National Road 6, Cambodia
Washroom On Site: Yes (costs 25 cents/1000 riels)
A tourist stop along the Phnom Penh-Siem Reap route with some freaky eats. If you’re brave enough to try this local delicacy, try not to lose your lunch… because the toilets cost money to use!
If you’ve hired a taxi service to drive the popular route between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, there’s no escaping a pit stop here. Every single taxi service we looked up beforehand advertised a tourist stop at the Spider Market to break up the tedious five-hour drive between the two cities.
There’s a common misconception that the “Spider Market” that you’ll visit is the Psar Skun, the Skun Market located in the town of the same name. It’s shocking how many tourists just blindly believe this and don’t do their research. A quick look at Google street view for the area will make it obvious that this is incorrect. Where you’ll actually stop at is three and a half kilometres west of the Psar Skun. On a nondescript stretch of highway, you’ll see a big building that is Romdoul 88 Restaurant. Next to that are roofed, open-air structures where the Spider Market is set up and all the food will be laid out under umbrellas and awnings.
Buckets and platters of your worst nightmare are arranged in mountainous piles: enormous spiders, grasshoppers, scorpions and more. Most look like they’ve been deep-fried and cooked to a blackened crisp. The smell of them is actually quite tantalising: roasted garlic with a note of chilli.
We ended up not trying any bugs. I… uhh… had a big breakfast so I wasn’t hungry. Another thing that put me off was that one should never trust food – especially meat – that’s laying out in the sun. I really didn’t want to end up with a bag of spiders that I would carry around for far too long. What is even the “best before” date for something like that?
In case we were so inclined later, throughout our trip we asked our taxi and tuk tuk drivers which are the best. I’ve found that Cambodians prefer crickets. The tourists on TripAdvisor seem to like the tarantulas, likening them to crab. I’ve also been told by an offbeat acquaintance that the grubs – the fat white larva looking things – are the tastiest.
The demand to eat bugs is very, very niche, so this bazaar also sells much more marketable food. There’s ice-cold drinks, vegetables that you can get fried up and dried snacks for the road. Most tempting is the juicy bounty of Southeast Asia: jackfruit, mangosteen, pomelo and more. Whether you get rambutans or scorpions, you can eat your newly acquired delicacy under the cover of a big open-air gazebo.
Spiders are good folks who rid us of more annoying bugs like flies and mosquitoes. It feels wrong to eat something so helpful… it’s like eating your gardener after he just de-weeded your lawn. If you want to appreciate a spider with your hands and not your mouth, “spider rides” are also for sale. For $1, you can hold a spider and get some pictures. It will have its fangs removed so you don’t need to worry about any love bites. Apparently, there are children around who will give you the hard sell for a spider ride, which involves placing the insect directly on you very suddenly, but we didn’t encounter any such aggressive mini salesmen.
If it turns out the grub(s) don’t sit well with you, there is a washroom at the edge of the market. It does cost money, however – 25 cents or 1,000 riels – which a local will collect from you at the entrance of the building. I absolutely refuse to pay money to pee, so I didn’t use the facilities here and can’t vouch for its cleanliness. Yes, I know it’s only a quarter! I am not paying any money to do something as vile as expelling waste if I can help it. Besides, I’ll have you know that 25 cents USD is RM1, which can buy… a bottle of water or one and a half curry puffs from the side of the road in Kuala Lumpur… which will expedite the need for another toilet break but one ringgit much better spent!
I shirked the chance to empty my bladder because the need wasn’t too urgent, but think carefully before you also dismiss the opportunity. It will be close to a two-hour drive to another point of interest no matter which direction you’re heading. Unless you’re doing the drive yourself, or are fine with being a nuisance to your driver and making him stop at a gas station, you might just have to bite the bullet and pay.
Your taxi or tour bus is going to stop here no matter what, so take it for what it is. A tourist trap, yes, but it’s a genuinely different experience. It’s interesting to goggle at, firstly, how many bugs can be accumulated in a single spot. Secondly, at the fact that these many-legged things that give us the creeps can be and do get eaten, and may just be surprisingly delicious to your tastebuds!