Ending the day with snakes

The day started out with no plans and ended in the middle of a lake surrounded by snakes. That’s just the way things are here in Myanmar.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


An unexpected journey to Twante

Some days you just don’t know how things are going to turn out. Even without a plan, some days can take you down a very unexpected path.

When I set out that morning in Yangon, I never expected I would find myself in the middle of a lake, surrounded by snakes.

It all happened because I got stranded – as most terrifying snake encounters come about. You see, I had left my guesthouse in the morning just for a quiet stroll around Yangon.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

It was towards the river I had headed, an area still uncharted on my exploration of the city.

As it turned out, it was a rather industrial wasteland of shipyards, customs buildings and people who seemed to have official business at either and unofficial business at neither.

But I did discover a ferry which would take me across the river to the less urban communities. So I decided to jump on and discover.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

The ferry seemed to be made up of half passengers and half people trying to sell things to the passengers.

Women with slices of fruit on the heads…

Children with treats to be thrown to the seagulls…

And men with the tobacco concoctions that are chewed all day and night in this country.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

Even the passengers seemed to be transporting goods destined for eventual sale. Like the man with dozens of chickens hanging from his bicycle.

I felt sorry for them until I noticed they were breathing – then I felt extremely sorry for them.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

Docking at a small township on the other side of the river, I quickly discovered the main business of the local community – helping people to get out of the local community.

Although I wandered around for twenty minutes and looked at the small riverside huts that made up this section of the town, it was never a long interval between someone offering me transport to somewhere else.

Trishaws, motorbikes, taxi, buses were all available to me, it seemed. In the end I jumped on to the back of a pickup truck full of locals, bound for another town called Twante.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar
Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

I try to be a fairly affable fellow, but I managed to start a fight in the truck.

Apparently the price I had agreed with the driver (about a dollar) was three times as much as I should have paid and the locals were furious with the driver. They shouted at the driver and tried to explain to me the actual cost.

To avoid a near-mutiny, I tried to explain that I didn’t mind and that we had negotiated the special price. It seemed to put people at ease but they took it on themselves to try to make my journey more comfortable.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

That was impossible. What had seemed like a fun local experience initially was extremely painful.

There were at least thirty of us squeezed into the back of this vehicle and every time you thought it was full, more people were somehow crammed in.

As the truck bumped along the dusty roads, we were all thrown about as much as you could be when there was little space to be thrown into.

I had a woman’s knees between my legs, a boy’s shoulder in my face, and an unfortunate man’s back under my sweaty right armpit.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

But we got there and the woman with the annoyingly-placed knee, who had been all smiles throughout the hour-long trip, stopped the truck for me to jump out at the impressive pagoda at the start of town.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar
Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

After checking-out the pagoda, I headed into the centre of town. Twante is apparently known for its pottery, and there were a number of interesting workshops to visit.

Someone explained how they can take up to a week to build the fire so it’s hot enough to use. Almost as much work is spent carrying wood as sculpting the vases and pots.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar
Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

There was something strange about the town, though. The children were unable to say ‘hello’. It was as if the whole place had been put under a linguistic curse.

As I walked along the roads, kids would wave and shout out… but it as always ‘bye bye’ never ‘hello’.

They were trying to greet me, though, that was the peculiar thing. It was as if one person had been mistaught the English greetings and the mistake had spread, virus-like, through Twante.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar
Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

I took it as a cue, after a while, and decided to say goodbye to Twante and head back to Yangon.

You’re probably wondering when the snakes come into this story. Well, they make their slithering entrance into the narrative because of a young man called Kyawsoe, who made his entrance rather coolly on the back of a motorbike.

Wanting to avoid the pickup truck ordeal again, I had asked about a ferry direct to Yangon but had been told none were running today. I was on my way to look for more alternatives when Kyawsoe stopped and started chatting in quite good English.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

Encouraged that he probably wasn’t the person who had taught the children the language skills, I talked with him for a while. He then offered to help me find a boat to Yangon.

We stopped at a few fish shops, and asked if anyone was heading down the river. No luck. So he offered to take me on his motorbike to the ferry I had caught this morning.

Of course he would like some money for the trip – he was, after all, a motorbike taxi driver by trade. But I was happy to spend the three dollars to get closer to home. The day was starting to weary me. But it was not over yet.

Kyawsoe had decided that he liked me and his hospitality took over… a tour of the region was included in the return journey.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

And this is how I ended up in the middle of a lake because one of his stops was a temple built in the middle of the water, accessible only by bridge.

We walked out there and it was only halfway along the wooden bridge that Kyawsoe told me there would be snakes inside. I’m not quite sure what he meant but it became evident quickly when we went inside the temple and there were a dozen slimy slithering tongue-poking snakes roaming freely around.

Huge ones hung from the windows, an enormous beast moved slowly along the wall to my right, and another one was making its way down a tree and over the face of a Buddha.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar
Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

Two nuns sitting inside seemed to take great delight at the look of shock on my face but they assured me the animals were harmless. One of them even picked one up and patted it to prove the point.

It did nothing to calm me but I like to think I had a brave face to the casual observer.

It was not so much a scary experience, but an unnerving one because you didn’t know where all the animals were. I was more likely to tread on one accidentally as be attacked.

Getting to Twante from Yangon, Snake Temple, Myanmar

I don’t know enough about snakes to know what type they were or if they would actually have been dangerous.

I, however, have named them Buddha-constrictors.

And that, children, is why you should always plan your days and not get on the back of motorbikes with strangers!

24 thoughts on “Ending the day with snakes”

    • Th whole day was a real adventure – I think the snakes were just the icing on the top. Luckily I’m not that scared of them, so it didn’t creep me out too much. But it was still quite unnerving!

  1. Oh, I love snakes! The dangerous ones from a safe distance, maybe, but otherwise… I have a stuffed toy snake (from the Jungle book) that I named Louis and he looks mean but is tame as a pan-cake. True story. Apart from that I’m starting to wish somebody talented would make a TV-series out of your posts, as half of the time between reading and laughing I wish I could just see your face while you’re experiencing your adventures. There, I put it out to the universe. If they make your life into a movie, this is where the idea was born. You can thank me at the premiere.

    • Ok, I will write an entire speech dedicated to you and this comment. It will be three minutes of praise for Vera and her wonderful ideas. Then they will make a TV series about your comment and you will become famous. And then you can thank me at the premiere. And the cycle shall begin again…

  2. That really good that you saw dozens of snakes freely roaming around. Snake is one of the beautiful creature of this nature that has grabbed the silver shinning on its back. I love snakes, and really like to visit such amazing places and kinda wild zoos.

  3. I am from Yangon and I have never known about this temple with a lot of “Burmese Pythons”. I would be very scared if I saw a lot of pythons hanging around in the building. They could just attacked you anytime if they wish.

    Even though you said you don’t really want to know about snakes I just want to share about “Burmese Pythons”.

    Like all snakes, Burmese Pythons are carnivorous. Their diet consists primarily of appropriately sized birds and mammals. The snake uses its sharp rearward-pointing teeth to seize its prey, then wraps its body around the prey, at the same time contracting its muscles, killing the prey by constriction. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burmese_Python)

    • Oh yikes! I wish you hadn’t told me all about the Burmese Pythons! They sound terrifying – and to think there were so many of them so close to me. Eek!!
      Seriously, though, thanks for the info. I had been wondering what they were! Let me know if you go there and what you think!

      • I do want to go there. But whenever I keep looking at the photos you took, it give me goose bump. Some more it’s in the middle of the water. Imagine how many more are in the lake. There’s no place to escape in case of emergency. Hee hee… Do I sound so sarcasm? 😀

        In the other words, I am saying you are very brave. There’s another temple in “Pa Late” ,a few miles from Mandalay, with 3 Burmese Pythons staying in temple and no harm to visitors (so far). I went there and I still get scared. Trying touching them and it felt soft like mash mellow.

        Probably people from “animal planet” channel should go to “toon te” (TwanTe) for documentary… 😀

  4. What a lovely read. I’m heading there tomorrow now after reading your trip report and will add it to the information we have promoting charity for Myanmar.
    Elli xx


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