This video is the second entry (here’s the first) for the Live The Backpacker Life Contest, one of several contests I run throughout the year. The winner will get a free week of travel to anywhere in the world, including round-trip fare and hostel accommodations. For more travel videos check out my YouTube page and consider subscribing for email updates, RSS feed, or following me on Twitter.

Contest Video And Post By Barbara Weibel

The Snake Temple, located on the southern part of Penang Island in Malaysia, is reputed to be the only one of its kind in the world. It was constructed in 1850 by a Chinese monk who named it Ban Kah Lan, which means Temple of the Azure Clouds in his native dialect of Hokkien, a reference to Penang’s beautiful blue skies. However, the name was quickly abandoned when snakes began arriving by the hundreds from the surrounding untouched jungle, making the temple their home by day and leaving each night to hunt.

Rather than take steps to rid the temple of snakes, the monk welcomed their presence and became their protector, which is even more astounding when considering that most of the snakes were poisonous Wagler’s Pit Vipers, also called the Temple Pit Vipers. Since they are fond of inhabiting coconut trees, the temple constructed mock mini-trees from barren branches that are intertwined in tall ceramic vases that are then set on the altars. It is here that most of the vipers hang out, sluggishly curled around the nude branches, displaying a range of colors and patterns ranging from the light green of juveniles to the darker green with thick yellow bands displayed by adults.

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The poison is apparently not life threatening, although a bite can be very painful and cause much swelling. But devotees generally believe that the smoke from burning incense has rendered the snakes harmless, and indeed, they are usually sluggish and seldom bite. Still, signs throughout the temple warn visitors not to touch the snakes or try to pick them up.

Today the pristine jungles of the early years are gone. Factories now surround the Snake Temple, resulting in a loss of habitat and a reduction in the number of snakes that arrive each day. Even so, on any given day visitors can stand inches from dozens of these fearsome reptiles with no barriers to mar the experience. The Snake Temple is open from 6 a.m. to 7p.m. and there is no admission fee, although as with all temples, donations are welcome.

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Though many visitors fork out good money to take a taxi to the temple or hire a guide for the day, I took a local bus from Komtar, which is easily found in Penang as it is marked by the tallest building on the island. At Komtar I boarded the #401 bus and made the trip in about 25 minutes for a fare of $2.70 Malaysian Ringit (about 80 cents USD).

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