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Temples and Snakes and Boats...Oh My!

Battling through the chaos and heat of Bangkok, Class 16 spent a full day experiencing some of the interesting sites in the city.

Our first stop of the morning was at the Red Cross Snake Farm, nestled on a 'quieter' side street right in Bangkok. The Snake Farm is a part of the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute and the Thai Red Cross Society. In the early 1900s, one of the King’s daughters died of rabies. At that time, there were facilities around the world that had made significant progress in the research and treatment of rabies, and development of rabies vaccine. The King decided to establish such a facility in Thailand as well and donated a residence for this project. Since Thailand is also home to more than 190 varieties of snakes, 61 which are venomous, it was decided that Thailand should also have a facility dedicated to the production of antivenom using the venom of snakes native to the region. The Snake Farm portion of the facility was opened in 1923, and is only the second Snake farm in the world.

We had an opportunity to walk through the indoor and outdoor serpentariums to check out the various snakes that reside at the farm. Everything from venoms King Cobras, Kraits and Vipers, to the more docile Pythons and Boas were on display for us to see. We also had the opportunity to see where they collect the venom, check out an informative exhibition that explained the life cycle of snakes, how they shed their skin, how and when they reproduce, and of course, how you should treat a snake bite! Did you know that not all snakes lay eggs? And, if you are bitten, did you know that you wrap the wound tightly, splint it, and wrap it again to keep the limb immobile and the venom from spreading? Oh, and stay calm...it may seem impossible given you have just been bitten by a potentially deadly serpent, but the slower you can keep your heart rate, the slower your blood (and the venom) will circulate.

To round out our visit to this unusual 'farm,' we had the opportunity to watch a snake-handling demonstration. This was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying for many in the group. The handlers were not handling the 'friendly' Boas and Pythons, but rather the very angry and aggressive Cobras and other venomous snakes. There were many shrieks from the audience (read: the girls of AALP Class 16) as the snakes lunged angrily at the handlers who were seemingly unphased by the fact that they were a bite away from needing the antivenom!

Those who were brave enough could also take a turn holding the huge albino Burmese Python for a photo opp.

The Snake farm, while not a traditional farm in the agricultural sense was a great example of recognizing a need, and putting the resources in place to ensure that humans and snakes can coexist with fewer casualties.

After the snake farm and a delicious lunch, we set out to tour the Grand Palace and the Emerald Temple. This area of the city is always quite busy, however, Thailand’s beloved King Rama IX passed away in the fall. As a result, the country is currently in a period of mourning, as millions of Thai people make the trek to the Palace to see the King who lays in state for up to a year. We battled the crowds and the extreme heat to see the stunning Temple and Palace. The architecture is absolutely spectacular! It was also incredibly interesting to see so many people there to pay their respects, old, young, and everything between. King Rama IX was a King of the people and the sadness of the Thai people over the loss of their King can be seen and felt, not only near the palace, but through the entire city and country.

After finishing at the palace, the group took a river tour of the city’s canals, while learning more about the city and the canal system. We also learned that catfish are smart...many of the temples are built along the canals. While in the area of the temples, you are not allowed to hurt or kill an animal. This includes fishing in the water near the temples. The fish have learned that they are safe in these sacred areas of the rivers, so that's where they live. Chunks of bread will bring hundreds and hundreds of them to the surface for a snack in those areas, while there are no signs of life in other areas of the same river or canal!

After a breather in the mall for some ice cream, we rounded out the full day with a dinner cruise. We enjoyed a delicious international buffet, the sights of Bangkok in lights and some fantastic music and dancing.

It was a very long, very sweaty day for the group, but we all enjoyed getting to know more about the Thai people and their customs and culture! And, while there may be a few nightmares about snakes tonight, we also appreciated learning about living alongside venomous snakes - something we don't really have to worry about in Canada!

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