The Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (1871 Rama 4 Rd) was opened in 1913. At that time, Bangkok was plagued by various diseases, including rabies. The daughter of Prince Daron had died from rabies infection and following the Prince’s request, King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) granted permission to build a government institution with a research centre to study venomous snakes and find the necessary vaccines against rabies. The centre became, in 1917, the Pasteur Institute with the Thai Red Cross Society taking over the administrative duties of the centre. Over the years, vaccines were developed against rabies and smallpox.
Following the death of Queen Saovabha, in 1920, the King decided to build a permanent building in her memory to be used for research in medical science. The structure, built in French Beaux Arts style, opened in 1923, integrating a Snake Farm—which was created to allow the institute to develop antidotes manufactured from snake venom. The farm was filled with some 35 specimens of venomous snake and was, at time of opening, one of only two such facilities in the world.
In immaculate vivariums, visitors to the farm nowadays are able to discover more about these snakes and learn, in a very informative and entertaining way, which snakes are truly dangerous (fact is, few snakes genuinely pose a threat to human life).
The most impressive specimen is the King Cobra, which can grow to over five meters in length (although the average length is four). The Siamese Cobra can reach a length of almost two meters, and bears distinctive markings on the back of its hood (neck). Around the same size is the Banded Krait, easily identified by its body of black and yellow stripes. Its “cousin” is the slightly smaller Malayan Krait, with stripes of black and white. Meanwhile, the four species of viper include the White-lipped Pit Viper, with its green colour and yellow eyes, and the bluish-green Big-eyed Pit Viper.
Every day at the farm, two performances are staged for visitors. Weekdays, at 11 am, you can see how scientists extract venom out of the snakes, while at 2:30pm there is on an open-air stage snake-handling show, with the possibility for audience members to take a picture with a tame snake. On weekends the snake handling is at 11 am.
Next to the Snake Farm, a Snake Museum has been installed in the new Simaseng building. Opened in 2008, the five-storey facility boasts an exhibition area for 35 species of living snakes, and a 100-seat auditorium for venom extraction presentations. Visitors can learn about the anatomy and life-cycle of these slithery serpents, as well as related fields of toxicology and snake bite first-aid.
Surprisingly, the Snake Farm is a very popular tourist attraction. According to the Thai Red Cross, the museum and farm attract each year over 40,000 tourists, with 60 percent coming from overseas.
NOTE: The Snake Farm and Snake Museum are open from 8:30am to 3:30pm weekdays, and till 1pm on weekends. Entrance fee for adults is B200 (children B50). The closest MRT station is Sam Yan, while the closest BTS station is Sala Daeng.