This guide to the most venomous snakes in Vietnam showcases nine slithering creatures that we think are worth knowing about if you’re planning a jaunt to this enthralling corner of Indochina this year. There’s not enough room to deal with all the dangerous serpents in the country – Vietnam has a whopping 200 species of snake in total, of which 25% are thought to be venomous on some level.
Still, there’s space for iconic South Asian animals like the king cobra and the banded krait (one of the most venomous snakes in the world, you know?). They join with some rarer specimens that you’re only likely to find in the lush jungles that roll through the Vietnamese Central Highlands and up to the misty rice paddies of Sa Pa.
Vietnam actually has some of the highest rates of snakebites in the world. Some municipalities report incident rates of around 0.1% of the population, and tales of snakes biting American GIs back in the Vietnam War still play on the mind. That said, attacks remain generally rare in Vietnam, although we still think it’s worth getting an idea of the sort of snakes that await between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, don’t you?
White-lipped viper (Trimeresurus albolabris)
The white-lipped viper is a species of snake that is endemic to much of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam. Though this little guy may not look overly threatening, it really is a case of small but deadly. Yep, what this venomous snake might lack in size and stature, it more than makes up for with its formidable combo of camouflage and venom potency.
Measuring less than a meter even when it’s fully grown, the white-lipped viper can often be hard to spot. That’s especially the case since it sticks to its preferred habitats of forests and bushlands, where its emerald coloring helps it to blend into the undergrowth and the leaves. In Vietnam, it especially loves the wet forests of the northern mountains and the lush Mekong Delta south of HCMC.
Bites from a white-lipped can cause extreme pain, blistering, and swelling. Although they are rarely deadly, the powerful procoagulant qualities of the venom can lead to heightened risk of blood clotting and, subsequently, death. Thankfully, these snakes aren’t thought to be overly aggressive and will rarely attack without provocation, which is more than can be said for their strange, blue-tinted Indonesian cousins.
King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
The king cobra may well be one of the most iconic and easily recognizable snakes in the world. They are also very common in Vietnam, not to mention widespread throughout many parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia more generally, from India to Indonesia to the Philippines.
Capable of growing up to five meters in length, these guys are famed for their iconic pose, a combo of fanning out the hood of their head, revealing sharp fangs, and hissing loudly. If you see that happening, be sure to get out of dodge ASAP, because it’s the cobra’s way of warning away potential threats and is usually the precursor to a fight. Thankfully, as with most snakes in Vietnam, king cobras are unlikely to attack unless provoked.
These snakes are notorious for being among some of the most deadly on Earth. They posses a cocktail of cytotoxins and neurotoxins that can lead to the complete shutdown of vital organs. Post-bite symptoms typically begin with drowsiness and blurred vision, but can quickly graduate to paralysis and a slowing heart beat, with the potential to be fatal within just 30 minutes of envenomation. You’ll need to get to the hospital quickly, folks!
Fea’s viper (Azemiops feae)
Fea’s viper is pretty abundant in Vietnam as well as other parts of Southeast Asia such as Tibet and China. Despite never growing to a length that exceeds a meter, these small little snakes have a lengthy history, considered to be one of the most primitive examples of a snake still living on Earth today. And, when it comes to the Fea’s viper, or azemiops, in Vietnam, you can find them in the moist depths of the country’s cool and verdant bamboo forests, as well as occasionally among the rocks and vegetation of forested floors. So, if you are planning on exploring these rugged forests in Vietnam, be mindful that you might just come into contact with one of these little fellas. You’ll be on their home turf, after all.
If you do come into close quarters with a Fea’s viper, there is no need to panic. As with almost all species of venomous snakes, they are incredibly unlikely to attack or bite unless they feel threatened. And, much like the king cobra, the Fea’s viper also has a signature tell that it will use to signal a warning when they are about to attack. This usually includes making its body very flat, opening its jaws incredibly wide, and sometimes allowing its tail to vibrate. Even when it does attack, it might not use its fangs. And, should you find yourself on the wrong end of an attack from a Fea’s viper, you better hope they don’t, as their venom can cause paralysis and bleeding and is, of course, very painful to endure indeed.
Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus)
The Malayan krait, which is also sometimes known as the blue krait, is one of the most highly venomous species of snake you can find in Southeast Asia, residing predominantly in Indonesia, India, China, and, of course, the country of Vietnam. The coloring of the Malayan krait is immediately eye-catching and can be, unfortunately, confused with similar markings that can be found on other non-venomous snakes in the region. This being the case, it is best advised to avoid any snakes you come into contact with when in Vietnam as a precaution. You certainly do not want to end up on the wrong end of this poisonous serpent.
The Malayan krait can grow to fairly impressive lengths and possesses one of the most toxic and highly potent venoms of any snake. In fact, if a bite from a Malayan krait is to go untreated, this particular venom has a mortality rate among humans of anywhere between 60-70%. Even when treated with anti-venom, survival rates are worryingly low. The venom of a blue krait will shut down organs and the nervous system, can put its victim into a coma, and lead to severe brain damage and cardiac arrest, with death coming within 12-24 hours of the venom entering the bloodstream.
Red-headed krait (Bungarus flaviceps)
The red-headed krait is one of the most dramatically colored snakes you could come across when traversing the wilderness of Vietnam, with a long black body and bright red head and potentially as big as seven feet long. Unfortunately, this striking serpent can also be mistaken for a number of other, more common, snakes that can be found in Vietnam that are not venomous. Therefore, the same advice applies: steer clear of any snake you come into contact with in Southeast Asia.
As a krait, the red-headed krait is arguably one of the most venomous snakes you could encounter in Vietnam. Luckily, however, the red-headed krait is particularly rare and so the likelihood of finding yourself at the mercy of a red-headed krait attack in Vietnam is very low indeed. Good thing too, as their rarity means that very little is known about the potency and toxicity of their venom and its effects on humans. It is best that you do not make yourself one of the early statistics. What we do know, however, is that their venom can cause paralysis, nausea, and extreme pain, so it is certainly not a snake to be trifled with. The red-headed krait prefers the habitats of moist and semi-aquatic environments, so be sure to exercise extra caution when exploring these parts of Vietnam.
Malayan pit viper (Calloselasma)
The Malayan pit viper is yet another of the many venomous snakes in Vietnam that you will need to keep an eye out for. Endemic to Southeast Asia, you will come across this type of serpent everywhere from Vietnam to Thailand. Preying mostly on rats, mice, and other small rodents, their preferred habitat is somewhere where these delicious creatures can be found in abundance. So, expect to come across the Malayan pit viper in Vietnam’s moist coastal forests and bamboo jungles.
The venom of a Malayan pit viper only has a mortality rate of about two percent if treated correctly, and so this is a very reassuring statistic. However, this may also be due to the fact that these snake bites are incredibly common and so treatments have developed. In fact, the Malayan pit viper is notorious among locals for being incredibly quick to anger and attack, meaning that snake bites from these raging reptiles are unfortunately commonplace. While fatality as a result of a bite by a Malayan pit viper is incredibly rare, their bites are painful and, if not treated properly or quickly enough, can lead to paralysis or even amputation of limbs in some extreme cases. As always, caution and respect are key when wandering through the habitats of a Malayan pit viper.
Thai spitting cobra (Naja siamensis)
The Thai spitting cobra, otherwise known as the Indochine spitting cobra, is one of the classic symbols of aggression and intimidation in the serpent world. If their iconic look isn’t enough to make you feel ill at ease in its presence, then its variety of methods of attack will. If you have already gone traveling around Southeast Asia, then you may already be familiar with the Thai spitting cobra, which is considered to be one of the most dangerous animals in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In terms of its favorite habitats and hunting grounds, the Thai spitting cobra can be frequently found almost everywhere, from forests and jungles to high hills and low plains. They may also be attracted to larger conurbations thanks to their dense populations of rodents.
The venom of the Thai spitting cobra is necrotic, meaning that it can cause tissue death in the snake’s victim. Worse still, as the name would suggest, this is not just a snake that bites, but a snake that spits too. Usually, if the Thai spitting cobra feels under threat during the daytime, it will generally prefer to flee and seek cover than attack. However, at night, it is far more likely to attack, rearing up and spitting its venom with great force and accuracy as a first resort. If this does not deter their intended victim, then they will strike. The bite of a Thai spitting cobra is known to be agonizingly painful, and it can result in fatality if it is not swiftly treated with antivenom. Additionally, if their spit gets into the eyes, it can be excruciatingly painful and may even lead to blindness.
Wagler’s pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)
When it comes to venomous snakes in Vietnam, the Wagler’s pit viper is among the most common you are likely to encounter when traveling through Vietnam. In fact, this is another type of viper that is endemic to Southeast Asia and is specifically native to Vietnam. More specifically, this specific snake is a forest-dweller, and so any hikes or tours you take through any of Vietnam’s many forests or lush green expanses might just bring you face-to-face with one of these slippery creatures.
In terms of the venom and danger posed by a Wagler’s pit viper to the average tourist in Vietnam, death is a possible outcome but is also fairly uncommon. That being said, receiving the proper treatment is still absolutely imperative in order to avoid this worst-case scenario outcome. Furthermore, the experience of being bitten by any of the venomous snakes in Vietnam is never going to be a pleasant or enjoyable experience, and the Wagler’s pit viper is no exception. Their venom has been known to cause burning, swelling, and a lot of pain around the site of the snake bite. In addition, infection is always a potential risk factor with any wound that has been inflicted, so proper cleaning and aftercare are just as important as any initial treatment.
Many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus)
Last but not least, the many-banded krait is known to be one of the most deadly snakes in the world. Otherwise known as the Chinese or Taiwanese krait, this snake can be found in a number of different regions in Southeast Asia, including northern Vietnam. In terms of its habitat, the many-banded krait prefers to reside in moist, marshy lowlands, including around the paddies and rivers of Vietnam as well as on the dense forest floor.
Surprisingly, the bite of a many-banded krait is not immediately excruciating but is more mildly irritating, itchy, and potentially numbing. This is part of its danger, as more serious symptoms can start to develop within hours of being bitten without its victim understanding the full extent of their injuries. The venom contains powerful neurotoxins that can affect vision and the respiratory system and, if left untreated, can result in death. Furthermore, in the case of a particularly severe bite from a many-banded krait, the extent of the respiratory problems can mean that breathing can stop altogether.
What is the deadliest snake in Vietnam?
The Malayan krait is undoubtedly the deadliest snake in Vietnam. Not only is the Malayan krait one of the most venomous snakes in Vietnam, capable of killing large mammals, including fully grown human adults, the bite of a Malayan krait also possesses one of the lowest survival rates of all snakes on Earth.
What is the two-step snake in Vietnam?
The two-step snake is the nickname that was given to the many-banded krait by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The many-banded krait was so-called the two-step snake after a myth was circulated that a soldier was bitten by one, and the venom had killed him within two steps of the attack. This is, of course, a myth, but does indicate the potential danger posed by one of the most venomous snakes in Vietnam.