20 Essentials to Herping in Thailand – Equipment, Technique

Herper with snake found in Thailand rainforest.

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: 27 November 2016)

HERPING IN THAILAND – SOME TIPS

I’ve been herping in Thailand for 10 years. I go 20-30 times a month during the May-July months and usually twice a week during other times of the year. During the December – March months the air and humidity isn’t perfect for finding snakes during herps, 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. It sort of takes the fun out of it!

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. The essential first:

ITSIYHD
Is That Snake In Your House Dangerous? Identify Deadly Thailand Snakes Within 5 Minutes!
 One I wrote, this ebook in PDF format has the 35 deadly terrestrial snakes of Thailand in detail and in high resolution images. There are ESSENTIAL FIRST AID Instructions. Some snakebites need wrapped with an elastic bandage, and some don’t – you’ll do much more harm than good. 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 to GET IT HERE!

Photos of Common Thailand Snakes - Free ebook download.
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 to GET IT HERE!

A Field Guide to the Reptiles of Thailand. Snakes, Turtles, Lizards, Geckos, Crocodiles.
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 to GET IT HERE!

BOOTS

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 are rubber boots that 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 thing you’d get 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 fangs. I don’t walk through any thick grass that inhibits 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.

HERPING PANTS?

Field herping pants - USMC Desert Cammies.
Ideal field herping pants are USMC Desert Cammies with drawstrings around ankle.

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 benefit at all.

RAINFOREST HAT

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.

Rainforest herping hat.
This hat breathes well, it has 4 vents at the top, and it has a brim that stays in the right shape over a long time. Cost – around $20 usd.

HEADLAMP – FLASHLIGHT – TORCH

Flashlight technology has exploded. I currently use a Petzl Tikka RXP rechargeable headlamp which works at 1.5 hours at full brightness on manual. I also use a Petzl NAO 2 which also gives about 1.5 hours at full brightness, or 3-4 hours on auto reactive mode. This light is awesome – the beams are just right and the best brightness level for finding wildlife at night. But they rigged the battery compartment so you have to buy new rechargeables with their proprietary connections for $50+ each, when you should just be able to replace the 18650 battery.

Petzl Nao 2 is an expensive option, but the quality and brightness of the light is really excellent for night time herping in the rainforest.
An expensive option, but the quality and brightness of the light is really excellent for night time herping in the rainforest. I have one of these, and was considering buying another, then I found out they have a new model coming out shortly… the PETZL NAO+. Longer battery life, brighter, red light on the back of the battery pack, and great integration with your mobile phone for custom profiles. HIGHLY recommended, but expensive.

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. They are good for spotting snakes and lizards very far away with a small (tight) beam though. I also have a handful of UltraFire handheld flashlights with adjustable beam. Wide beams are best for herping, a tightly focused 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.

Flashlight batteries for Herping Tours in Thailand
These work well and they’re cheap. Currently (2016-17) at 70 THB for 6 pieces. About $2 USD.

If you get a headlamp, try to get one that also accepts readily available AAA or AA batteries in an emergency when your rechargeables 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. Otherwise.

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.

Midwest 3-piece snake hook - collapsible.

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

Tongs.com Snake bags tie and have safe corners for extra security.

I had some large meter long and half meter wide bags made using some strong fabric I found at the store. The stitching is double 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. 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.

KNIFE

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!

Ka-Bar herping knife for unexpected emergencies.

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. In the big national parks up around Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and anywhere close to Burma – they roam. 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.

MOSQUITO SPRAY

Pump spray bottle with DEET 98 or at least 50.

CAMERA

I bring two cameras for macro photography and videography in the rainforest at night. The Nikon D610, and my iPhone. 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 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.

MOBILE PHONE

You should always bring a charged mobile phone. 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.

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 – I prefer the night. I go herping only at night really. 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 Thaialnd herping field trip? June – October. Then, the best times to go are any time after a rain, and when it’s warm out.

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.

Mangrove cat snake in a tree in Southern Thailand.
Mangrove cat snake coming down the tree to the ground to find prey. (Boiga dendrophila)
Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina) sleeping in a tree at night in Southern Thailand.
Whip snakes will sleep on any open branch, or sometimes directly on big green leaves.  (Ahaetulla prasina).

Some people enjoy looking in the trees. It is too detailed for me and I can only do it for a short while – an hour, before I find myself looking on the ground again. I look primarily on the ground in areas with big trees. In areas with a lot of ground bushes I will look there too. Snakes scales show up well in the beam of the flashlight. At night many snakes that are active by day are sleeping at night 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.

ROAD CRUISING

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? The frogs are often found on the roads too – snakes follow them out there.

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 them 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 everytime, 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.

If you would like to experience a snake field trip of a lifetime – contact us HERE.

Cheers!

Vern L.

ThailandSnakes.com
Thailand Snakes at Facebook
My Thailand Living YouTube Channel (varied wildlife)
Thailand Snakes at YouTube

11 thoughts on “20 Essentials to Herping in Thailand – Equipment, Technique”

  1. Hi,
    I am going to Phra Thong Island in Thailand for all the month of February and I love snakes. I would like to make some nice pictures of the snakes other there; Could you give me some advice ? like when , where and how to search snakes?

    Thank you
    Vincent

    1. Hi, sure.

      Just get a very strong flashlight or headlamp and walk around at night. Look on the ground mostly – because you don’t want to step on a viper. Look at the trees – palm trees especially for cat snakes crawling up or down. Look for whip snakes sleeping from 1 to 3 meters off the ground in leafless branches. If you can walk near water – that’s better. If you can go during a night the ground is wet and it’s warm – over 29-30C it’s better. Go during June to October for best results. Cheers!

    2. Hi,
      Vern I just stumbled upon this website researching herping in Southeast Asia because I am going there with a buddy’s family (may 15-june 15ish) and wanted to sharpen up my knowledge in the area so that I can be the most successful. I’ve already decided to buy two field books one of them being the one by Merel J. Cox…heard the best things about this one. I’m a seasoned and very knowledgeable herper and have found most herps in the state of Colorado and some others from various states. Anyways, you can only get so much info from a book and some pictures, so I would really love the chance to pick your brain and possibly get out in the field with you when I’m there. Don’t know exactly where I’ll be, but I do know I will be around Bangkok for some days and in the southeast fairly close to the borders of both Cambodia and Laos. There’s also very good chances I’ll be visiting the north part of the country and the south down the peninsula.

      Thanks,
      Ty

      1. Hi Ty,

        I may be available to go out when you arrive. I live in Krabi. Let me know a few days in advance before you get here. Do you have a website about snakes?

  2. I do not have a website about snakes but you can check out some of my photography of some of my work on photobucket. I will let you know a few days ahead of time and I should have a real good idea of exactly where I’ll be at during my stay by that time. It’ll just be my thai friend and I who has family from the Sisaket province so we’ll be pretty flexible on traveling money permitting however.

  3. Love your website…great and accurate info.
    I am a photographer and currently working on a photo-docu about rice-cultivation. Love to walk around in the paddy-fields.

    There are always lots of beautiful Chine White crane birds around. To shoot them I need to lay down to keep myself out of their peripheral sight. Is this dangerous?

    Could you give me any advice on the dangers of snakes in the ricefields?
    Much appreciated

    Sincerely,

    Felix

    1. Maybe dangerous depending how long you lay down there. When you’re first hitting the ground, assuming you’ve scouted the area – snakes will notice you moving and avoid you. Maybe some will avoid you because of smell. At some point, a snake could investigate your pant leg or crawl over you – but really, unless you’re shooting at night I’d say the chance of bite from a snake coming up to you while you’re laying on the ground for 5-10 minutes, is not high at all. Infinitesimally small, I’d guess. Hope I spelled that right. If you’re laying there for 30 minutes? Risk goes up a bit. The Malayan pit vipers and the cobras – including the spitters – are the snakes you might encounter someday. (guessing)

  4. Vern,

    I think you should edit this post to refer to your new book in addition to (instead of?) the books you refer to now. Bought the book and it is quite interesting. Going to be with me on my next photography outing.

    Tony

  5. I do all my herping in Khao Yai National Park, but I’d love to venture down and see what Krabi has to offer. Do you have directions to some good herping spots?

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