What can you see in the photo below? It's just a bush, right? Well if you look a little closer you'll spot something else: the world's longest venomous snake. It's at face height and it's staring right at you.
Photo credit: HerpingThailand.com
King Cobras are the stuff of legend wherever they're found, and for good reason. They're lightning-fast, they're venomous and they're huge. If you know anything about me it'll come as no surprise that I've always wanted to come face to face with one, and on my recent trip to Thailand my wish finally came true - a bit too literally!
Whilst driving around Khao Yai National Park looking for wildlife, we spotted a dark snake at the side of the road which looked like it was about to cross. We pulled up, I jumped out and dropped down flat on the road for a photo (a 3-part manoeuvre I'm very good at now after years of practice). The snake turned and swiftly disappeared into the undergrowth (a 2-part manoeuvre I'm sure it has been practicing for a while too) but after a few minutes it popped out again. I was able to get the shot below to confirm that it was indeed what I'd hoped. I was photographing my first King Cobra!
I was so thrilled with the encounter that I wasn't even upset when a car passed in the other direction and scared the cobra off, seemingly for good. When it didn't come back out again we snuck closer to where it had been in case it was still visible from the road, but we couldn't see it. Then suddenly, we could definitely see it.
We had been so fixated on the ground that it wasn't until I got distracted by a bird call and looked up (something that happens quite often) that I spotted it. It was perched on a branch and staring right at us, curiously and cautiously watching. If I was happy with my first encounter, I was ecstatic with this one! I took a few slow steps back and got the following photo before the reality of the situation had time to sink in:
I'm not going to start over-exaggerating about how I was close to death and lucky to get out of there alive or any of that nonsense, but it was certainly a little closer than I planned to get to a King Cobra - mostly due to my lack of first-hand experience with cobras and my willingness to not die. We watched and photographed the snake from the middle of the road for a while before it decided the coast was clear and started its descent. We stood absolutely still as it peacefully crossed the road a few metres away from us, securing its place on my list of most incredible jungle encounters.
There's something that's been on my mind ever since that day: why was it up the tree? The obvious assumption is that, after failing to cross the road several times, it decided to climb up for a better view to make sure it was safe. If that's true, that's amazing. Or perhaps it just wanted a better view of my beautiful face.
Fun fact: King Cobras are the only snakes in the world that build nests for their eggs. I couldn't find a good place to include this in the article, but it's too good of a fact to leave out!