After many visits to Bangkok over the years, last week I saw something extraordinary, something that seemed unimaginable. This was in Banglamphu, one of the oldest areas of Bangkok.
In the klong (canal) outside my hotel, the water was being churned, splashed and swirled around by what looked like a Loch Ness Monster: a long tail thrashing in and out of the water, a slender reptilian head emerging, forked tongue flashing, eddies and swirls in the water, then another head appearing.
My mind was also swirling. Perhaps it was some mutant, malformed by exposure to the less than pristine water.
I turned to point out the extraordinary event unfolding 30 metres away to some locals, who were sitting in the shade of the big trees by the canal and enjoying a cup of tea and conversation. My embarassingly meagre Thai vocabulary did not equip me to do anything other than point dramatically in the direction of the primaeval happenings, now transformed into a couple of large creatures swimming on the surface of the water. With the usual Thai response of being polite and patient when dealing with a deranged farang (foreigner), they smiled understandingly, indicating that the spectacle was the equivalent of being alerted to the fact that there were cars driving on the road. This was an everyday occurrence.
After some comments in Thai, eventually one of the spectators said ‘komodo’, and everything started to make sense. So, my astonishment was just fed by ignorance. In fact, it’s well known that Bangkok’s waterways are frequented by the Water Monitor (varanus salvator), a species that lives throughout South East Asia and can grow to 3.2 metres long.
Thailand’s Water Monitor, hia in Thai, looks familiar to Australian eyes, because it’s a close relative of the goanna, or Lace Monitor (varanus variius), which grows up to 2.1 metres long, and is also related to Indonesia’s komodo.
When camping in the bush or by the sea back home in Australia, it’s always nice to be visited by a goanna or two as they wander around the campsite using their forked tongues to smell for food.
I never expected to see a similar sight in the middle of a big Asian city. Travel definitely broadens the mind.