What Do Flying Foxes Eat?

When I first saw the Flying Foxes of Cambodia, I was overwhelmed by their size and strength in numbers. Being bats, they sleep during the day but as it starts getting dark in Siem Reap, they all wake up and need to feed. With thousands of them living in the trees of Royal Independence Gardens, I could only imagine what kind of a blood bath it must be when they all get munchies. Afterall, that’s what bats feed on, right – blood. At least that’s what bats are known for? But if these Cambodian Flying Foxes feed on blood of living creatures, there must be a major carnage happening somewhere each night. There are thousands of them in those trees and they are huge. Or could it be that they don’t feed on blood? But if not, then what do flying foxes eat?

Photo: Nice Capture of a Flying Fox In Full Beauty
Photo: What Do These Flying Foxes Eat?

I first wondered about what Flying Foxes ate when I strolled through the Royal Independence Gardens with Ha. I was on a mission to take some pictures of them flying during daytime hours and as I kept being focused on how many of them there are, I couldn’t help but search for signs of blood bath these presumed blood suckers cause in the neighborhood every night. And I really didn’t have to go far to stumble across dozens of dead birds scattered across the greens of the gardens.

Photo: Dead Bird Underneath Bat Trees, But It Was No Bats That Killed It
Photo: Dead Bird Underneath Bat Trees, But It Was No Bats That Killed It

From the beginning, I was pretty darn sure that all those dead birds were the work of flying foxes but when I noticed the sales of live birds taking place behind the Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine and saw what happens to those birds after release, I have quickly ditched my initial guess. No, those dead birds in the garden were not the doing of Fruit Bats, those died because of selfish human behavior.

In my continuous search for answers to the “What Do Flying Foxes Eat?” question, I realized that perhaps there is a reason why Flying Foxes are also known as Fruit Bats. Could the word “Fruit” just before “Bats” signify what these flying foxes eat? It sure could and it does. Flying Foxes don’t feed on blood of living creatures. Flying Foxes eat fruit, hence the name “Fruit Bats”. Jungles of South East Asia are full of mango trees, banana trees, guava trees or papaya trees. Fruits from these trees are a staple of their diet.

Photo: Fruit Bats Sleeping Upside Down
Photo: Fruit Bats Sleeping Upside Down

When night falls on Siem Reap and you look up, you will see swarms of Flying Foxes filling up the sky as they are migrating towards their feasting grounds. There are endless clouds of them flying against the darkening sky. Now I understad that this is their daily (or should I say nightly?) rite. They don’t sleep where they eat. They prefer to fly the distance to munch on fresh fruit and then fly the same distance back to spend the day sleeping atop the trees of downtown Siem Reap. They don’t care about insects, birds or other living creatures. That’s perhaps the reason why none of the locals heed them in any way. Despite their intimidating size, they are harmless to humans. They are harmless to all living things. The only people who don’t like Flying Foxes are farmers who are not amazed when their fruit gets eaten overnight. And because of their size, one flying fox can down several fruits in one sitting. But it’s the numbers of bats in each colony that makes them a nightmare for farmers. It doesn’t matter how many fruit trees you have, if it gets marked as feeding grounds by a colony of flying foxes, you could find your trees stripped of all fruit overnight.

Lucky Mall Shopping Centre in Siem Reap

Excited that I had a bicycle which made moving around Siem Reap much easier and saved me from hassles of being bothered by Tuk Tuk drivers and other touts, I decided to take a detour on the way back to the Two Dragons guesthouse from Wat Preah Prom Rath where I was teaching English after the class was over. I wanted to have a ride by more remote areas of Siem Reap which I have not got a chance to visit yet. According to Angkor Siem Reap Visitors Guide, there was a mall called Lucky Mall further north up Sivatha Boulevard so I drove that way to check out what it was all about.

Photo: Lucky Mall is Located on Sivatha Boulevard in Siem Reap
Photo: Lucky Mall is Located on Sivatha Boulevard in Siem Reap

Lucky Mall is a three story shopping centre owned and operated by Lucky Market Group from Phnom Penh. It sports decent grocery store on the ground floor, clothes store and fast food restaurant on the second floor and an electronic store on the top floor. If you are coming with the bag, you must leave it at Lucky Mall’s front desk or you will be yelled at.

The grocery store at the bottom of Lucky Mall is the largest one in Siem Reap and works the same way western grocery stores do – prices are visibly marked and apply equally to everyone, regardless of color of skin (one of few places in Cambodia without open segregation). While it’s mostly foreigners who shop at Lucky Mall, you will also encounter many Cambodians there who come there to try their first ride up and down the escalators. You just see them riding it with excitement for they’ve never seen such thing before and Lucky Mall is the only place where they can actually try to take a ride for real.

Since my previous attempts to purchase fruit at Phsar Kandal (Center Market) and Phsar Chas (Old Market) failed due to open racism (Cambodians believe that because your skin color is different from that of Cambodians, you get shittier treatment and pay more for everything than Cambodians), I was glad to come to a shop where racism was not tolerated. I went to Lucky Mall often and made it one of my primary stops for fruit purchases.

Photo: Lucky Mall, Member of the Lucky Market Group Ltd., Cambodia
Photo: Lucky Mall, Member of the Lucky Market Group Ltd., Cambodia

This was my first visit to Lucky Mall so I just got my feet wet by seeing what it’s about and what they had and since I was heading home after a long day out plus an hour long English class, all I bought was one watermelon I was intending to eat in whole once I was back at the guesthouse. The watermelon cost $1.05 for one whole head which was an excellent price I could not complain about. I paid for it, picked up my bag that was in storage at the front desk, threw the watermelon inside and mounted my bike to ride east down National Road #6 which runs not far from Two Dragons. And on the way I ran across what was going to become my absolutely most favourite place in all of Cambodia.

Phsar Kandal – Center Market in Siem Reap

As I was exploring Siem Reap on foot, I spent most of my time battling off ever aggressive Tuk Tuk drivers who kept approaching me on every step. It was early morning yet and my first day in Cambodia so I have immersed myself into the atmosphere and took on scorching rays of clouded sun. The rain has just stopped, but puddles have already been cleared off the roads and sidewalks by intense heat. The life around Siem Reap seemed to be in full swing despite early hour and all shops were open, inviting the visitors in. I figured it was time to confront the notorious Khmer cuisine which is said to be both delicious and inexpensive (translation: cheap). But first I wanted to pay a visit to Phsar Kandal (Center Market), an open market area which is said to be abundant with all sorts of trinkets I could care less for, but also fresh vegetables and fruit which is what I wanted to explore.

When you are traveling in countries with questionable health care, it is absolutely essential to ensure that you have proper intakes of vitamins and minerals to provide your body with means to battle potential issues before they develop into something more serious. Eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables is often all it takes. It’s a delicious and inexpensive to not need a doctor. As a well aware tourist, heading to a closest market place (in this case Phsar Kandal aka Center Market) was a natural instinct which I have followed subconsciously.

I have crossed the bridge over Stung Siem Reap (Siem Reap River) which was labelled as Wat Bo Bridge by the Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide map I was following. The bridge was named after Wat Bo, a lovely pagoda bearing that same name. According to the map, Phsar Kandal (Center Market) was further up Samdech Tep Vong Street which is the street connected to the bridge I have just crossed. After the bridge, however I had faced a major challenge of crossing the road. It was suicidal to say the least and I have come to understand very quickly the very rule of driving in Cambodia – bigger has the right of way. No motor vehicle will attempt to stop, slow down or avoid you in any way if you are on the road. It’s your responsibility not to get killed. Cars and motorcycles will simply continue undeterred if there is someone hierarchically smaller in their way.

Despite slight difficulties, I have made it across the street without getting killed and paced forward to get to Center Market. It only takes a minute to get there as Siem Reap truly is a small town that can be easily done on foot but despite many stalls with fresh fruit, I felt discouraged and simply walked by without buying anything. Everyone seemed running towards me as soon as I have come to vicinity trying to force me into buying from them. Everyone at Phsar Kandal seems to keep approaching you, assuming that you are rich and can afford anything in the world. To top it up, there were no prices on anything displayed and having just lived my first minutes in Siem Reap, I knew I would get easily scammed if I were to buy anything at Phsar Kandal. I really wanted to, but not even slowing down seemed like an option as I would get swarmed by the vulture like people who would not let me go until they have squeezed the very last penny out of my pocket.

Despite true desire to bury my teeth into a juicy pineapple, I have simply walked by all the stalls and got nothing but a glace of luscious fruits laying on the tables. Had everyone left me alone and given me the room to breathe so I can take a closer look and decide unpressured, someone would have gotten business from me. But being jumped and repeatedly yelled at with offers of what I should buy from them and how they are gonna give me the best price ever and how I should buy after I come back from where I’m going if I’m not buying now, yadda yadda, I felt intimidated and pessimistic so ignoring entirely was the only option that lead to at least some sanity and peace of mind.

I continued on leaving Phsar Kandal behind me. The day was just dawning and I have just woke up to my first day in Cambodia. Surely there are safer places to buy fruit from. The ability to avoid hasty decision is one of the strongest assets a traveller to foreign countries can have. This time the prudence has prevailed. But Cambodia has introduced itself as pretty hostile country with extremely aggressive locals who stop at nothing to squeeze as much out of everyone who looks like a tourist as possible.