March 13, 2017
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Well, the title to today’s blog is just one big fat lie. I was ready, willing and able but our guide Pier forbid me from eating even one of the fried tarantulas from the sticky mounds of them on sale at the rest stop at Skun (aka “Spider Town”) en route from Prek K’dam to Siem Reap.
He also forbid me from eating (and I am not making this up) the following fried things also for sale:
Beetles (come in big, medium & small sizes)
Assorted maggots (I just call them the Maggi)
The bus ride from the boat to Siem Reap is 6 hours. I took 2 Dramamine. I slept most of the way. But not for the part where Pier was describing how to correctly fry up a batch of tarantulas. First, it seems, the key is not to fry them so that they are soft and chewy. They need to be crispy and crunchy when you bite into them. I can understand that – nobody likes an undercooked tarantula.
They usually accompany a beer or two after work – the Cambodian version of peanuts one might say. I see this scene in my head:
Me: I think I’ll have a Corona, please.
Server: Sure, anything to eat?
Me: Hey guys, how about we have a batch of tarantulas? You want ‘em with or without guacamole?
The first step is catching the tarantula. Pier demonstrated the low moaning sound used to attract them. Five scuttled out from under the seats on the bus. You can imagine the kerfuffle that made!
The dead tarantulas are boiled up in order to de-hair-ify them (I just made up another word but, as is often the case, I like it and may well use it again). At some point, I believe they are defanged and drained of poison but I can’t be certain about that as I was kind of daydreaming about what they do with all the tarantula hair from the de-hair-ifying process.
Anyway, after the frying part they are coated with a sweet sticky sauce and then chopped green onions are sprinkled as a garnish on top of the huge pyramid into which they are stacked, all sticking to one another, until someone orders a batch from the pyramid.
And so, as was I, you may be wondering why Pier forbid me to eat a sticky fried tarantula? “Well,” he said, “you don’t know how long they’ve been out in the sun”.
Which is when he guided me over to the fresh-picked cashew nut vendor and asked her to put a batch of those babies in a paper bag for me to munch on and made me go back and sit on the bus, where he appointed the bus driver to watch over me and make sure I didn’t try to get off and eat any bugs.
And that, I can assure you, was the most fun I’ve had on a bus trip in a long, long time.
The French called this part of their Indochine colonies ‘Cambodge’, which easily translates to today’s English name that we use, Cambodia. Both are transliterations of the actual name used by the people themselves for their country: Kampuchea. It means ‘sacred royal power wheel’. In my mind, I have a picture of a young prince playing with small die cast metal cars. Wait, no, those were ‘hot wheels’. Never mind.
Siem Reap means “Defeat of Siam”, today’s Thailand being the traditional enemy to the west of the Khmer people of Cambodia. Laos is the traditional northern enemy and the Vietnamese are the ones to the east. In the next week, we’ll be learning a lot about those traditional enemies.
The country is shaped like a bowl – low hills (for here, they’ll serve as mountains, though) surround the land borders in those 3 directions and all of the gravitational pull is down, down, down to the bottom of the bowl, Tonle Sap Lake. The enemies usually entered over those low hills – but sometimes they came up the Mekong on boats. More on those fun times later.
For today, it’s sufficient to know that just as the Kampuchean people defeated their traditional enemies, I did too. Did I mention that I hate buses.
When we arrived in Siem Reap we were hurriedly sorted into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. About ¾ of the people on the boat are the ‘haves’. They are staying at the Sofitel Siem Reap – sort of like the boat except on land – where they will continue to be pampered for a few days before flying to Hanoi and then being pampered at the Sofitel Hanoi for 3 more days before flying back to their homes.
The other 25% of us, the ‘have nots’, were asked to stand aside while the Sofitel staff started the immediate pampering of the ‘haves’. Pier rounded up a fleet of tuk tuks and each of the ‘have nots’ were then sent off the immaculately kept grounds of the Sofitel into the great unknown. Well, Siem Reap, anyway. Good luck to us!
We didn’t really have much time for anything other than a brief farewell, but we know that Stefan & Heike are staying just a block away from us and have made plans to visit with them while here. For the rest, it’s Auf Wiedersehen, a bientot, and ciao baby. No matter what, we’ll always have Paris. Or the boat.
Our tuk tuk dropped us off at the Bopha Siem Reap Boutique Hotel (formerly the Bopha Angkor Boutique Hotel). I’m not sure why the name change but it’s apparently recent enough that they refer to it thusly in their online and print marketing and advertising.
Bopha means ‘flower’ in the Khmer language and there are 330 people in the USA who have that name, making it the 24,913th most favourite name in America. Thank you, Wikipedia, source of all knowledge, for that great stat.
The hotel has styled itself as an ancient temple ruin in the middle of the jungle, with faux Champa statues, frescoes and details all over the place. It’s actually quite beautiful and unique and ….. the pool is great!! The rooms are not ruined so I think we’ll be very happy here for the next week while we explore what I like to call: “The place that Lizzy discovered first”.
More on this to come but, as a prelude and reminder, Liz worked at the Angkor Hospital for Children here in Siem Reap last summer, helping teach the nurses about working with children who have cancer. While she was here, and since her return, she’s been working on a curriculum for their training. Much more on that in a couple of days when we visit the hospital itself.
For now, however, this means that I have in my iPhone an email from Liz with a list of restaurants to go to and things to do while we are here.
Oh, and then there’s this little thing about 5 km. down the road from our hotel that you may have heard of, called Angkor Wat. Yeah, I guess we’ll check that out while we’re here, too.