Tarantula Eating, Silk Spinning & Candy Making: A Road Trip through the Cambodian Countryside

4 min read

I don’t recall seeing “chow down on deep-fried tarantula” on the tour itinerary, but when our local trip guide reviewed the day’s plan – mouth in a wide grin, eyes dancing at the mention of “eating spiders” – there it was. Given I’m willing to try (almost) anything once, I was game. Besides, I’ve already tried beetle, scorpion, and cricket, so what’s a big ass spider?

During the 6.5 hour drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap we made brief stopovers in several small towns in the Cambodian countryside. Towns served by the same unpaved and uneven two-lane road from which vehicles zooming by kick up mini-dust storms so intense, that sometimes those closest to the edge wear face masks for protection. One of those places is Skuon, more colloquially known as “Spiderville” because of its proliferation of tarantulas.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Preparations underway for a multi-day wedding celebration in one countryside village. (The grillmaster signaled to me to wait until he loaded the meat skewers so I could get a better picture.)

Spiderville

Eating spiders may seem weird to some, I know, but during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge, catching those sizable, eight-legged, hairy insects could mean the difference between starving and starving a little less. Nowadays, deep-fried tarantulas are considered a delicacy and enjoyed as a snack.

Three cute Cambodian children greeted me as I descended the steps of the passenger van once we’d pulled into the parking lot of an outdoor market. The only boy among them – I guessed he was around 9 – said to me: “Sister, you are beautiful.” The oldest girl, standing to his right, shook her head and added, “Your hair is so pretty.”

What is this? Me? My hair? My looks? Who put these kids up to this? People with my dark skin, kinky hair, and African features aren’t exactly held up as paragons of beauty in the US. I wasn’t accustomed to this type of attention.

I didn’t have much time to consider the kids’ comments before they began trying to charm me into buying from them: plastic bags filled with mango or other fruit, colorful origami birds, and various smaller packages of what vendors were selling in the stalls 15-feet away.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Some of the produce sold at the market. Pictured (from top left clockwise): dried banana chips (so tasty), mangoes, grapefruit, what looks like pink grapefruit in the bottom corner is actually pomelo, which they season with salt, lime and chili powder (to me they taste better than grapefruit because they’re sweet with none of the bitterness.), passion fruit, custard apple, and tamarind.

K_, our Cambodian guide, strongly discouraged us from buying from the kids – much to my dismay. It’s hard to say no to a sweet child with a gap-toothed smile who’s pleading with you to buy fruit “so that I can go to school.” However, as K_ explained, if they’re able to make an income by hawking goods to tourists, sometimes parents will pull their children out of school so they can work instead. I knew the kids I met were in school because they told me so when I complimented their great English. We’d arrived during the students’ two hour lunch break.

Despite my refusals to part with my cash, the kids trailed me – like an entourage – as I walked toward the market and the many platters stacked high with an array of fried insects and fruit for sale.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Fried water beetles

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Fried grasshoppers

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Deep fried tarantulas, known as a-ping, are high in protein.

K_ handed each of us a crispy tarantula leg to try. We giggled and teased each other through the experience. Once I got over the initial disgust at the idea of what I was eating, the tarantula actually tasted decent – not like chicken, more like beetle. The salt, sugar, and oil flavoring no doubt helped. It did take me a while to chew though. Like the hairs from the leg didn’t want to leave my mouth. Ick.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

As we were gearing up to leave, K_ tapped my shoulder, pointed toward an aged woman wearing a deep-pink head scarf and clothed in long, floating layers, and told me: “She said she likes your hair.”

This never happens to me. What is this magical place?

I waved goodbye to my adorable, pint-sized entourage from behind the window as our van eased out of the lot.

From Silkworm to Silk Scarf

Santuk Silk Farm in Kampong Thom marked the second stop on our countryside excursion. Run by a US veteran of the Vietnam War and his Cambodian-Laos partner, the modest farm employs 15 women and one man from the local community. The weavers work hard spinning the silk into beautiful, color-rich scarves. We got the opportunity to learn about the process of turning the byproducts of silkworms into soft threads for weaving – a 6-week cycle – from one of the co-owners.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Silkworms feed on the leaves of Mulberry trees and cocoon themselves in silk on the branches.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Once the silkworms have spun themselves into a silk cocoon they are laid in the sun to dry. Some of the silkworms are kept alive to use for mating.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

As the co-owner demonstrated, dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel. Some of the silk strands were rougher than others.

Dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel.

Once the silk is dyed, the weavers smooth and stretch it on the spinning wheel, before transferring it to the loom to be woven into silk fabric.

After getting the lowdown on the world of silk, we sat down to a home-cooked meal for lunch.

Dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel.

I don’t know the names of any of the dishes, so I’ll just call it an assortment of meats, veggies, spices, and scrumptious-deliciousness.

The cat family of the farm joined us for the meal, eagerly anticipating fallen morsels and scraps. A small dog resides on the farm, as well. For lunch, he chose to kill one of the clucking chickens. Thankfully, I did not witness this animal act of gallinicide, but a few of my tourmates did.

Dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel.

Mom, dad, and baby cat – unbothered by humans.

Sugar Palm Candy

Not too far from the silk farm, we made a pit stop at a roadside sugar palm candy stand. Made from the sap of sugar palm trees, the hardened candy is sweet enough to make your eyes pop. You can also cook with it, boil it into a juice, or melt it into your tea or coffee if a shocking jolt of sugar isn’t your bag.

After making our purchases, we piled back into the van and our driver, Mr. S_, pulled out onto the dirt road. The afternoon had barely settled and already we’d done so much; I couldn’t wait to reach the next stop and adventure.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Would you eat a deep fried tarantula?

Read Part I and Part II from my Southeast Asia travel series and stay tuned for more from Cambodia!

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36 Comments
  • Lauren Steffus
    June 11, 2016

    Keisha, I will be visiting Cambodia in March 2017. We have a stop planned at the very same market with our guide.Here is the thing, I am deathly afraid of spiders! Even the tiny little guys that sneak into your house. I can not even walk by the tarantulas at the pet store. In one response you mentioned the kids chasing after you and egging you on to eat the spider. Would you have any advice for me? I will NOT be eating the tarantula. But should I announce my fear? Will that make it more fun to chase and tease? Certainly there is more at this market worth seeing, yes? I suppose we should not skip it just because of this one thing, true? Oh gosh, are there live tarantulas there too? Please share any suggestions how I could gracefully handle the spider thing. I know there is no way I can just grit my teeth and bear it. Thanks. Great posts by the way!!

  • Jen @The Haute Mommy Handbook
    March 9, 2016

    Girl, you are BRAVE! Nice pics, by the way. They really bring your trip to life!! 😀

  • Kat
    February 16, 2016

    Wow, you’re very brave to try that fried tarantula. I wouldn’t even dare to take a bite out of grasshoppers or worms! I betcha that is one experience in Cambodia that you will never forget for the longest time 🙂

  • Roberta
    February 10, 2016

    Keisha! I nominated you for Liebester Award! Head over to my blog and look what I’m talking about. (adventurousmiles.com/uncategorized/liebster-award-nomination/ ) Have a great week! 🙂

  • mytravelmonkey
    February 9, 2016

    I just couldn’t have done it… Not even if you paid me! Brave woman you are 🙂 #MondayEscapes

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 10, 2016

      You never know how you might respond when the tarantula is thrust in your face and little kids who eat them all the time are egging you on. Haha. 🙂

  • @Mrs_AOK
    February 3, 2016

    . I think @grlnxtdoorisblk needs a travel show. eh hem @Tastemade |Tarantula Eating, Silk Spinning & Candy Making https://t.co/xOTLuKpReE

  • Mrs. AOK
    February 3, 2016

    I truly enjoyed reading this, Keisha! You seriously need your own travel show. 🙂 I would tune in each week to see and hear your commentary on your travels. This silk worm to silk scarf visit is something I would totally enjoy.
    XOXO

    • Mrs. AOK
      February 3, 2016

      I like your hair too! 🙂
      XOXO

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 4, 2016

      You always leave the best comments. 🙂 I was wondering if anyone made it down to the silk and candy parts of the post. Glad to hear someone did! Re: my hair, thank you! 😛

  • Keri from Baby Globetrotters
    February 1, 2016

    What a fascinating trip through Cambodia, thank you for sharing highlights from your journey. We’re about to make the same trek with our little ones in a couple of months time so really interesting to hear the advice on giving to the children – and I’ll have a little think about the tarantula’s! #MondayEscapes

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 4, 2016

      Yeah, you’ll see kids all over the country trying to peddle stuff to tourists. Stay strong! It’s for the better good (or so I’m told). I hope you have a wonderful time on your trip!

  • Kakada
    February 1, 2016

    Thanks for your coming here ! Bless you

  • Ayesha
    February 1, 2016

    I did in siem reap….. Was creepy but not as bad as I thought it was going to be!! X

  • Norm 2.0
    January 31, 2016

    I’ll have to be awfully hungry before you’ll see me chowing down on bugs and spiders, but I tip my hat to those who have the stomach for it – no doubt they’re loaded with protein.
    For me it’s just the yuck factor I guess 🙁

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 4, 2016

      It is pretty yucky, especially when you think about it conceptually. *Shudder* But, to each their own. I eat crawfish and some people think they are gross and dirty.

  • Alun
    January 29, 2016

    Nope no i would not not even if it was covered in chocolate lol

  • Michele Richards
    January 29, 2016

    Lovely pictures and article. Looks like it was culturally refreshing. Travel is such a blessing.

  • Renea
    January 28, 2016

    Not going to happen.

  • Michelle
    January 28, 2016

    Never gonna happen. Nope! But good for you for giving it a go! The pics were hilarious! Call me. 🙂

  • Caroline
    January 28, 2016

    No way am terrified of spiders. But the question is would you do it again? C x

  • Yanique
    January 28, 2016

    Uh…No. LOL!! Good for you though

  • Sandra
    January 28, 2016

    Hairy…that’s worse than the oddly crispy I feared.
    Proud of you!

  • Leslie
    January 28, 2016

    No!

  • Oumayma Legraini
    January 28, 2016

    Wow!! U’re really inspiring! am proud of you!!! *_^

  • Heidi
    January 28, 2016

    Nope. But I did try the crickets.

  • Mega Mills
    January 28, 2016

    If I was starved yes. But just for shits and giggles.. Nope. I’ll leave you to it.

  • Robert
    January 28, 2016

    OMG! Maybe? Yikes!

  • Dominique
    January 28, 2016

    You’re brave. I could never have eaten that! Lol

  • @TheLimerickLane
    January 27, 2016

    Oh, hell no! RT @grlnxtdoorisblk: Eating deep-fried tarantulas in Cambodia! https://t.co/3ZjulsVGV7 #tbloggers https://t.co/3dUTSs8Kxf

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