Kingdom of Cambodia

Right: The "Spider Women" of Skuon

Coming down the river from Laos to Phnom Penh I stopped off in a place called Skuon where one of the delights on offer were these large black spiders. Something of a tourist attraction no doubt though I was the only one on my bus buying. They weren't anything to write home about it has to be said. Your basic bush tucker, they tasted more of whatever it was they were fried in than anything else.

Spider Vendors in Skuon

Dateline: August 14-26, 2005. Route: Stung Treng by Speedboat from Laos. Ferry to Kamphong Cham, bus to Phnom Penh. Exit to Thailand at Poi Pet via Siem Reap.

Cambodia at a Glance

area: 176,520 sq km
borders: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam
capital: Phnom Penh population: 13,995,904 (July 2007 est.)
language: Khmer (French and English spoken)
ethnicity: Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%
religion: Theravada Buddhist 95%

In Cambodia if you have more dollars than sense you can blow up a cow with a rocket launcher or if your pockets don't run so deep perhaps a chicken or a rabbit will suffice. For the majority of visitors however, the key attractions in Cambodia are the ruins at Angkor. Also of historical interest are sites associated with the Khmer Rouge's brutal four year regime. Sadly Cambodia still has a dark side. Extreme poverty and corruption have delivered a society where child prostitution is rife, and Cambodia has been a magnet for that particular form of sex tourist.

Down the Mekong

Right: Poster on the wall of Cambodia immigration

Leaving Don Khong (Laos) by minivan I arrived at the border with three others, a French honeymoon couple and Nick the Greek. After paying the "overtime fee" we crossed the river to the Cambodian side. They weren't taking overtime fees in Cambodia that day. We hired a speedboat for the two hour trip to Stung Treng. We were unable to get the boat price under $50 which was probably a bit steep for what was a noisy, uncomfortable, at times wet trip. Naturally as soon as we were on board any empty space was filled with locals also wanting to make the trip. Despite the discomforts it was an interesting way to enter the country. The Mekong River at it's lower reaches becomes a vast swift flowing lake. It is inhabited by dolphins at a couple of points along this stretch though it was not my fortune to encounter any on this occasion. The town of Kratie is considered the best staging point for dolphin spotting excursions.

SARS poster

My companions were in a bit of a hurry to get down the river to Kratie so they chartered a small boat. It looked a mite uncomfortable and considering the asking price I opted to spend a night in Stung Treng and took the passenger ferry the next day.

The ferry pulled in at Kamphong Cham where we transferred to minibuses for the trip down to Phnom Penh. On the way we stopped for refreshments at a place called Skuon where one of the delicacies on offer were large black deep fried spiders. Always game to extend my gastronomic horizons I decided to try these "delicacies" and I know I turned a stomach or two in the process. It's your basic bush tucker and generally tastes more of whatever it is fried up in that having any strong flavour itself. You could say it had a vague taste of crab. The practice of eating spiders may be a relatively new phenomenon which emerged during the Pol Pot era when food was often scarce and folks just had to make do.

Below: Spiders on the menu

Phnom Penhspiders