A “highlight” for tourists and travellers along Cambodia’s National Highway 6 between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is the small town of Skuon, 75 kilometres north of the capital, where spiders – fresh and fried – are a specialty.
We, however, were going the other way – from Siem Reap south to Phnom Penh – so my fellow photo-travellers and I, under the tutelage of Karl Grobl, Gavin Gough and Marco Ryan, had all morning in our personal bus to anticipate our spider treats.
Our bus ride on the death-defying single-lane highway, which runs alongside barren fields with land-mine warning signs and gloriously green rice patties, was punctuated by stops. The first stop was at Spean Preah Toeus, the largest and most important of the 11 bridges remaining from the ancient Angkor Empire period. With 21 arches spanning the 86 meters across the Chhikreng River, this 12th Century laterite and sandstone structure (reinforced with modern concrete in the 1960’s) is a major part of an arterial network, and an excuse for a few shops and houses either end.
Our next stop was at the market in Kampong Thom.
I love the colour of local markets, but I find them challenging to shoot. This one was no exception; a roughly built wooden frame supporting a corrugated iron roof provided shade from the relentless afternoon sun bouncing off every surface outside, but made for a dark, stifling, hot and airless interior with blinding back-lights from the outdoors. The people were mostly very accommodating, but there were seventeen of us visitors in an already overly crowded space.
So, under-expose like mad and hope for the best!
Our last, much anticipated stop before reaching our Phnom Penh accommodation, was the small town of Skoun (or Skun), where people breed the high-protein local tarantula species (Haplopelma albostriatum) that is a popular delicacy. The street-side market at the junction of two highways also sells a variety of edible insects, as well as fruit and vegetables.
The tarantulas on sale here have been called “edible spider” in Khmer for more than a hundred years. Although it has been suggested that they became more popular during the Khmer Rouge years when other foods were scarce, fried insects are also popular in Thailand (see “Buddhas, Bugs and the Burmese Border”) and other parts of Asia.
Me, I settled for the photos.
Bon Appétit, whatever you may be eating.
Photos: 19 July 2011