They say things come in threes. I’ve found that to be true more times than not, and it certainly was accurate where my most recent encounters with animals in Bangkok were concerned. It all started two nights ago, as Joan and I were walking back to the hotel from a night stroll down Khao San Road. We’ve made it a practice to walk the three or four blocks that comprise the backpacker district every evening because it’s the best free entertainment you can get. At night the clothing and gift stalls that line the sidewalks during the day close up and are replaced with other types of merchandise. Small groups of prostitutes stand in the middle of the street, dressed in three inch spike heels, mini skirts and halter tops, brazenly offering their services. Backpackers sit on short stools set along the curb, paying to get their hair braided or put into dreadlocks – although why anyone would want to PAY to get dreadlocks is beyond me. Among the tourists wandering the streets are those who are clearly looking to indulge in the sex trade, those who are indulging in another kind of decadence as they sample items from every one of the scores of food carts lining the street, and still others whose only aim it is to get as drunk as possible. One curbside bar set up on a stainless steel rolling cart was doing a thriving business – the sign next to the cart said: ‘Really strong drink 80 Baht – Bucket 200’ Khao San Road and Rambuttri Road (where our hotel is located) run parallel to one another. To get back to the hotel you must either go all the way down to an intersecting road – which is a fair hike – or use one of several shortcuts through shops that have a front entrance on one road and a rear entrance on the other road. Alternatively, one can cut through the Buddhist Monastery, which I have done several times before, although during the day. On this particular evening I convinced Joan to go through the Monastery. Long story short, I got turned around in the dark and ended up in a dead-end alley, facing an eight-foot high concrete fence. Joan told me later that she knew we were in trouble the moment she heard the dog growl. We turned around and headed back, but not quickly enough. The dog came out of nowhere and bit me in the back of my left thigh. I turned around, ready to kick it as hard as I could, but it retreated. Fortunately, the pants I was wearing are made of slick material so the dog’s teeth slid rather than penetrating the skin but I had a full set of teeth marks imprinted on my thigh by the time we made it back to the hotel room. The following day Joan had her own animal experience. She was putting her shoes back on after having been inside the Wat Pho temple. A German woman sitting next to her on the bench was petting one of the temple cats that had climbed up beside her, stroking it and talking to it lovingly. The temple guard walked up to Joan and in perfect English, said, “You know, this is a musical cat?” “A musical cat? Joan repeated. Yes, musical,” he said. The guard reached down and took hold of the cat’s paw, pulling it toward him. The cat sang, “Meoowww.” The guard laughed and let go of the cat’s paw. Each time he pulled the paw, the cat meowed. As Joan walked away, the German woman was gathering her friends and demonstrating to them how the cat could ‘sing.’
Then yesterday we were walking down one of the streets along the Chao Phrya River and I noticed a crowd gathering ahead. As we approached I could see that a metal grating had been removed from a sewer access and a Thai man was crouching over the open hole, holding a long aluminum pole with a loop of sturdy rope on the end. He kept trying to snag something with the noose on the end of the pole and I thought perhaps a cat or dog had gotten into the sewer and he was trying to rescue it. I tried to get a look but the crowd was too big, so I whipped out the camera. One of the onlookers spotted my camera and before I knew it the crowd had parted and I was handed from person to person until I was at the edge of the sewer hole. They motioned for me to crouch down to get a good look. It wasn’t a cat. Or a dog. Frankly, I’m not sure what it was – perhaps a crocodile or a caiman. The man with the noose did finally did manage to snag it and the crowd gave a collective “Ahooooh!” while three other men grabbed onto the pole to assist in bringing the creature to the top as it hissed and thrashed about. At the last moment they let it go. The crowd was simply too large and it would have probably been dangerous to bring it up in the midst of so many people.
I shudder to think what they would have done with it if they had brought it to the surface. Would it have ended up on someone’s dinner plate? Probably. But I did manage to get a good photo of it and, as usual, I showed the photo around to the accompanying oohs and aahs of the onlookers. You just gotta love the Thais.
UPDATE: I now know that this creature was not a crocodile or a caiman – it was a varanus salvator monitor lizard and, yes, had they caught it they would have eaten it. This, according to my Thai family, Leticia, John, Meo, Ron, and Bee.