Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jinkjos, Frogs and Cobras, Oh My!

I have been living in Thailand for 6 years now; I originally wrote this in 2005 shortly after the incident. My wife (Thai) and I (American) bought a house “up-country” in 2004. Up-country means out side of any town or city and is not considered desirable to most “city Thais”. We do live in a small village of about 30 houses and we are about 1 kilometer from the major highway to Bangkok. I find this “up-country” description amusing. Truly living in the country (not living in a village) is considered dangerous if not foolhardy, especially for a “Farang” (western white foreigner).
We have been in the house for almost 5 year’s now and I have seen various lizards, water Monitors (2+ meters long), Jinkjoks (Ginkgos), frogs, toads, crabs (land version), and snakes in our yard. The snakes have been the non-poisonous variety and only about 50 cm. long.
Late Saturday night on May 14th, 2005 my wife was working in her office (our second bedroom) preparing an article for a publisher until the wee hours of the night. The next morning she told me she had heard some rustling in the corner, behind some boxes. We both thought it was one of larger lizards (maybe 30-cm. long), which are harmless, so we didn’t give it a lot of thought.
We left the house early Sunday morning and went into Banpong, which is about 8 kilometers from our house. Banpong is 86 kilometers due west of Bangkok. We did our shopping and I went to the Internet shop. Upon our return home we discovered that “things” on my wife’s dressing table (in our bedroom) were knocked over and spilled on the floor. Further, the waste paper basket had moved itself across the floor. In her office, which also is where we keep the dishes and cooking pots, a heavy pan had been knocked off the shelf as well as some dishes. At this point I knew we were not looking for a 30-cm. long lizard.
My wife went about her household chores. I was concerned and went looking for the culprit. I decided to concentrate on the office area that is also filled with boxes and is basically the area we put the things that we don’t have a “place” for yet (our house is not huge). I worked my way to the far corner. After moving the clothes rack (Thai houses do not have closets) and various boxes, I could see into the corner. My heart skipped a beat. There curled up in the corner was a snake; a rather large snake. It just lay there. I retreated to the doorway. I went back and took a good look. The snake still didn’t move. Its neck area had some wrinkles and was not like any snake I had seen before. At this point, I should say that in my youth I liked snakes, and had many for pets (including a 4 foot Bull snake I caught in eastern Oregon) and at one time I considered becoming a Herpetologist. This snake’s neck was unusual and because we have Cobras in this area I thought it might be a Cobra. I think there are Cobras in all of Thailand. I told my wife I had discovered a snake in the corner of the bedroom/office and she was not happy. She quickly took one look and asked me if it moved fast or slow. I said it hadn’t really moved much at all even when I poked it with a long stick; it just laid there. My wife then told me fast snakes were not poisonous, but slow ones were.
I pondered the logic of that for a few minutes and decided I didn’t understand the logic of that statement; but, since I thought it was in fact a Cobra and it didn’t move at all, this was not the time to question Thai folklore and I would go along with the program. Okay, it’s been many years and I no longer fancy myself as an amateur snake handler, especially with a Cobra. It was time to call for help. I was advised to get help from the local experts, which we did.
After our neighbor contacted the local “expert”, I went back into the bedroom and very carefully cleared the area so the “expert” could get to the corner and if a hasty retreat was needed the way would not be blocked. In clearing this area I discovered that only part of the snake was visible and it was bigger than I first thought. The snake still did not move which made me very happy. My wife was not happy with my being in the room and said so many times. I never took my eye off of the snake while I was in the room.
The local expert showed up after about 30 minutes. He went in a took a look, yup, “Ngu How” (Thai for Cobra) was the pronouncement. Ooookaaaayyy...gulp! Having my suspicions confirmed was more of a shock than I expected.
Our neighbor and the Cobra Guy went into the field next to our house and cut some sticks from one of the trees. One was straight and the other stick was forked. Forked sticks are commonly used to pin the snake’s head so it can be grabbed and carried. Okay, I think they know what they are doing. This eased my mind somewhat. I did not want a pissed off Cobra chasing us out of our house.
They went into the bedroom and pinned the Cobra with the forked stick, which is what I expected. The other guy then started to beat the snake with the straight stick. This I didn’t expect, but should have guessed would happen. I certainly can’t blame them for not wanting to handle a Cobra. I had visions of hauling the Cobra Guy to the hospital at 160 kph to treat him for a Cobra bite, which fortunately didn’t happen.
As it turns out the Cobra was almost 2 meters long (187 cm.). I measured it.
We figured out how it got into the house and we have taken counter measures so this doesn’t happen again. The rear screen door is also a security door (heavy bars) and has a rubber flap that covers a 5-cm. gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. We are fairly sure it was in the house for two days before we found it. We sleep with the bedroom doors open so air can circulate through the house at night, so it had free run of the house. I shudder when I think about sleeping with a Cobra roaming our house at night. My wife is slowly recovering her confidence our house is Cobra free. She is still checking the office every time before starting her work. I will admit to looking around the house as well. All of the possible hiding places are now gone.
My wife is Buddhist and Buddhists do not like killing or being responsible for the death of anything. My wife (and I) made “merit” for the death of that Cobra. This involved apologizing for its death and burning Ja sticks (incense) and saying a prayer for the Cobra and its ancestors. This small ceremony is to ensure that its relatives know we are sorry for its death and they don’t return to do us harm. This is also acknowledgment that we know we are responsible for its death.
We have now made sure no more stray animals can enter our house uninvited. Life goes on and the learning never stops.


  1. And to think I panic when I see a cockroach here in Vegas...

    Fascinating story, very unusual and brave life.

  2. Thanks for the kind comment. Brave? Hmm, I never thought about it like that. From what I've read on your blog, you haven't had an exactly tame life yourself. LOL.