Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Cambodia : North-western Cambodia : Anlong Veng
|Oddar Meanchey province of North-western Cambodia. Its main claim to notability is its connection to the later days of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot, Ta Mok, Son Sen and Khiev Samphan, the leaders of the organization, all had homes here. The district also holds the graves of Pol Pot and Ta Mok, as well as the remnants of the structure where Pol Pot was convicted of 'crimes against the Cambodian people.' What might otherwise be an overly morbid itinerary is redeemed by the stunning mountain scenery. There is a border crossing with Thailand's Si Saket Province 13 km north of Anlong Veng town.
Anlong Veng is at a crossroads, literally and perhaps metaphorically. Once its inaccessibility made it attractive to Khmer Rouge fugitives, it is now at the hub of four glorious asphalt highways which blaze trails through the undeveloped hinterland of North-western Cambodia. Highway 67 runs north to Choam and the border with Chong Sa-Ngam in Thailand bringing an influx of traders. It continues south to Siem Reap and its temples. The more recently completed east-west highway connects the town with its provincial capital, Samraong, in the west and the disputed Preah Vihear temples in the east.
The town is centred on a roundabout near the market, this is where the road to Preah Vihear meets Highway 67. The town spreads north towards the man-made lake (see below) and the junction of the road to Samraong.
Next to the roundabout are the offices of G.S.T and Angkor Paramount Transport which both run buses to and from Siem Reap (2 hours, $4, twice daily), and Sra Em (1 hour, once daily) for Preah Vihear. Siem Reap bus departs 0700.
On the Thai side, the international border crossing is at the border of Surin Province and Si Saket Province and is accessible from either. The nearest town is Khu Khan in Si Saket Province. A bus leaves from Moh Chit station in Bangkok at 0800 and arrives at Ku Khan around 1500. From there you can hire a motorbike taxi for 400 baht or car to make the hour long journey to the border. Note that this is a rarely travelled border by tourists (the Thai official wanted a photo with me it was that rare to see foreigners) so options are extremely limited unless you cut deals with immigration staff who have the connections. Transport from the Cambodian side/Cho-Am is 700 baht for a car (a Thai woman crossing over said it was 500 baht and when I told a driver that he just laughed) or 300 baht/$10 for a motorcycle taxi and takes about 20 minutes. Probably not the best idea to even try to negotiate the price by walking away as there really is nowhere else to go and the locals know it.
From Surin train station to the border takes about 1.5 hours. On the Cambodian side, moto-taxis and pick-up trucks are available in the tiny bazaar.
The town itself is easy enough to cover on foot. Moto-taxis are eager to take the town's few visitors to the sites listed below for $7-15. If haggling isn't your strong point and you're not desperate to see every last heap that has a connection with the KR, better prices can be had by taking on a motorbike driver for one-way journeys only. A moto to or from the border area should only be $3-4. Figure to spend about 3-4 hours to see all of the sights mentioned on this page. The sights in town can be reached on foot. Plenty of drivers hang about at the border so don't fear being stranded.
The below sights are either within the town or about 14 km up in the hills near the Choam border point. If you're going to the border (or leaving it) these sights are more or less on the way and could even be combined with an exit/entry journey saving both time and money. Expect to pay $2 entrance fee for both Ta Mok's house and Pol Pot's grave.
In the hills
This a considerable distance away from the main road in Cho-Am and the dirt path that leads there is on the same road that Pol Pot is buried on. Some of the villagers will try to beg from you once they have gotten over their initial surprise of seeing a foreigner in the middle of nowhere.
Pol Pot's House/Bunker: Not much left here but a shell of a house, overgrown with foliage and 'decorated' with profane graffiti. Water storage tanks, an underground chamber and a nearby pond round off the excitement. The motorcycle ride to the site is the real attraction, passing through field and jungle in the Damrek Mountains. You will see Cambodia's iconic 'Danger! Mines!' signs on many of the trees; do not, under any circumstances, venture off the road! Unfortunately, these mines are still regularly killing and maiming Cambodians.
Ta Mok's Mountain House: Graffiti artists have been at it again with this little shell - this time, mostly young lovers proclaiming their eternal fidelity. Considering the amazing views from this site, it's not surprising that it should have become a regular 'make-out hill!' Oddly enough, there are not one but two tiny spirit houses nearby - ostensibly, recent additions. A guesthouse has also been built less than 100 metres away, taking advantage of the view. Those who don't fancy a night up here can relax with a beer in one of the many hammocks. (The landmine warning applies to the road here as well.)
Pol Pot's Grave: Prepare to be underwhelmed! A tin roof and a sign urging visitors to keep the area clean are all the tribute given to Brother Number One by his country. Oddly enough, a Thai lottery winner has erected a spirit house on the site in honour of the former Khmer Rouge leader, who, he claims, appeared to him in a dream with the winning numbers. A small pack of children often materialises when visitors arrive.
In Anlong Veng town
Ta Mok's Town House: The best-preserved of the KR houses, Ta Mok's house in town overlooks the eerie lake that Brother Number Four created himself. Murals of Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear, as well as a map of Cambodia and a strangely bucolic scene of bathing elephants decorate the walls and are, as yet, undamaged by graffiti. For extra fun, see if you can count all the toilets in the various buildings. Also of note are the tiger cages at the front of the house that were apparently placed there to vilify Ta Mok further in the eyes of the world and what appears to be either a propaganda truck or prison wagon. The track to the house is about 1 km north of roundabout on the road to the border.
Anlong Veng Lake and Spillway: This man-made lake was conceived and carried out by Ta Mok. Many large trees were killed by the flooding, and their trunks jut skywards like huge gray bones. The lake itself is unsettling to look at, but local people love the spillway created in the rainy season. Fishing, boating and the general splashing around are all on tap here, with just as many spectators as participants. About 500 m north of the roundabout, the road comes very close to the lake.
Between the two
Ta Mok's Grave: Visited the day after his burial, Ta Mok's gravesite seems poised to become a much more grand monument than Pol Pot's. It's about 7 km north of town.
An interesting few hours can be spent touring all the above sites, with plenty of vista stops and little encounters with surprisingly friendly local people. Moto-taxi drivers can arrange an itinerary.
Over Pol Pot's dead body will there be a casino in Anlong Veng. And so there is: in Choam, opposite Brother Number One's final resting place (give or take relic looters) is a casino resort. The casino is up and running, the adjoining resort is still under construction.
The market has the requisite cheap clothing, rambutans and motorcycle parts. There are a few pharmacies.
There is an ATM at the ACLeda Bank, east of the central roundabout. Note, however, that this is only Visa-friendly, not Mastercard.
Khmer rice plates can be bought in various places; just look for the lidded silver cookpots, have a peek inside them and point at your favourite. There are also a few more formal restaurants, e.g. New Lucky Star and Monorom (See "Sleep" section).
Places selling soft drinks and coconut water often have beer as well.
There are a few guesthouses in town, in addition to the place near Ta Mok's mountain house. Ask the moto-taxi drivers for advice.
In the hills
There is internet cafe. It is about 50 m north of the roundabout at the market. $0.75/ hr.