Many of you are coming to Thailand for the first time, the second time, and you are wondering if you really need to pay for a snake guide or if you can do it alone like you sometimes see other people doing. There are many forums and places where snake hobbyists can have conversations about the best places to go for this or that snake or other reptile species. Below are some of the considerations I hope you take into account. Sure, I’m biased, but I think most people are missing the entire point when they decide to go on their own.
I think the primary reason to use a snake guide, or any guide while you’re in the forests of Thailand is SAFETY. Knowing which snakes and other wildlife and other potential problems you need to be aware of are important, and could become VERY important if you’re bitten by something.
A guide knows which animals are in the forest you’ll be herping in, and knows how to avoid them or how to deal with them. These are things that don’t get shared in forums much because the people sharing their knowledge are people who came for a week, a month, or come once a year for a week or month and who think they have the place dialed. I’ve corrected countless misconceptions regular yearly herpers have had of Thailand’s potential dangers.
Wildlife to Be Aware Of
- Wild cats
I hope I’m not missing something obvious. The point is, a guide knows whether these animals are going to be an issue while herping, and knows how to avoid or deal with them. Bees during the day can be a real problem and one of the most deadly things in the forest. At night, we’re regularly chased by bees. Dealing with them during daylight and dark hours is different. Monks and other people in Thailand are sometimes set-upon by swarms of bees and killed. A local guide sees these reports happen throughout the year and knows far more potential issues than someone coming once a year, or who lived in Isaan in a house for a year and didn’t go out herping at all.
A guide knows what to do when there is a pack of dogs in the forest 50 meters away that notices you. Do you know what to do? Do you know how to keep a huge pack of dogs from attacking you? A guide knows because likely he/she has faced that problem before.
I’ve kept a pack of 40-50 dogs away from me as I herped during the daylight hours. I was sure I was going to be climbing a tree, and I was just about to that point, but my tactics worked.
You know what? They always have worked. Do you know what to do? Being approached by stray dogs alone or in a pack is a regular occurrence in Thailand while herping. You really should know exactly what to do to avoid a bite.
So, that’s what you’re really paying for, someone who has faced all or most of the potential problems that could evolve during a night of herping, and who knows how to get you through it.
People to Be Aware Of
Wildlife is usually a known entity. They’re either in the forest or not. We know generally what animals are capable of. But, what about people in the forest that you may come upon?
There are many reasons you might meet someone in the forest. Some of them not good reasons. Some locations are used for drug use, marijuana plant growing, and homosexual hook-up areas. You may be approached and asked for money – likely for drugs. I’ve had zombies approach me in the middle of the night asking me for 100 Thai baht for ya-ba (speed).
The places I herp are really great places to dispose of a body. Recently a girl was killed at night at a location where I herp. They found her body a couple of days later.
You may meet hunters in the forest with guns. Some are setting up huge nets to trap birds. Some are placing traps with drug-laced bananas for slow-lorises or civets. How comfortable are you going to be with your photo-gear in the forest in the middle of the night with three Thai guys with guns that you can’t speak to because you don’t know the language?
There are so many unknowns in the forest in Thailand, and anywhere. A guide has probably already faced those unknowns and knows how to deal with them as successfully as possible.
First Aid Treatment
A good guide should (must) know what to do for problems encountered in the forest. Do you know what to do when stung by a bee during the day time? Night time? Do you know how to treat early stages of anaphylactic shock? Do you know where the nearest hospital is, and the BEST hospital to take someone bitten by a Malayan pit viper? Cobra? Coral snake? Do you know how to treat bites from every species? A guide knows. That’s part of what you’re paying for. A guide knows how to talk to the doctor and nurses at the hospital in Thai, to help get you the best care possible at that crucial time.
A good guide has contacts who can be called anytime to help with snakebite treatment. A good guide has snakebite protocols available at all times to help Thai doctors follow an established treatment regimen because contrary to what you may have heard, there are HUGE differences in how snakebite is treated in the country. Most doctors have very little experience with this and they don’t seem to share the best information with each other throughout the country.
This alone, is worth paying a guide fee, don’t you think?
Preparation for the Herping Field Trip
In my own case, I’ve been herping in Thailand for 12 years. I know what I need and what others will need. I know how high boots must be to stop a Malayan pit viper bite. I know the glasses that will work to stop spitting cobra venom from reaching the eyes. I know how far a person with a camera needs to be from all the viper, cobra, krait, and coral snakes we have around here. I know which bandages to bring. I know which headlamps have the right white-balance for photos and finding the most snakes possible at night.
You’ll be much more successful looking for snakes in a given area with a guide, versus without a guide. A good guide knows where the snakes are likely to be – taking into account the recent weather, past weather, the likely weather, the temperature, the humidity, the wind strength, etc. A good guide can remember where hundreds of snakes were found in the past, and can focus the search on certain areas that can be more productive. A good guide can zero you in on an area when you have a target species.
One snake species here, a viper, Trimeresurus venustus, is highly sought after for some reason. They’re nice enough to look at and small enough that they don’t present much danger. Few people know where to look for them, but they’re literally all over the place. Ao Nang, Railay Beach, Buddhist temples, Resorts. I’ve found them in Surat Thani town at a temple. They’re in Khanom. They’re on Langkawi Island. They’re all over the place.
Many of the snakes I find, are only found in very specific places. If you’re coming to Krabi to find King Cobras, monocled cobras, blood pythons, mangrove pit vipers, dark headed cat snakes (B. nigriceps), white-spotted cat snakes, dog-toothed cat snakes, T. fucatus, the slug snakes, the keel-bellied whip snake (D. rubescens), green keelback, red-phase O. purpurascens, Wagler’s pit viper, cave racer, and many more – there are only very specific places you’ll ever find these snakes. A local guide can show you where they were found before. You might not find one during your herping excursion but you have a much greater chance than you would without a guide.
3 Hours vs. 12 Hours
The herpers you’ll see on the forums posting dozens of snakes they found in Thailand, Malaysia, all over the world, are a special breed. I know from experience they are spending 6 to 12 hours per day/night looking for snakes during their vacation. They have a limited number of days to herp in the area and they spend as much of that time on their feet walking around, as possible. If that’s what you want to do, and you’re knowledgeable about everything mentioned above – then, by all means, go do that.
For everyone else who wants to spend only 3 hours a night looking, and finding snakes and other wildlife, a guide can cut 9 hours from your effort so you can also see some of the other amazing things Thailand has to offer.
A guide has intimate knowledge of the area, including dangers, potential dangers, and solutions for problems that may creep up. Paying a guide $30-50 an hour to help you herp Thailand or anywhere successfully is smart and can keep you out of bad situations. A lot can go wrong during a herp. I’ve had a lot go wrong myself and learned the best way to deal with most of the variables that can lead to a safety issue.
Use a guide when herping an area at least the first time and pick his/her brain about all the potential problems. Then, if you’re still confident in your ability to handle everything – go it alone the next time.