The Tinh Bien Market located in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, near the Vietnam-Cambodia border, is famous for selling many types of insects, some of them poisonous. The most common ones are scorpions, click beetles, queen termites and geckos.
Hoang Lam, 45 years old, has been a vendor here for 20 years. His main products are scorpions and geckos.
“Some people don’t dare to come close, just look from far away. Many women visitors are so scared, they don’t even want to look,” Lam said.
The busiest time for this market is the first half of the year. The majority of the visitors around that time are pilgrims who go to the Ba Chua Xu Temple on Sam mountain, in An Giang’s Chau Doc City, southern Vietnam.
This season, Lam’s little shop is selling geckos and mountain scorpions, mostly. “There aren’t many Vietnamese catchers now, so I mainly buy from Cambodians,” Lam said.
“All of these were caught in nature. Their prices reach the peak during the Ba Chua Xu pilgrimage period. People will visit the temple, and then come down here to buy insects to soak within rice wine,” a shop owner said.
Scorpion dishes in the Bay Nui (Seven Mountains) area are considered a must-try. However, few visitors dare to do so. Unlike other places, Bay Nui’s scorpions are of obsidian-black colour, have two large pedipalps, and are usually found in high mountain areas.
According to Lam, to be able to catch the bigger ones, the catchers need to prepare a hoe, clamp, and bucket and have to go deep into the woods.
This season, a live gecko is about VND700,000 ($30) per kilo, and the price for scorpions is also high, around VND800,000 ($34) per kilo.
Apart from insects, Lam’s shop also sells readymade rice wines, which have been soaked for more than a year. He said this kind of wine can cure several health problems like osteoarthritis and muscle aches.
Lam advises first-timers on how to soak the “ingredients”, including snakes, properly. They have to soak for at least three months before the wine can be drunk.
Visitors to the market react differently when they see the scorpions and geckos. Some are curious, but the majority are scared, and don’t dare to buy the poisonous insects or products made with them.
A visitor from HCMC said that at first, she was quite scared looking at the insects, “After a while, I could hold them. And then after listening to the information from the shop’s owner, I decided to buy a wine bottle, which cost VND250,000 ($10.7), as a gift for my father,” she said.
However, buyers have to beware.
Recently, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on the risks associated with drinking snake wine. According to the article, since the rice wine only contains around 30 – 40 percent of ethanol, it’s not strong enough to kill all the virus, bacteria and other harmful impurities that the creatures might carry.