Cambodia, Destinations, Featured Partners, Food, Intrepid

Frogs and Eels and Pig Heads

January 16, 2013

We’d been in Siem Reap for just one night and wandered through the buzzing downtown market stalls: woven scarves and metal jewelry, tourist T-shirts and carved trinkets. Colorful, and fun to gawk at while eating ice cream from Blue Pumpkin, certainly.

But what fun to get up the next morning, hop in a remork, and ride in the opposite direction of the crowds toward a real taste of the vivid, smelly, real-deal village markets supported by the Cambodian families of Tonlé Sap.

Twenty minutes through the countryside, a turn down a few smaller roads, and we arrived at the outskirts of the morning bustle, where space is first-come-first-serve and people set up in the wee hours to claim the best spot.

Stall after stall of fish from the Tonlé Sap region, rice harvested from local rice paddies, and rice noodles made fresh.

Illegal leaded gasoline, smuggled from neighboring countries, diluted with water, and sold in recycled 1 liter bottles…at a discount, of course.

Lemongrass and limes.

Fresh bundles for fresh meals.

Goods grown in the good earth.

Generations doing the daily duties of agricultural life.

Freshly skinned whole frogs.

Eels from the lake waters.

Pig heads…and tails.

Additional tidbits for the not so squeamish: A video of Tim Hayward and Fergus Henderson cooking a pig’s head and a recipe for Crispy Pig Tails.

(You’re welcome.)

Unlike American’s cheap surplus of factory-farmed birds, chickens are expensive in the market.

Meats from most to least expensive: Chicken ($$$) Pork ($$) Beef ($$) Fish ($) Duck ($)

I loved feeling like a privileged guest, allowed to witness the exchange of goods, the fruits of hard work, and the traditions of community.

Frogs, eels, and pig heads: Cambodian vernacular for northwest salmon, free range chickens, and grass-fed beef?

It made me miss my shopping habits at home: my favorite markets, my favorite farmers. My favorite home-grown heads of lettuce and hallocks full of Marion berries.

But you know what I loved most?

Catching glimpses of smiles during market transactions: those are the same the world round.

Many thanks to Intrepid / Urban Adventures for sponsoring this post. I first discovered Intrepid when I bought a second-hand T-shirt at Goodwill in 2008. I was saving every penny for travel, but I couldn’t resist the map of the world made out of Intrepid logos… I Googled the company and fell in love with their travel photos and inspirations. Urban Adventures’ small-group tours around the world offer unique, local experiences showcasing different sides of typical travel destinations. All tours run as guaranteed departures with a maximum of 12 per group (which means even if you’re the only one signed up, the tour still runs!). For more details, check out their day trips around Siem Reap, Cambodia.

{More Stories From Cambodia.}

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Maria | Acceleratedstall January 16, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I thoroughly enjoy markets like the one in your post. SO full of color, texture, scents. My favorite shots are of the veg section – all those hues. Wow!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians January 18, 2013 at 11:52 am

      Me, too! I could wander for hours and hours. I wish that we’d stayed in more places with kitchens in Southeast Asia so I could’ve experimented more with the cuisine while I had access to such great fresh produce : )

  • Reply Valynne January 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Was just thinking of you and up pops a new post. What an incredible adventure you are on…it is a little hard not to be jealous, but I AM so happy for you, and for the fact that I can at least live vicariously! Thank you for taking the time to share your photos and stories – it is all so spectacular, even from my cozy little couch here in NM.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians January 18, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Valynne! I’ve been thinking of you, too. I must pop over to your blog for a good catch-up on what’s been happening in your life. I’m genuinely so happy to know you’ve enjoyed the pictures and tidbits from the road this past year. The experiences have been so rich – it only seems right to share them! Hugs to you xx

  • Reply Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Loved the pics up until the last couple since I’m a veggie! But man do I love markets!!!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians January 18, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Isn’t the color just so much fun? You’d appreciate this – one of our first outings when we got to Buenos Aires was to cross the city and head to the El Galpón Organic Market in Chacarita near Lacroze Station. So much tasty food and so many kind, smiling people. We stocked up for our little apartment kitchen and went back several times. Some of my best travel memories come from the markets and the meals made from fresh, local produce. xx

  • Reply Lauren, Ephemerratic January 16, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    You’re making me miss Cambodia — and Cambodian food — so much. Those frogs legs looked just right for skewering on lemongrass and throwing on a grill!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians January 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Can you believe, I didn’t try frog when we were there? But meat wrapped in lemongrass or grilled on lemongrass skewers = so delicious. I think I’d go for a taste of frog right now if it was offered!

  • Reply Colleen - Colleen gets lost January 17, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Awesome shot of the pig heads. In total seriousness, traveling in Asia I’ve gotten so used to seeing animal heads at the market every day I’m going to miss seeing them if/when I go back to the States.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians January 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      Thank you, Colleen : ) It’s funny how quickly something strange and bizarre can become normal, isn’t it? The longer we were in Asia, the less sights like these fazed me, and the more I was curious to know about the traditions and techniques. I think the most adventurous cooking on the trip was our octopus-curry session in Zanzibar – seems so tame compared to this. Did you check out the links to the pig-head-cooking video and the crispy pig tails recipe? Would you ever cook pig heads/tails at home, do you think?

      • Reply Colleen - Colleen gets lost January 20, 2013 at 3:57 am

        I should check out those cooking links! I would never have thought to cook or eat pig heads/tails at home, but now I happily would. I would spend a good like time staring and marveling at it first, though. I grew up in a household that ate things most Americans would consider strange, so in a sense traveling and eating abroad has felt more like home than “home.”

  • Reply TammyOnTheMove January 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I have just come back from a work trip to Siem Reap and was lucky enough to visit some villages near the temples. It is always such a great insight into real life Cambodia. Every time I think I have got over some of the stuff they sell at markets here I get proven wrong. Those skinned frogs. Ewww. ;-)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians January 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      Yes! i know what you mean : ) I was really captivated by watching the young daughter of the family dutifully skinning the frogs. I grew up on a family farm, but this makes all of my grubby work look pretty tame and mundane in comparison.

  • Reply Hogga January 21, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I can only image the smells

  • Reply Susan Buck January 24, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I adored the little boy with his shirt pulled up onto his head; it seems attitude at that age is the same the world over, too. Plus, the smile in the last photo made a fitting last impression for the sentiment of the entire post. Bravo.

  • Reply Six Hundred Years After Sunrise, or, Angkor in a Day - twoOregonians February 27, 2013 at 11:24 am

    […] And nearby in Siem Reap: Tonlé Sap Tour: Visiting the Floating Villages of Cambodia Frogs and Eels and Pig Heads: Up Close at a Cambodian Market […]

  • Reply northierthanthou June 30, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Looks like some wild meals to be had there. Bet it’s worth it, if you can find the rights stuff though.

  • What say you?