just too much diffuse light – no contrast. I prefer the night herping by far. Some snakes are active right at dusk, others not until 10:00 PM, still others not until after midnight. I tend to find cat snakes (Boiga cyanea, B. cynodon) from 11:00 PM and later. I find mangrove cat snakes (Boiga dendrophila) begin to get active around 8 – 9:00 PM, cruising up along the edge of streams. Pythons – after 11:00 PM. Malayan kraits – juveniles right after dark and adults after 9-10:00 PM, they crawl along the edges of hills, sidewalks, rocks.
Best months to do a Thailand herping field trip? May – December – as long as the rains are continuing every couple days. The best time to go is any time after a rain, and when it’s warm (over 28C), humid, and not windy. Moon phase matters for some snakes, but for others – they don’t seem to care.
HOW TO LOOK FOR SNAKES?
I walk slowly around, looking at everything in the area before moving forward. I look on the ground in front of me before I step – every time without fail. Malayan pit vipers are common and have horrible bites. I don’t ever want a bite from that snake. I look at the trunks of palm trees and the whole way up. I look along the edges of things… rocks, sidewalks, where grass meets dirt, edges of puddles, ponds, streams. By walking and stopping I can listen closely for any movement. Movement of a lizard, skink, gecko, or anything, can also signal the presence of a snake following it, causing it to move.
Some people enjoy looking in the trees. It is too detailed for me and I can only do it for a short while before I find myself looking on the ground again. I look primarily on the ground in areas with big trees. In areas with many ground bushes, I will look there too. Snake scales show up well in the beam of the headlamps. At night, many snakes that are active by day are sleeping in the branches of bushes with some cover. Some snakes (Ahaetulla prasina, Oriental Whip Snakes) are found sleeping on top of branches or leaves. Some of the larger day active snakes are easily seen in trees at night because they have such a big ventral area that reflects back.
If it’s raining or has just rained, and the herping where I am isn’t very productive, I might jump in the car or on the motorbike and go drive the country roads to look for snakes. In Thailand this is very productive at night during or after rain. Why? Frogs, geckos, and skinks are often found on the roads too – snakes follow them.
THAILAND SNAKE HERPING CAUTIONS
I’ve not been bitten by any venomous snake in the ten years I’ve been catching them. I’ve never seen anyone get bitten. I am very careful about handling them, but really I handle snakes very little. I will tail something, but I hold a venomous snake by the head only to show someone the fangs occasionally. There’s no reason to do it every time, I’m not milking them, nor am I force-feeding them. I’ve noticed that the couple times I was nearly bitten, I either did something stupid, or there was an accident which I couldn’t have predicted, which almost got me bitten.
One time I was holding a Malayan Pit Viper on a stick (didn’t have my hook or tongs), and I was going to flip him out away from me. I was holding it about waist high. As I went to flip him out – the end of my stick caught on a bush branch and at the same time – he struck at me, came off the stick, and landed closer to my feet than I would have liked. He wasn’t ready to strike again and I was probably still out of range, but, lesson learned.
Another time, I was trying to get a Mangrove pit viper to move faster to get into the mangroves because some monkeys were coming and showing interest in him. I was standing on the mud with him, his head was a meter away from me and looking the opposite way. I kicked his tail with my sports-sandaled foot, thinking he’d go faster away. Nope. He twisted around in a split second and was poised to strike at my foot. I had been off-balance after I tapped his tail and my foot landed closer to him and with my weight on it. I couldn’t move it by the time he turned around. He could have tagged me. Really a stupid move on my part. Snakes don’t always go faster when you tap the tail. I knew that, and what I was thinking that day – I’m not sure. Really clear thinking is necessary while looking for snakes – make a note! Don’t drink alcohol before looking for snakes. It makes you prone to really stupid errors.
So, be careful out there. Ideally you’ll have 2-3 people going at the same time. It’s safer that way.
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