Travels around Thailand: Chapter 7 - Encounter with a monocled cobra
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I had been traveling south from Mai Hong Son across the highest mountains in Thailand, many over 5000 feet, with the accompanying temperature drop. I had stood amongst the colourful glory of the sunflower mountain sides in mist then heavy rain and gloried in the wild orchid fields. I was winding my way down to Lampung for the night when the rain caught me up. I was still damp from my earlier dowsing and was contemplating taking something to dull the discomfort of a numb bum so stopped at the next resort for the night. I ended up just outside a place suitably called Hot.
The next morning was a typical Thai winters day, blue sky and warm with the promise of the whole day continuing so. I had planned to continue on through Lampung and southwards but when I got to the main road it was being resurfaced and closed and as they do out here a long diversion was in place. I consulted my map and decided to head west to the Burma border and follow it south for a while. I had ridden this road northwards last winter and knew it to be full of breathtaking views. There was a road that headed to the river forming the border between the two countries and so i took the iron donkey down for a drink. It turned out to be a small village with a crossing point to Burma by small boats and boy it was set in the most beautiful place. It even had a rinkydink immigration post, I called in to make myself known before I headed down to the river as I have learnt that foreigners appearing from the direction of another country can cause guns to be drawn and visas demanded. What a stunning vista, feet paddled and donkey watered I carried on.
There was a road heading off due east that had some signs on indicating, in Thai, that the next town was 48 kilometres away. Could this be a route across the mountains? Stopping for fuel I asked the name of the town indicated and found it was indeed across the mountains, the pump attendant reckoned on it being four hours travelling, there was plenty of daylight left so off I went down a red dirt road. The red dirt is found right through Thailand and is dug out from about one meter below the top soil, it is hard wearing and being volcanic in origin slightly sulphuric. The top surface turns dusty with use and the numerous pickups leave a huge plume of dust behind them so that by the end of the journey I was embarking on I ended up looking like I’d experienced an explosion in a Henna factory.
While the low lands in Thailand are brown fields of dried out paddy fields the tropical greenery returns as you gain altitude until its lush rain forest. With this environment comes abundant wildlife such as monkeys foraging next to the road giving humans disdainful looks for interrupting the peace and my nemesis, snakes. I'm ok in the UK but out here they have dangerous bites and although many you see are harmless I don't get close enough to study if the head is round or diamond shape. They are not normally aggressive to humans as we are too big to eat and an expert told me when faced with a King Cobra just stay still and they will ignore you. I was about to put this theory to the test. I have had the discussion with other bikers on what to do when coming round a corner and finding a snake crossing the road. While a dog for example is a small enough target to avoid a five foot long slow moving snake is hard to miss. The question is if it can't be avoided what end do you head for, one end stands you a chance of getting bitten and the other end will give you a mighty annoyed snake.
It was a straight red dirt road somewhere twixt Doi Tao and Lampang, plenty of greenery so must have been high. I caught movement off to my left in the verge ahead and at least two foot of the snake had appeared before it registered what it was and the panic brakes came on. I stopped about twelve foot from the King Cobra that by now was showing its full six foot length and I sat still with the engine running. To my horror the snake stopped and slowly turned facing me then sensing the bikes presence lifted its head up and inflated the neck widener giving me a close up view of the traditional image of these majestic beasts. We stared each other out in an eternity of muscle control for the snake holding its head erect and bowel control for me.
It slowly lowered its head as I was quietly putting the bike into first gear, having decided to jump off and let the bike take its chances with the snake, but it moved off thus saving the bike from a nasty puncture. I looked up the snake later and it was a Monocled Cobra.
As I've written before, the Tourist Information Thailand have illuminated signs everywhere with the initials, recommend that if you are bitten you take the snake with you to the hospital to make identity easier. Something befitting a Carry on film methinks.
Lampang is the only place in Thailand that I've seen horse and carriages , they are very like the ones you see in most Mediterranean seaside resorts. I first saw one whilst sat on a raised eating area at the Lampang Palace Hotel eating dinner. I heard it first , the unmistakable coconut clip clop and I was expecting Eric Idle to appear dressed as a Crusader but no it was a horse and carriage. The other good thing at Lampang is a pottery on the road to Uttaradit .Onwards then to Uttaradit across more mountains and when I least expected it I passed a magnificent reclining Buddha far far bigger than the famous one in Bangkok and opposite a collection of lifelike animals made out of the tree offcuts from the furniture factory behind. It wasn't geared up for tourists but mainly to sell beautifully made furniture using the natural curves found in the trees. I wandered to the workshops behind the showroom and discovered the artist at work. He was a local lad with no training just a natural flair for sculpture.
I cut off to the right not far south of Uttaradit to go through Nakhon Thai and onwards traversing the Khao Nam park and arriving at the 1087 meter high escarpment overlooking Lom Sak. The road down from this point is a motor bikers heaven as it's an hour of hairpin bends and breath taking views over the edge. There had been a thin mist in the tropical vegetation of the park which had chilled me considerably and I felt the warmth of the temperature difference as I descended the hill with knees and elbows out in the best racers form taking the bends but leaving a good safety margin as to "overcook" a bend would not be pleasant.
Back then to Lom Sak my jumping off point and to the resident Falangs. " Been far?" they ask " Nah just touring up North" I reply calculating in eight days I've done 3000 kilometres. Thank goodness for the sheepskin seat cover.
• Read Chapter 1: The first visit
• Read Chapter 2: Bangkok and beyond
• Read Chapter 3: Kanchanaburi and getting around by train
• Read Chapter 4: Travelling around Thailand
• Read Chapter 5: The road from Nan to Chiang Rai
• Read Chapter 6: Mai Hong Son and higher mountains
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