What turned into a quest to eat some beef and ants in Cambodia turned into a quest to not get cut into tiny pieces myself. Find out what actually happened when I went for a ‘quiet’ meal in Phnom Penh. Cambodia.
‘What should we go for Alice?’ Dave, a tall and lanky backpacker I had met just last night on the bus, sat opposite me. He was waiting for solid confirmation of what we had promised each other. Our midnight ride had failed miserably, spluttering its final heartbeat out in the middle of nowhere in pitch black nothingness. We had slept on the roadside around some seriously dubious dogs. As the sun begun to crack through the darkness and a replacement ride was nowhere in sight, we impulsively wailed out to another bus and hitched our way to Phnom Penh.
Fast forward 10 hours, with no refund on that bus ticket (this is Cambodia). Our sweaty backs slouched into the tacky white plastic chairs. The rickety fans whizzed around and around, creating an ongoing soundtrack against the buzz of local diners surrounding us. With a bottle of Angkor beer in one hand and the grubby yellow-stained menu in the other, I locked eyes with Dave and gave him the nod. ‘OK, let’s get the beef and ants’.
The ‘dish’ arrived. The ants weren’t what I had observed in my fine and green English garden. These ants looked like they had been viciously zapped in from Mars, presenting themselves thrice the size as the minuscule jet black creatures I was used to. These ants were angry, ruby red, alien monsters. I’d be lying if I told you me and Dave had a delectable dining experience. We didn’t. Staring each other out whilst spooning the critters into our mouths and egging each other on. Delightful. We reassured ourselves we were getting some fantastic protein points into our systems. Sometimes, bucket lists can take you too far.
Fast forward 15 minutes and we had eaten about half of the ‘delicacy’ and in our books, eating half of this dish merited a gold medal. We declared a cheeky victory and began to wrap things up. ‘I’ll be back in a moment, I’m just popping to the bathroom’ declared Dave. ‘OK, I’ll grab the bill!’.
As I waited for the calculations and Dave was busying himself with regret in the bathroom, a different kind of force came into the atmosphere. From the corner of my eye, this group were clearly not the Phnom Penh average. They were very different. With heavily patterned shirts and enough gold jewellery to be a pop-up pawn shop, these cashed-up men strutted in, with a jewel-encrusted girlfriend to complete their look. The sound of the fans faded out, the buzz of the locals halted and I quickly registered that I should have chosen a different spot to dine.
Things escalated from discernment to ‘I gotta get the hell out of here pronto’. All of this whilst Dave was still questioning his life choices in the bathroom. One of the Cambodian Elite clocked a diner in the opposite corner of the restaurant. H was an older, more humble man who had no desire to wear ridiculous flower shirts like the Scooby Doo gang to my left. It started to become clear that these guys weren’t eating beef. Instead, they HAD beef with each other. Yikes!
Clueless about the locals’ turbulent history, I found myself in the middle of an extremely tense situation. Without hesitation, Mr. Richie Rich snatched the chef’s meat cleaver from his hands, soared towards his enemy and swished it through the sweltering air. I gasped in shock as the older guy fell to his knees, lay his neck on the floor and demanded his enemy go right ahead and take his best shot.
‘I wish Dave would hurry the hell up’ I squealed inside. Dave luckily materialised from the bathroom but he was unfortunately none the wiser. As Richie Rich’s poodle girlfriend begged him to put the knife down and snap out of it, I threw the money at the waitress, grabbed Dave’s hand and evacuated the building shouting, ‘We’re never eating beef and ants in Cambodia ever again!’.
For more crazy stories from Cambodia, check out ANOTHER brush with death tale here!