Saturday, 23 March 2013

... Indochina: Must Read Sssssssssssigns!

Aside from waking once during the middle of the night I managed to get 7 hours of kip. I lazed around in bed for an extra 2 reading up on things to do in Bangkok with the plan to leave my guest house around noon, drop my bags off at my next digs before heading out to do more exploring (& get another massage). That was until I read all about the "Snake Farm" and saw it's opening hours on a weekend were only 930am - 1pm. Time to get my arse in gear!

Why on earth would I visit a snake farm I hear you cry? Well aside from the fact that I'm a little bit weird I also wanted to embrace my nerd. The Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute is actually run by the Thai Red Cross in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) as a centre for venomous snake toxicology and research. Thailand is home to many species of both harmless and poisonous snakes and this centre is vital in educating the public and producing the antivenin. It is also open to the visiting public for an entrance fee of 200B.

I initially needed to get to Hualamphong, Bangkok's main train station, as my digs for tonight are a stone's throw away from there. In fact you can get to it by walking through the MRT subway station. So just before 9am I decided to travel like a local and flagged down a TukTuk. I managed to barter him down from 100B to 80B, which the owner of Sam Sen Sam had advised me to do. Sweet! We were soon weaving in and out of the insanely busy Saturday morning traffic as I quite literally held onto my trusty travel hat. It was a total rush and well worth doing for the experience. I was able to leave my larger backpack at the hotel then I headed back into the Subway.

The MTA subway is clean, modern and incredibly easy to use. The system is primarily a suburban commuter line which likely explains why I stood out like a sore thumb. Someone even took my photo as they appeared to be that taken in, likely amused, by me as I myself took in the surroundings, worked out what is what, giggled at the station name "Bang Sue" and of course took photos. For a single trip you buy a ticket in the station, tell them where you want to go, pay and are given a little black plastic disc.

Google maps had told me I needed to get off at Lumphini park. My ticket cost 20B. You scan the disc outbound at the turnstile then go to the appropriate platform/insert it into the slot on your return journey to get out of the station. The system is also incredibly efficient (BC Translink take note!). There are doors preventing you from having any access to the line itself and they only open when the train arrives and it's doors open (like a lot of trains at airports). They've also got queuing down pat with little yellow arrows and boxes tell you where to stand. None of this congestion malarkey like back home where people seem incapable of letting people get off the train before they themselves get on. The trains are roomy (although granted this was hardly a weekday rush hour ride) and even have TVs for you to watch should you feel in any way inclined. Preferential seating, marketed as "those in need", is given to the usual: pregnant ladies and the elderly & infirm. Then the not so usual: monks and quite possibly "two lovers holding hands" if the sign is correct although I suspect children is the more likely choice there. In no time I was at Lumphini station.

I really need to learn to read signs because contrary to popular belief they're usually also in English as well as Thai. Except when you are walking what felt like the entire grounds of the Thai Red Cross H.M Queen Bikrit hospital... Then there's nothing in English... Except if you're looking for a Cardiology conference and alas I was not. If all else fails mime and make noises. I was looking for the snake farm so there was lots of gesturing with my hand in a wavy-snake motion along with "sssssssssssssssss". It didn't help that I got off at the wrong subway station, one further along than I should've *shakes angry little fists at Google*. Still it wasn't the end of the world, I managed to find a 7-11 for some much needed water, I got up close & personal with the locals with my miming prowess and... I found a Starbucks. It was there where I was told I should have got off at Si Lom station, one stop earlier. With Americano in hand however I was pointed in the right direction and the "30 minute" walk took me about 10. should've. Instead the entire escapade from leaving the hotel turned into about an hour and a half. I ended up wandering the wards of the hospital, then when directed in English I took a wrong turn and ended up walking down the wrong street away from the bloody place. So I had to walk all the way back. By this time I had finished 1.5L of water. It was a good job I wasn't needing to find this place for antivenin after suffering a snake bite!?!

At 11am, with my clothes drenched in my weight's with of sweat (girls, you don't perspire here) I finally entered the snake farm, across the road from the first building I had gone in to. Still it was perhaps a blessing in disguise as the daily presentation was just about to start (11am weekends & holidays, later in the day during the week).

I was totally in my element as my jaw dropped as they brought out a vast array of poisonous & non-poisonous snakes from the region. I even asked questions based on my, in comparison, feeble knowledge from handling the corn snakes at Science World and learnt a whole lot more about these wonderful animals. The pictures I got are fantastic - including a snake with its jaws open just after it had bit the handler... Thankfully it was non-poisonous.

The presentation was top notch, incredibly interesting and very well presented. And well come on, I was literally only a few metres away from some awesome and beautiful reptiles. The icing on the cake was getting to hold the Burmese python at the end. Admittedly I went all touristy (& Britney Spears-esque) and got my photo take with it across my shoulders. She was absolutely beautiful.... And heavy. After the presentation I had time to wander around the exhibition section. Some of it is inside with AC - a welcome break from the heat. They have lots of different snakes both inside and outside with information on each in English plus a whole lot more on snakes, their species and how we interact with them.

It was worth the 200B without a doubt and my nerd was satiated. The only disappointment was they don't do the venom "milking" at the weekend. I'm sure that would be a sight to see. As I left I walked through the actual hospital building where they had information for the public on a wide plethora of diseases and infections such as malaria, yellow fever, rabies etc. That in itself was really interesting too especially if you like to travel.

With my internal compass now reset I headed back to the Si Lom subway and came back to Hualamphong for 18B. All the walking in the heat was starting to get to me. It was time to get another massage! I had noticed that right next door to my hotel there was a Thai massage place - I figured I would see how much it was and then weigh that up against having to pay to get to Wat Pho & back on top of the 420B. 500B for an hour? Sold! The basics of this massage were similar to what I had yesterday but I had to stop myself from laughing when she knelt on my backside. Oh and let's not forget the various pretzel positions I was placed into including lying on my back supported by one of her body parts as though I was flying upside down. As I thought to myself "if someone could see me now", granted dressed in an outfit that looked like pajamas that drowned me, I almost got a fit of the giggles. She was also less than 5ft tall and would likely be knocked over by a strong gust of wind. Don't let that fool you. She released my lumbar spine like no chiropractor has ever been able. In short, it was awesome! I also was incredibly relaxed to the point of almost falling asleep for a large portion of the treatment. If I don't return to Wat Pho tomorrow I will be coming back here!

Seeing as lunch consisted of a Cliff bar and a litre of water with an electrolyte tablet in it, I am going to get all adventurous tonight and go in search of some real food! That is after quick nap. Wish me luck!

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