Tarantula for dinner

Cambodian women selling fried tarantulas

Someone enters through the window and the three of us in the backseat are now five people. Along the way, another ten new passengers join the ride and the driver constantly encourages more passersby, even when there is definitely no room available. I do not exactly know what it is about when our minibus suddenly stops, the driver runs after the biker, grabs him by his shoulder and then takes his passenger, forcibly placing him on the non-existent seat inside. Some other people travel on a roof, on the top of overloaded trucks, while some motorcycles are used to transport refrigerators and sofas. Observing such phenomena on the way, we reach Skoun, our non-accidental destination.

Tarantula is a local specialty, thanks to which Skoun gained a bit of the international recognition. In less than an hour I manage to find a woman selling fried tarantulas. Yet, that is only a partial success. I also really hope to get the possibility to seeing live specimens and having them made-to-order. I just look into the bucket and to my satisfaction I see dozens of vigorously moving spider bodies. The woman ensures me that their fangs are removed – thus in theory, they are not dangerous at all.

Tarantulas on my t-shirt, not ready to be eaten yet

The Khmer lady seems to be professional, so from the very beginning I trust her. She places a few on my shirt, then I block out my inhibition and take a few spiders in my hand to let them walk on my upper body. Tarantulas have quite pointed legs, almost plucking. The strong grip is necessary to keep their massive bodies attached to the surface. I feel so many spider legs moving randomly on my body. This is truly an unusual feeling.

The equivalent of two quarters buys us two big spiders. Then, at another stand with baked bananas we buy some more snacks and then put tarantulas into deep oil. After a few minutes they are crispy and tasty. It is sort of an acquired taste, especially the rump is unusual as it contains lots of tiny eggs.

The main goal for visiting Skoun is achieved, but even so we decide to stay here one more day. Maybe just out of curiosity to see what else can you see in Skoun.

Daily life in Skoun

A freshly fried tarantula is a local specialty

I get up before dawn. All I can see are long shadows and vague silhouettes moving towards the market. About 5:35 it starts to get bright. The city comes to life in its everyday, undisturbed routine. A boy distributes long blocks of ice on his rickshaw – at the market it keeps refrigerators cold for a day. Using hooks the blocks are unloaded and then cut by a woman operating chainsaw.

Fish stand owners prepare and gut fish. I hear cleavers chopping tiny bones and the scales being scraped.

There are also pig heads, chicken feet, lumps of dried beef blood, frogs, snails, pork tongues and wafting aroma of intense spices all over the place.

Women heat huge pots with either rice or pasta. Restaurant stands are successively being opened. The first customers for breakfast show up. In fact, it is diner what is usually eaten for breakfast. The person I met recently concluded: “If the Asians ate for breakfast as little as the Europeans do, then they would already be hungry at nine. We really have to work hard."

Wandering along the city we come across one of the schools. Children are dressed in an identical uniforms. Soon we get to know a few students and they bring us to the headmaster, with whom we visit few classrooms. Every time we enter the number of classrooms we interrupt classes and tell a bit about our trip and then start talking with kids in English.

This pot of rice would last only until late afternoon

The headmaster Kimhang Heng actually speaks not so good English (especially given that he is an English teacher!) and interestingly enough, some students speak much better than he does. Teenagers are excited about talking with foreigners, because as Kimhang notes, he does not remember any foreign visitors to their school. Later we also get to know the area riding together with the headmaster, the three of us on his bike, thus we also visit one more school.

All of the students going to school by bicycle pay a small amount of 200 riel (about 2.5 cents) to park their bicycles for the day. Children coming from wealthier families ride scooters. A nice conclusion is that at the farewell one of the students hands us a small gift.

I think that once you are visiting surrounding areas it is also worth to stay one or two days in Skoun. I recommend it not only for gourmet food enthusiasts, but also for those interested in seeing everyday life in a peaceful Cambodian town.

kh skoun