Historically a gem town, Pailin attracted immigrants from gem-packed Burma, which gives it a unique culture that is neither strictly traditional Khmer nor Burmese. Its 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. Paramount Bus Company run a service from Battambang to Pailin (2 hours) costing $4. This journey can also be done by taxi, costing a little more.
The border crossing at Phsar Prom ($4 by motorbike taxi) is 18 km west of town on National Highway 57. This crossing is more scenically situated than the much busier and more stressful Aranyaprathet/Poipet crossing further north. Crossing here borders on enjoyable! Visas are issued at this border. It faces Ban Pakard in Thailand, from where there are connections to Chantaburi, likely via Pong Nam Ron which is on highway 317.
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. It features a Burmese-style stupa built by Shan immigrants in 1922. It can be found atop Phnom Yat, a hill 500m south of town-the one with the town-dominating Buddha statue. 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 (pronounced more like Ortavao), actually a cascade, is a beautiful spot up in the mountains south of Pailin town. Take National Highway 57 towards Battambang for a few minutes past Phnom Yat, then turn off to the right. The turning is signposted, but only in Khmer and only prominently if heading towards Pailin. Look for a large hoarding with two faded, hand painted pictures of water falls. Then head for about 6km up a tricky track that is possibly treacherous during the wet season. Due to its proximity to the source, the water is clean and is popular with the locals for swimming, despite being only knee deep at best. Like Phnom Yat, it gets busy during public holidays. Admission for foreigners is $1. Motodop there and back is $7.
Circumnavigate Phnom Yat using a well worn dirt path around its base. Various other paths lead off to villages replete with peasants, livestock and landmines (at least landmine warning signs). While much of the immediate vicinity of Pailin has been demined and is cultivated, it's still best to walk only where others have walked (or driven) before.
There are at least two banks with ATMs: including Canadia, which does not levy a fee for use by foreign cards.
Gems are the traditional produce of the region and there are many jewellers. However, rumour has it that the gems now purchased in Pailin are sourced somewhere else, due to the fact that Pailin's supply has almost dried up.
The market offers atmospheric dining.
As usual in provincial Cambodia, drinking beer at cafes and restaurants is as exciting as it gets.
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.
There are a couple of cheaper, drabber options at the top of the market.
There are at least two internet cafes with good connections. From $0.50/ hr.
Samlot District is a remote district in the Cardamom mountains, south of Pailin, and a popular retirement spot for former Khmer Rouge soldiers. Besides beautiful waterfalls, rolling hills of monsoonal rainforest, there is nothing to see or do. It is mainly the feeling of being amongst the fallen Khmer Rouge movement which makes it so fascinating. The bus companies Paramount Angkor and 168 Phnom Penh Sorya Transportation both claim to connect Samlot town with Battambang, Siem Reap, Sisophon and Phnom Penh but not Pailin. There is sufficient traffic to make hitch hiking viable. Off highway 57, the road is only paved for a few kilometers.
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