Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kok Sa-nga, King Cobra Village

Kok Sa-nga Resident Fights A King Cobra
About two weeks ago, I watched a very interesting National Geographic documentary titled "Hiss of Death" from 2004.  The program dealt with a small village in Northern Thailand where King Cobras are kept as pets and used in local shows.  As it turned out the village, Kok Sa-nga, is located in Isaan outside of Khoen Kaen which is 90 minutes south of our home in Udonthani.  Much of the program dealt with a young 8 year old boy, "Touk", who wanted to be a snake fighter like his uncle, Khun Tongkum.

In 1951 a man named Khun Ken Yongla from Kok Sa-nga discovered an herbal remedy for poisonous snake bites.  He prepared the medicine and sold it to local people who were happy with the product.  Mr Yongla went door to door selling his remedy.  To increase sales, he decided to bring a snake in a wooden box with him as he went from village to village.  As people gathered around to look at his cobra, he would market his product.  Even today traveling medicine or "snake oil" shows ply the back roads of Isaan.  I wrote of one such experience in Tahsang Village over a year ago in my blog  Originally Khun Ken used a spitting cobra in his marketing strategy but after 6 (!!) years he changed over to using a King Cobra which does not spit its poison.  The King Cobra has to strike in order to utilize its venom.  This makes it safer for the audience.  Khun Ken used to take his children with him out into the countryside on his sales trips.  He developed a wide reputation for his skill in handling snakes.

In 1982 the Tourism Authority of Thailand investigated reports dealing with Khun Ken and Kok Sa-nga Village.  They found that over 200 King Cobras were kept as pets in the village.  It was during 1982 that the King Cobra Club of Thailand was founded at the local Buddhist Temple - Wat Srithumma.

The program was fascinating and with the village being rather close to our home, I decided that we needed to visit the place.  As is standard operating procedure for planning our trips, I researched the location on the Internet.  I found directions to the village as well as more information about the program.  I decided to go on a weekend because village school children take part in the shows when they are not attending school.  My research also indicated that the best time to visit was during Thai New Years (Songkran - Mid April) when there was a large celebration.  Since the village was not far away, I decided to visit it now to determine if it was worthwhile to visit during Songkran.

We located the village with no problem at all.  From Udonthani we took Highway 2 south towards Khoen Kaen.  About 35 km north of Khoen Kaen, we exited left onto Highway 2039 towards Nam Phong.  At 14 KM from Highway 2 there is a narrow dirt road on the right that leads 600 meters into Kok Sa-nga.  You take the first left in the village and the first of the snake shows is 1/2 Km on the left.

There are two venues for snake fighting in Kok Sa-nga.  The first one that you encounter is a private enterprise.  The second one which is located about 200 meters further down the road at Wat Srithumma is run by the King Cobra Club of Thailand and receives some government support.  Having been to both shows, with both shows not charging admission, with both shows seeking donations, and with both shows lasting about 20 minutes each, I recommend that people visit both locations.  Both locations also allow photography including the use of a flash.

Our first stop was at the private enterprise.  There appears to be no formal show times.  We had arrived around 11:00 A.M. and were in no hurry or on any schedule.  I was content to just sit around and watch the local residents doing their thing.  My photography is "documentary" style so I do not necessarily have to have a staged event to take pictures that I seek.

A Snake Fighter Kisses The Head of a King Cobra
In front of the show pavilion there were booths that sold snacks, drinks, souvenirs, clothing items, and herbal "medicines".  There is limited parking in front of the pavilion with additional parking across the street.  There were not many visitors on the day of our visit.  We waited about five minutes for the start of the show. The performers congregate around and seem to perform so that visitors do not have to wait very long.

Both shows commence with young girls dancing to Mahlam Lao music.  Midway through their dance, pythons are draped over their shoulders.  After awhile dancing with the snakes the girls place the snake's head in their mouth.  Pythons are none poisonous however as I watched I could not help to be somewhat concerned about bacteria on the snakes getting into the dancer's body.

Kok Sa-nga Man With King Cobra In His Mouth

After the dance, older men fight King Cobras.  At the private show, the man was more violent as well as aggressive with the snake.  He used his fists and feet to actually touch the snake.  At the second venue, the man resorted to more shadow boxing type movements to illicit strikes from the cobra.  Both techniques were interesting to observe.

Man Versus King Cobra
When the older men were completed, a young boy fights snakes but not King Cobras.  The snakes that the young boys fight are extremely quick and aggressive.

Touk, now 14 years old, Fights A Snake
At the King Cobra Club of Thailand we were greeted just as enthusiastically as we had been at the private club.  I immediately recognized Touk from the National Geographic program.  He is now 14 years old and continuing to learn his uncle's trade of snake fighting.  I did not see or if he was there I did not recognize his uncle Khun Tongkum.

Touk The Snake Fighter

Touk and the Other School Aged Performers of the King Cobra Club of Thailand

This Young Girl Loved to be Photographed

King Cobra Club of Thailand Performer
After the show we stayed around to talk with the villagers.  They were as interested in learning about us as we were in learning about them.  I took photographs of the young performers while Duang continued chatting with the villagers.  Here in Isaan, people never seem to be at a loss for words.
Prior to leaving, the villagers placed two pythons over my neck and shoulders.  I made sure that the villagers had not told the snakes that I had eaten python when I lived in Vietnam.  They had a good laugh.  We all had a good laugh when Duang overcame her fear and posed with one of the pythons over her neck.

Brave Duangchan Holding a Python - Her First

We enjoyed our visit and we will return in April for the large celebration.  We were pleased to have witnessed another unique aspect of life here in Isaan.

Young Kok Sa-nga Villager Dances to Mahlam Lao Music As She Heads Home


  1. Wow amazing images thanks for share.

  2. I am happy that you enjoyed them. I sure enjoyed taking them.

  3. wow tht guy wit it in his mouth is groudy