Living in Chiang Mai, chances are you’ve never given a second thought to the fact that you’re actually smack dab in the Tropics. But, believe us, you are! And in this land of plantations and forests, criss-crossed with natural waterways and man-made drainage channels and, even in the midst of the city, still more than a few undisturbed green spaces, all manner of wild things lurk. Now most of the time, they’re not hazardous to life or limb but you definitely don’t have to stray into the nearest National Park, stop by the zoo or inhabit the deepest, darkest reaches of the province to have a pulse-pounding (though hopefully not a heart-stopping!) close encounter with any number of Chiang Mai’s deadliest animals; as it happens, sometimes the danger’s right on your own doorstep! So, being the socially responsible company that Perfect Homes is, we thought we’d put together a round-up of the more perilous fauna that live among us in this here part of the world. Scared yet? You should be!
You could spend a lifetime in Chiang Mai and, other than those squished on the road, not see a snake but, make no mistake, there be no less than two dozen different kinds of serpent in and around town! Most, we’re sure you’ll be rather relieved to hear, wouldn’t harm a hair on your head and tend to be shy and retiring; still, there are a few for which you’d be wise to give the very widest of berths!
Dispatching it’s victims by squeezing the very breath out of them, hardly a rainy season goes by here that monster-sized reticulated pythons don’t hit the local headlines after entering human habitations (especially those beside or close to the Ping River) uninvited. And if you’re enjoying a mosey or a bike ride around either of Navamin or Huay Tueng Tao reservoirs just on the edge of the city, you might catch a glimpse of the largest venomous snake on the planet, the king cobra! Related but even more lethal are krait which, much to the alarm of those who live in the more rural parts of the neighbouring districts of Mae Rim, San Sai and Doi Saket, are regularly reported from gardens and, more nerve-wracking yet, occasionally venture indoors. But the snake that kills way more people in Thailand than any other is the Malayan pit viper; unlike most of its scaly brethren which’ll flee long before you know it’s there, this well camouflaged bad boy won’t be the least bit put off by your presence, are often as hot-tempered as they are ‘cold-blooded’ and, worst of all, injects a venom that destroys the very bones in your body! Obviously you’re not gonna bump into one while wandering around Nimman but if you tread the popular ‘pilgrim’s trail’ in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, you might wanna watch where you step as they’re not exactly uncommon in the area!
We’ve all noticed the little geckos clinging to ceilings and walls around lights after dark ready to ambush their insect prey. Now imagine a seriously scaled up version and you have the Tokay. Looking like something straight out of Jurassic Park and named after the really loud call they make, these beasts can grow up to 40cm in length (not including their tail!) and, when threatened, won’t think twice about chomping down hard and refusing to let go. Lucky for us, they much prefer the taste of the cockroaches and other vermin that raid our homes to that of human flesh!
We know they look pretty menacing but only a tiny fraction of the many types of scorpion worldwide are truly life-threatening to people and, we thought you’d like to know, none of them exist in Thailand! We won’t lie, though, a sting from one of these creepy-crawlies is gonna hurt but, if it’s any comfort, normally no worse than that of a bee or a wasp. Because scorpions are secretive critters hiding under rocks, logs, flowerpots and the like by day and only coming out at night, you’re more likely to see one in Chiang Mai deep-fried on a stick! Even so, if you live more in the sticks, we wouldn’t walk around barefoot or poke your hand into holes you can’t see into and if you leave wearables (shoes, clothes and bike helmets) outdoors, you might wanna shake ‘em out first before throwing them on!
We reckon you’d be hard-pressed to go anywhere in Thailand that doesn’t have venomous spiders in one form or another! The good news though, particularly for any arachnophobes reading, is that except for the burrow-living black tarantula which has a mean reputation and won’t hesitate to give a nasty nip if provoked, spider bites in Chiang Mai are incredibly rare and deaths from which virtually unheard of. Mind you, we’ll admit that some of the spiders here can be big, hairy and scary! Take the golden silk orb-weaver which builds a web so huge, it could ensnare a small child! Or, the huntsman spider which, though harmless, can be larger than your hand and moves so ridiculously fast, it’s turned many an otherwise brave householder here into a gibbering wreck! All the same, without spiders around, you’d have a heck of a lot more disease-carrying insect intruders in your home!
Ask any Thai which creature here they fear the most and it’ll almost certainly be these giant ground-dwelling, lightning quick, stone cold killers. Growing to a whopping 27cm long and most frequently spotted on the prowl during the rainy season, tropical centipedes have got specially adapted front legs that can inflict a ‘bite’ which, we know from personal experience, will put a healthy full-grown adult on their back writhing in excruciating agony for days! Take heed, these fierce predators are not to be trifled with and can be potentially fatal for little ‘uns, folks more mature in years and those who are allergic to their venom.
Few of us here haven’t suffered a home invasion by ants (for which a sprinkling of boric acid works a treat, by the way!). But though most are just a nuisance, we pray that you’re never on the receiving end of a sting from the red fire ant. Don’t be fooled by their teeny stature, it doesn’t take much to upset them and the sting from just one of these pesky varmints will -hence their name- burn like hell and, for sure, is gonna ruin your day. And remember, ants are social bugs so where you see one, an entire army numbering in the hundreds if not thousands isn’t usually far behind!
BEES & WASPS
Thais adore sugary goodies so honey –and its busy, buzzy little makers- can be found all around Chiang Mai! Despite the odd tale of an angry swarm attacking locals, bees have a docile personality and though their sting isn’t exactly pleasant, we wouldn’t expect you to lose any sleep over it unless you’re sensitive to their venom. No, it’s their larger cousins, the Asian hornets, you need to keep an eye out for. A sting from just one of these aerial assassins packs a right wallop; think a white hot nail being driven into your skin and you wouldn’t be far off! And, unlike their smaller, pollinating cousins, hornets are naturally aggressive, can sting over and over again, and their venom contains a chemical which actually makes the pain even worse! So while it’s supposed to be a sign of good fortune in Thailand to have these fellows make their nest somewhere in your home, we bet that you won’t feel the slightest bit lucky if you happen to disturb a hive full of them!
Not to put too fine a point on it but mozzies put infinitely more folk in hospital in Chiang Mai than all the other dangerous creatures combined! But it’s not the insect itself, it’s the viruses they spread. And the one you should be most afraid of here (especially throughout the wettest months of July to September) is dengue fever. Ask anyone who’s ever had it and they’ll tell you the aching you get is so brutal, it feels like your very bones are breaking. For this, we have to thank the female Aedes mosquito – nature’s ultimate bloodsucker who just loves to cosy up to us during the day in the very places we live! Even now, there’s no specific drug therapy for dengue and a vaccine (thought it’s not nearly 100% effective) only became available in Thailand at the end of last year. Fortunately, healthcare providers in Chiang Mai are well equipped to deal with the disease or the death toll from dengue would be a lot higher. And let’s not forget, mosquito bite prevention is always better than cure!
So, if all that hasn’t caused you to break out in a cold sweat, pack up your earthly possessions and leave Chiang Mai vowing never to return, stay safe out there!
What species of dangerous animals have you come across living in Chiang Mai and whereabouts did you spot them? What was the most terrifying moment you’ve had with a potentially deadly animal here? We’re on tenterhooks waiting to hear so don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below!