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Believe it or Not!
The frontage of Cambodia’s Believe it or Not! has become a landmark for tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap. Peter Olszewski

Bizarre attraction strangely believable

Already a landmark, Siem Reap’s mysterious ‘spider house’ is finally set to reveal its secrets this month

After delays caused by, among other things, the death of a giant millipede, Siem Reap’s newest and strangest tourist attraction is set to finally open this month.

With its frontage featuring a huge spider and a stumpy-horned unicorn, Cambodia’s Believe it or Not! – a South Korean-owned museum of oddities and conundrums – has already become a landmark in Temple Town Dubbed the “the spider house” by tuk-tuk drivers, the repurposed shophouse in National Road 6’s South Korean district was supposed to open in February.

But due to some construction delays and problems finding the right diet for the insects on display – including the aforementioned giant millipede – the business won’t open until March 24.

The attraction is of course part of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! worldwide franchise, which deals in “bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that people might question the claims.”

But the Siem Reap venue is more like a four-storey funhouse for children.

Cambodia’s Believe it or Not! supervisor Len Pichpanha demonstrates one of the attractions in the ‘torture room’
Cambodia’s Believe it or Not! supervisor Len Pichpanha demonstrates one of the attractions in the ‘torture room’. Peter Olszewski

During a guided tour with supervisor Len Pichpanha, it was difficult to find anything that truly stretched credulity. Nothing compared to the myriad of wall hangings of the oddball-isms that made the Ripley name world famous festoon the walls – there’s the woman with the world’s largest bosom, the man with the world’s largest nose, the man with the world’s widest mouth and the man with the most spoons balanced on his face.

Perhaps the only actual exhibit in the Siem Reap museum that may make the beholder splutter forth in amazement is a curiosity in the skull room – a cute Disney-esque baby Tyrannosaurus hatching out of a football-size egg. It’s unbelievable simply because, as Pichpanha is quick to state, “It’s fake.”

As is a Tyrannosaurus skull. However, other skulls on display of a variety of extant species, including a gorilla, crocodile, wolf and tiger, are the real thing, or so said Pichpanha.

Most of the venue’s ground and first floors are occupied by a sort of small zoo housing a colourful golden pheasant in a large bamboo hoop cage, snakes, lizards, a leopard cat, with its own private swimming pool, and a hedgehog.

A large aquarium contains fingerling-sized examples of the pestiferous snakehead fish – not a novel display for Cambodians who can see the fish squirming in plastic bowls in the local markets on a daily basis. But perhaps tourists from abroad may be more impressed by these somewhat unprepossessing fish.

Much more interesting, concedes Pichpanha, is the museum’s prize Asian palm civet, a species which he declares is, “Famous for sh—ting expensive coffee”. He is referring to kopi luwak, an Indonesian term for the coffee berries, and the extremely expensive coffee brewed from them after they have been eaten and defecated by palm civets. This coffee trade has fallen into disrepute by greedy people force-feeding civets coffee beans, but luckily the little critter at Siem Reap’s Believe it or Not! won’t be inducted into the coffee-making trade and will be fed a diet of mainly bananas. Or so Pichpanha says.

The venue features an insect room which, when visited by Post Weekend, was devoid of live specimens, due to a lack of appropriate food. But there were glass tanks holding fearsome looking live local “tarantulas”, and a wall featuring a sort of mosaic made of dead water bug bodies.

A torture chamber is a rather hokey affair filled with various not-very-believable flimsily constructed contraptions, such as a chair with thousands of nails sticking out of it and a clumsy wooden cross.

More fun is a game area in the upper reaches of the building, housing a laser tag game, connected by a psychedelic worm-hole tunnel to a mirror maze that is a true challenge to navigate.

But perhaps one of the most unusual aspects of the venue is Gizmo Gadgets, the souvenir shop near the entrance where you can buy South Korean stuff that you don’t really need, such as fake mini gramophones, fake old-fashioned phones, Fizz Savers, (whatever they are), and the amazing “Bag Cap” which promises to “make any plastic bag a usable container”

Apparently, at other venues, people actually buy these, believe it or not.

Tickets cost $3 for locals and $10 for foreigners.

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