Beetles on the Battambang Bus

Right where two roads cross, and motorbikes try to park, and sugar cane juice sellers are wielding great long sticks of sugar cane; great big buses do seven-point turns into a sort-of parallel with the road position. It’s the Battambang bus station.

Bus drivers usually panic when they see Sparky’s wheelchair, but we have bus-boarding down to a fine, if not shouting-free, art. First, we give the tickets to Tintin and Meena and Snowy and tell them to get on and grab 5 seats.  We never buy 7 seats, they all like to sit on our laps anyway. Chris picks up Sparky, in her seat, a total weight of 25kg. He carries her onto to the bus where a seat has been saved, and plonks her down. Her seat gets firmly strapped on.

I get all the bags into the luggage bins, while holding the baby, and guarding the wheelchair. People just love to try to take it apart, pulling and pushing at all the levers,  I just tell them “My husband will do it, one minute, one minute.”  They are always in a frantic rush.

Chris comes out of the bus again. Half the passengers open their windows and look at us, while we fold the wheelchair, pop the wheels and handlebars off, and stow it.  The other passengers are busy starring at our four big kids inside. I grab all the random water bottles, teddies, bits of fruit and we pile on the bus.  Then we sit there another 20 minutes while people yell at each other, and check tickets.


On this particular trip,  we trundled out of town, dodging scooters, cows and street hawkers, I began to watch the people round me. I was sitting with Baby Boy in his sling on my front, next to a guy wearing jeans and a jumper.  There was a lady at the bus stop in 3 tops and gloves. Apparently, Cambodians really really want lighter skin, and so wear long sleeves all the time. Although this is probably great skin cancer protection, it may well be cancelled out by all the dodgy whitening chemicals they also apply, not to mention being extremely hot.


There was a very beautiful little girl with round deep dark eyes and thick curls. She sat over the aisle from me, and one seat back. She pulled open a bag of food and began to eat. First she ripped the legs off and sucked the juice out of then spat out the bony bits. Then she removed the wings on the back, licking each one. Finally , she shlurped all the guts into her mouth.

Far out, they looked like cockroaches.

They were probably some kind of beetle, deep fried black, and salted.  I have to admit I was really revolted and fascinated at the same time.  And every maternal bone in my body wanted to yell, as I do many times a day. “Don’t put that in your mouth, its dirty!”

My husband has a pet hate of a couple of phrases. ‘Its a small world’ is one of them that he says is demonstrably not true. And judging by the eons we spent on the bus, to traverse a few millimeters on the map, I think I agree.

But its the phrase ‘common sense’ that I am thinking of. Chris doesn’t believe in it. He says you just can’t assume any idea is commonly held. And if it was, would it therefore be a sensible one? He says people all over the world are utterly convinced of diametrically opposing views to other people.

So, is it common sense that children shouldn’t eat beetles? Or is it commonsense that they should, because they are cheap, high in protein, and possibly tasty.  Is it, then, common sense that they should be well fried? Maybe, in Cambodian parenting circles, they discuss the extreme common sense of packing beetles on a long bus trip (like Australian mums take sultanas to a long appointment) as they conveniently take so long to eat.

Who knows.



We have an equivocating stance on using gadgetry on long trips. As there’s a TV playing loud Cambodian karaoke, we concede it would be OK to use the iPod and iPhone. Meena and Chris listen to an Indie travel podcast on ‘getting off the beaten track in China’.  Tintin listened to a children’s story on ‘when your prayers aren’t answered.’ This is a topic we talk about lot.

I listened to a sermon on the problem of suffering. It is a tall ask for a sermon on suffering to cut it, when in Cambodia.  I’ve just been reading about the killing caves in Battambang. I’m not going to tell you what happened there. We are off to Phnom Penh, where there is a torture museum. This place is thick with suffering. You can see it in the eyes of the elderly.

We didn’t go to the killing caves, and we won’t be going to the killing fields or the torture museum. I know its all true, it did happen, and it was really and truly horrific and evil. But sometimes parents have to protect and shelter their children. Mine are seeing an awful lot of new stuff everyday. This is one instance when I’m going to shield them.  What would you do?

Maybe its partly a matter of shielding myself too. Grief is not hypothetical.



We made a toilet stop. Women to the squatties, men to wee on the fence. We bought some kind of cake, like a swiss roll, but with green palm sugar instead of jam. I bought ice green tea with ‘super lemon’

If there was such a thing as common sense, i’d just quit my tea/coffee/caffeine addiction. But as there isn’t, each day is punctuated with searches for coffee thats not full of sugar, or made from beans roasted in pig fat . Or tea that’s not ‘nestea’ powder. The green tea with ‘super lemon’, is 10.5% sugar. So I replaced my lack of caffeine headache with a sugar rush.

The karaoke ended and a stand up comedy started. The back half of the bus was filled with young guys, and they laughed and laughed. Then there was some kind of a Cambodian Macarena dance that appeared to be at a wedding. Does every culture have shocking love ballads with three cords and a key change after the second chorus?

At 4 pm, we were supposed to be in Phnom Penh. Instead we made another loo stop. When the driver put on a feature-length movie, it should have dawned on us that there were still 2 hrs to go.  The whole movie seemed to be one long fight scene, and I have witnessed a number of re-enactments around the hotel room since.

Baby Boy fell asleep in his sling on my tummy and all the gadgetry had flat batteries. We all began to look out the windows once more. I reckon our driver spent, oooh,  at least 70% of the time on the correct side of the road.  And he was sure to honk at every single motorbike to warn them he was coming past.

As we began to drive along side the river, we could see floating houses, and vast piles of plastic rubbish. And those who lived in it.

As soon as we pulled into the Phnom Penh bus station, 6 or 8 tuk tuk drivers spied us through the bus window, and pounced as soon as we were out the door. We joked around with them, until we had re-assembled the wheelchair and located all the backpacks. We had the ‘you have 5 children!’ conversation a few times.

One driver has a broad Australian accent and is wearing a t-shirt from Ballina, Australia. I wonder who taught him English?  By the time we were the only passengers left we ascertained the hotel was not collecting us as promised, and secured 2 tuk tuk guys to take us to it.

“Pick me,” said one guy,

“I saw you first.” said the Ballina guy

“What about me?” they all yelled, grinning, but also really wanting the work

We sat Sparky in the tuk tuk and tied her wheelchair to the back. Our backpacks were piled high.  As we drove out, towing it along, the gathered crowd smiled and cheered.

No sliding in under the radar for this family!


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9 Responses to Beetles on the Battambang Bus

  1. James and Pauline June 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Hey guys, Its james and pauline here your friends you met in halong bay. We both love reading the blog so much and your families story (which we tell quite often) is inspiring people all over the place. We have almost convincde a family in china to travel solely after hearing your tales.’
    How are the kids would you believe that we both miss them heaps! make sure you say hi to them for us nd tell them not to get into to much mischef

    We are currently in europe atm. compared to asia its costing us a fortune but some of the sights (and food) are amazing and def. worth coming to. If you do come to the EU make sure you stay in hotel f1’s or find holiday apartments. Another good thing is that there are PLENTY of supermarkets around so there should be no issue feeding the trooplets! (like my play on words there :) )

    well he have to scoot as we are going to see the effiel tower today. Keep up the great work on the blog and we will see you when we get back to austalia!!!!!


  2. Tez June 5, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    I’ve just found your blog and I am thrilled. Your journey sounds A-mazing and I am so jealous. Wish I’d done this with my children when they were little. What a wonderful education for all of you and the fabulous family stories that will live on through the coming decades.
    Can’t wait to have a look at the archives so I can catch up to where you are. After reading them I’ll be with you every step of the way, if you don’t mind having a tag-along. :-)
    In awe, Tez xx
    Tez recently posted..Waiting . . . waiting . . . . waiting . . . .My Profile

  3. Ash June 6, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I have just finished reading through your journey from thevery beginning! You have inspired me tochase the dream that has recently appeared in my mind…. to go and live on an island somehwere in SE Asia and be a part of a small village community. I have an almost 3 year old daughter and I want to experience with her the simple yet extraordinary life while she is young and hopefully provide a good foundation for the rest of her life. Thankyou, you have a beautiful family :)

  4. Kara June 8, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    I love reading about your adventures. I used to live in Bangkok for three years, teaching at a Thai-Chinese international school. I travelled to all the places you’ve been, but I was single and in my mid-twenties. I’m now a mother of a four year old with cp due to a brain injury at birth, and we are expecting in July. Although we lived in Cairo for the first two years of Sebastian’s birth (after he was born in London.), we are now in Toronto. I miss the color of far off places and the ease and affordability to travel within and nearby. Your adventures are so inspiring and I’m learning so much for how to equip ourselves when we are ready and can take on similar travels to inaccessible places. Thank you!

    When I visited Cambodia, I found S-21 (the old school turned torture chambers) to be completely disturbing in a way I cannot describe with words. The visit to the Killing Fields came afterwards and it was also difficult to take in. I had read a novel during my stay about a young girl and her family and how they were affected which coupled with these visits made it even more powerful. I do not think it is a place to take children, especially as you are not shielding them from the sometimes hard realites of the places you visit and people you meet. It is a lot to take in and process. That said, there are many street children in Phenom Penh. More than any other place I visited in S. East Asia. That is pretty eye opening too. Will you be heading south to the beaches? They are pristine!

  5. Gina June 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Great post… *yeeek* on the big bugs, while I’d like to think I could embrace it just the thought of the ‘cracking sounds’ is a bit blech. then again I’m pretty sure all of us have survived chochineal colouring in our time, made from teeny tiny bugs guts.
    So wonderful following your travels. I’ll make sure I share any of my wheelchair ideas too… maybe with all ideas combined we’ll all end up with a great option.

  6. Next in Line June 13, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    I am so impressed with your getting on the bus system. What a team your family is. When we were in SEA it was just the two of us adults and the taking the bus seemed chaotic then.

    I love the picture of the Chariot behind the tuk tuk.

    Are you going to Vietnam? It was coffee haven for me after Laos and Cambodia.
    Next in Line recently posted..Where to go from hereMy Profile

  7. Aunty deb June 13, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    I love reading about your adventures. Fried beetles may be an acquired taste. A Deb

  8. Christina December 13, 2016 at 4:47 am #

    Your first response is understandable. Fascination and being revolted are very natural reactions.


  1. Folium: Perhaps It’s Time to Rethink Exploring the World With Our Children via Goinganyway - January 22, 2013

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