A spade strikes the bone-dry Cambodian dirt with a crunch, and the hunt is on. Chem Wai, a lanky, deeply tanned 53-year-old former soldier, has been collecting wild tarantulas and scorpions for most of his life.
Wai knows this scruffy forest, located 20 miles north of Siem Reap and the astonishing ruins of Angkor Wat, like the back of his hand. Armed with his spade and a wood basket, he tracks down these arachnids considered terrifying by many in short sleeves and flip flops.
Once he spots a likely tarantula or scorpion hole, he digs out a scoop of chalky soil. If one is home, he grabs a twig to fish it out, snips its fangs or stinger, and drops it into the basket. The process is over in 30 seconds.