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.
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.
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.