Phnom-enal

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Phnom Penh is a surprisingly cool and cultured city. That is, compared to its South East Asian neighbours (not that hard). Once you get passed the usual mess of traffic and rubbish, there are lots of hip bars and restaurants and an array of interesting architecture from old school palaces and temples to very new school city mansions.

Decorative architecture in Phnom Penh

So what did we do in this capital of cool? We bought baggy travellers trousers and ate big bugs, of course.

The trousers were a necessity given that some of the more holy sites in the city require clothing to cover knees and shoulders. It was way too hot for jeans so we headed to the Russian market in search of a bargain buy.

Manna soon spotted a pair of fisherman’s linen trousers that she had her eye on and went into full bartering mode. “How much?” said Manna. “$8” replied the old women in the tiny market stall. “How about $3?”, said Manna unflinchingly. “Ok, $7” was the reply. “$3”, repeated Manna, “ok, $6”, “$3”, repeated Manna steadfast, “alright $4.50, final price”, “maybe, but we’ll look around at other stalls first,” said Manna knowing her tactic was working and beginning to walk away, “alright, ok, alright, $3.” “Deal” said Manna happily.

Have baggy pants, will travel

This is from the girl that felt too uncomfortable to barter for anything before she started travelling. She’s come a long way, so much so that the apprentice has caught up with the master.

That master (ie. me) found a pair of linen trousers in another shop. Again the price started at $8 and again finished at $3. The trick, as we’ve discovered in this region of the world where everything is negotiable, is to walk away saying that you will look at the other stalls and then come back later. The vendor then knows that you are both looking to buy but will probably spend elsewhere if they don’t do something quick. It usually brings out the actual price of the item.

After successfully buying our baggy pants and looking increasingly like caricatures of the travellers we’d become, we headed to the National Palace and Silver Pagoda in the centre of the city. As you can imagine it was beautiful and holy in places yet ostentatious and grandiose in others. The floor of the Silver Pagoda, named for its solid silver tiles was particularly garish and seemed utterly out of place in a city where poverty has been rife for so long. But the National Palace seemed beautiful and stately and was worth the visit.

Monks at the Palace

Whilst in Phnom Penh we also visited the Killing Fields, where Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge murdered so many innocent civilians in the name of ‘Communism’. It was a bleak and powerful reminder of one of the worst genocides in the modern era. This time it was anyone with an education that was in the firing line. Some people were murdered just for wearing glasses.

The horrible irony in all this was that Pol Pot himself was educated in France and probably targeted fellow free-thinkers to get rid of anyone who could argue with his diabolical plans. The most shocking fact of all, for me, was that it all happened so recently, just 30 years ago. It is amazing to think that the city of Phnom Penh was completely cleared out in three days as all of the people were forced into the countryside to work the fields.

What is also amazing is how much the city has recovered since that bleak era. The many modern bars and restaurants are testament to that. Indeed, we were in much need of refreshment after our intensive historical lesson so we headed to the Foreign Correspondents Club for cocktails.

Lychee martinis at the FCC

It was thoroughly pleasant to sit on the rooftop bar drinking Lychee Martinis and watching the world below. We then took the opportunity to head to a nearby restaurant to try some truly local food. This is where we ate deep fried tarantulas.

I must admit that I have never been particularly adventurous with food but for some reason I wasn’t turned off by the thought of eating a big fat hairy spider. Adversely, Manna, who will eat most things edible, was petrified.

The dish arrived and there had been no attempt to hide the origin of what was on our plate. These tarantulas were deep fried whole and now the three of them were staring at us from the table.

Tarantulas for two (as if one each wasn't enough!)

I started on the legs which were actually quite delicious with the accompanying Kampot pepper sauce. They tasted a bit like crispy duck and seemed to prove that most things taste good when deep fried. Manna was not so convinced but reluctantly tried them anyway managing about half a leg before having to stop.

It was only when I got to the livery body that it suddenly dawned on me that I was eating a rather fat tarantula and I was stopped in my tracks. Crunchy legs I can do but soft spider meat was a step too far.

But we were pleased with our efforts and so was our waiter. Half way through the meal he walked up to us wide-eyed. “I’m impressed,” he said. “Usually the tourists order this dish just to take pictures and then send it back. You guys actually ate it!” We didn’t know whether to be delighted or dismayed by this fact. But we did realise that through our travels over the last five months we had come a long way.

Tarantula eating guide - Step 1: Hold tarantula with look of disgust

Step 2: Put in mouth without looking and think of chicken

Step 3: Wash down quickly with beer

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3 Responses to “Phnom-enal”

  1. cynthia cutler Says:

    Couldnt copy with the spider. Wonderful adventures. Hope you dont come down to earth with too much of a big bang !!!

  2. Darren Says:

    Looks like your having a web of a time , after all that food and drink did you creep and crawl back to your room lol . Can’t wait to see you both x

  3. helene Says:

    no please please tell me you didn’t eat the tarantula …
    arghhhhhhhh c’est horrible

    i had not been ony our web site for ages. what a pleasure to see your two faces so happy, amazed, surprised, joyous !

    now seriously: how much are you eating everyday: i see so many food pictures and so many crazy thing slipping thourhg your mouthes…

    when you stop by Paris again, or anywhere in france, i’ll bring you eat some nasty things too.

    a big big kiss to both of you. if you see mount Bokor, give it a kiss for me. 9 years ago i was there, and had a spectacular journey.

    a tres bientot, helene

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