Published: July 15th 2009June 16th 2009
I once saw a photo of my cousin eating a tarantula during his travels to South East Asia and I remember thinking how crazy he was and that no amount of persuasion would ever get me to do the same thing. Turns out I don’t need persuasion. What shows up on a plate, I eat.
The first ‘strange’ meal I had in Cambodia was snake. Water snake to be exact. We had taken a boat through the fishing village in Siem Reap, an entire community living on boats; schools built on the river, restaurants, bars, pool table halls even a basketball court that had all been built on the boats to float down the river. Most of the community were Vietnamese immigrants, who enjoyed the cheap living expenses and slightly nomadic lifestyle of boat life, being able to move from one side of the lake to the other dependent on seasons. We had stopped at a restaurant floating on the edge of the lake, when a plate full of stringy, brown-red meat showed up. It wasn’t terrible, more like overcooked sour flavoured pork that needed to be chewed for about 5 minutes before swallowing. Let’s just say, I probably wouldn’t
eat it again.
Non-insect-or-snake Cambodian food is amazing. Amok is the local favourite, and had become my favourite curry ever (even beating Thai Yellow Curry - the Number 1 curry in my books for years). The first Amok I had while in Cambodia came out in a hollowed coconut, and I couldn’t eat it fast enough. Pure deliciousness.
Siem Reap was the first place in Cambodia we visited. We had stopped at a truck stop just after the border crossing from Thailand when our trusty travel leader Lonk bought a huge bag of fried crickets - a local snack and good for long bus journeys according to him! They were actually quite good. Crunchy but full of flavour! I don’t think I would ever necessarily crave cricket, but I did go back for more. The truck stop toilet was absolutely terrifying, I was about to walk into one when a guy stopped me saying I shouldn’t use that one as there was a tarantula nest in there. I just stared at him for a few minutes digesting what he had just said. I hate spiders. I had already heard horror stories from other travellers who had been to
Cambodia. My friend Rosie who I met in India was at a truck stop where she saw a young girl who had a tarantula on her shoulder. While staring at Rosie the whole time, she picked up the spider, put it in her mouth for a good 10 seconds, before taking it out again. Just hearing her tell me the story made me nauseous. Not wanting my own horror story, I used a different cubicle, though I looked up at the ceiling to see the whole roof was covered in massive spiders. Not tarantulas but it was still horrific.
Siem Reap itself is an awesome little town, it has heaps of character and lots of markets to shop at. Of course the main reason people go is to see Angkor Wat. And it is truly amazing. We spent the whole day at the temples, it cost an absolute fortune, $20USD for entrance fee and $12USD for transport to take us around. But it was so worth it. My favourite was Ta Prohm, or the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple. Our Angkor Wat tour guide kept saying, “Angelina Jolie was here, she is very famous actress all over world.” He also told
us how sad it was that the Cambodian government sold Angkor Wat off to a foreign private company for only $7 million USD. They would have made back that 7 million in no time considering the amount of visitors and the price of the entrance fee! Cambodia has also sold off the Killing Fields, so the 2 most important sights in Cambodia, not to mention the 2 biggest tourist areas, are no longer owned by Cambodia.
We went to the Night Markets after Angkor Wat, where they had a very interesting pedicure method. Right in the middle of the markets is Dr Fish, a huge pool full of little fish that eat the dry skin off your feet. I don’t think I have ever embarrassed myself as much as I did during that 15 minutes. I have very ticklish feet, and there were heaps of people getting there feet done when we decided to join in. I kept squirming and screaming and splashing my feet around because it tickled so much! After about 5 minutes of constant ticklish hell someone told me just to put my heels in, and slowly put the rest of my foot in when I
got used to it. It was quite relaxing after that, and my feet felt soft and clean!
As we were walking home, a bunch of kids came up to ask with there hands out begging for money. We had been told never to give money to kids as it keeps them on the streets and out of schools so we ignored them. One of them had grabbed my arm while he kept asking for one dollar and I kept telling him no, then he punched me. He punched me hard in the arm and ran off! I couldn’t believe it! I had never been punched before!
We took a bus to Kompong Chan, an interesting journey as we had chickens under our seats and there was a man on the bus carrying an IV drip that was attached to his arm. Only in Asia! We went to a locals home who had created a huge and delicious feast for us, lots of curry, fried pork, battered mushrooms and cooked vegetables. Then dessert came. Tarantula. He brought out a plate full of fried spiders that most of us squealed and cringed at. The boys got right into them, pulling
off the legs and chewing the down. Not wanting to be left out, I too grabbed a leg and tentatively popped it in my mouth and chewed. It was interesting, very bitter and sour, unlike anything I had ever tasted. We were also given tarantula infused rice wine. A jar full of tarantulas that had been drowned in rice wine. I took a shot and felt like I was about to hit the floor. I had never tasted alcohol so strong before.
That night we went to a village for our homestay. They were all so friendly, the kids kept running up to us, curious to see who we were, and heaps of cute babies being cradled by their great grandparents. There wasn’t much to do after dark so we decided to play celebrity heads, much to the amusement of the locals. They couldn’t understand why we would stick a piece of paper to our heads and ask each other questions. It was so funny!
I had the most terrifying toilet experience at about midnight, everyone was asleep and I was desperate to go. The outhouse was quite far from the house and it was pitch black. My stupid
torch batteries had started to die and all I could think about was tarantulas and poisonous snakes that I couldn’t see because it was so damn dark. Let’s just say that I’ve never appreciated an indoor toilet with lights as much as I did after that experience!
There are more photos below