Wai and sons, monster hunters

All the wonderful following photos were taken by Regis Binard - http://www.regisbinard.com

The last time I was proud of my courage was when I managed not to run away from a stadium a wasp was suspected of having infiltrated. I felt I could do anything then, my turn to rule the world was about to come. I was still working on that idea when I met M. Wai and his 10 year old sons. Since then I’ve changed my plans, and my accountancy training might finally not have been a complete waste of time. The Wai family actually hunts snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and I’m pretty sure they’re a bit disappointed there aren’t any grizzly bears or giant dragons in their neighborhood. Let me tell you about who they are and the day we met them.

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We had the opportunity to meet M. Wai through M. Seiha Soeun, Bugs Café’s Khmer chef. M. Wai is one of our scorpions, spiders and snakes suppliers. We went near Bantey Srey and met him and his family in their small wooden and bamboo house. When we arrived, a woman and two boys were busy immobilizing a big plastic bag that was furiously moving about. We were not sure we wanted to know what was inside the bag, but they showed us anyway with a wide smile: a 1.5 m long snake which made absolutely no effort to look friendly or welcoming. It was very smelly also. M. Soeun told us they had just found it near the house and that this species was very good to eat but a bit ferocious. Welcome to the Wais’.

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M. Wai is a former soldier. He was injured several times while fighting against the Khmer Rouges, but a bullet in the stomach forced him to find another occupation. He started hunting insects and snakes to feed his wife and six kids; life on countryside was very hard and they had to find a complementary source of proteins to keep healthy. Since he could not work efficiently in the rice fields because of his injury, he started hunting these animals, which are very common where they live. When we arrived to the house, eleven family members were there, and after a short introduction, we went to the woods to watch M. Wai and his ten year old son Khun hunt all these terrifying beasts. 

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We had actually been walking for 10 minutes when he found the first spider hole. This was also when we realized that his only equipment was a big stick and a basket. No gloves, no particular shoes – he was just wearing flip flops. He started widening the spider hole and then finished digging it with his bare hand. “How does he know when the spider is close?” I asked. “When he touches it”, M. Soeun answered, not especially impressed by what he had just translated. He then grabbed a small stick and started making a funny little noise with his throat to attract the spider, according to him. After a few seconds of tickling it, we saw a huge tarantula rush out of the hole like a furious neighbor coming upon kids stealing his apples, and run amazingly fast between M. Wai’s legs. He calmly stepped out of the way, waited until she stood quiet, and grabbed her with his bare hand as if it was the most natural thing to do. If he had got stung, his hand would have been twice as big and awfully painful for at least 3 days, just so that you know… He then cut her fangs immediately and put it in a basket.

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After he showed us different kinds of plants that could be eaten or used as spices, medicine and so on, we finally found the first scorpion hole of the day. The technique was exactly the same: hole widening, hand digging, small stick tickling, inconceivably risky catching. The punition for mishandling a scorpion is approximately the same as for the tarantula, M. Wai told us while he was cutting the scorpion’s stinger with his nail. “Just a bit more painful”, he added. He asked me if I wanted to catch the next scorpion by myself, but I politely declined his offer just after I recovered from fainting.

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After two hours walking in this truly beautiful undergrowth landscape, we got back to M. Wai’s house, and after a few laughs with him, his wife cooked our glorious loot for us; even my friends who are not used to this kind of food had to admit it was delicious. They made it marinate for a while in garlic and spices, then panned it with oil and palm sugar. I noticed the bag with a snake inside was quiet now. I asked Mrs. Wai if she had killed it, but she answered: “no, the snake has escaped because the bag wasn’t closed properly. But it’s probably still in the area, we’ll catch it again soon”. When I recovered from that second fainting, we finally went back to Siem Reap, and I’m sure I will remember every second of this day during which I was conscious, for my entire life.


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