Historically a gem town, Pailin has attracted immigrants from gem-packed Burma, which gives it a unique culture that is neither strictly traditional Khmer nor Burmese. It's more recent history is particularly dark, with the successful invasion by the Khmer Rouge in the 80's. For most of the 90's the area was a Khmer Rouge stronghold, resulting in exploitation of gems and hardwoods, with the profits funding their guerrilla campaign. The town and its surrounding area today, has been stripped of any natural resources, including those that made it famous. Mine fields are a common sight, and like the rest of Cambodia, locals live in abject poverty.
In 2009, a new strain of malaria was discovered in Pailin province, immune to the current 'silver bullet' treatment.
Pailin is 80km from Battambang on National Highway 57. The highway was resurfaced in 2011, making for easy access, even during the wet season. A couple of bus companies run a service from Battambang to Pailin, costing between $3 and $5 a ticket, and taking roughly 2 hours.
A small town, Pailin is easily covered on foot. Motodops will give a lift anywhere in town for about 1,000 riel and will drive to the Thai (16 km by road) border for about $3-5.
Wat Phnom Yat, is a pagoda well known among Cambodians, which features a Burmese-style stupa built by Shan immigrants in 1922. It can be found atop of Phnom Yat, a hill 500m south of town. It's quite a walk to the top, but entry is free, and fantastic views of the surrounding area can be appreciated at an time of day. Can get extremely busy during Cambodian public holidays.
O'Tavao Waterfall, actually a cascade, is a beautiful spot up in the mountains south of Pailin town. A few minutes past Phnom Yat, heading towards Battambang, it's a right turn off National Highway 57, and about 6km, up a tricky track, possibly quite treacherous during the wet season. Due to the proximity to the source, the water is clean. Popular with the locals for swimming, and like Phnom Yat, gets busy during public holidays. Admission for foreigners is $2.
Gem-Stone Guesthouse. Centrally located, on National Highway 57, 50 metres south east of Pailin market. The only new and clean guestouse in town. A room with fan and bathroom is US$5. The same, but with a window view of the mountains costs US$7.