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Pailin is a city in Pailin Province, in the Cardamom and Elephant Mountains region of Cambodia.


Pailin from Phnom Yat

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.

Get in

By Land

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 refreshing change from the busy hubs of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Pailin is an unspoiled city that allows visitors a glimpse into the real Cambodian life of the once war-torn area.

Pailin sits in the Cardamom Mountain range, which is very peaceful, majestic and beautiful, and is acclaimed for its history, former Khmer Rouge stronghold, agricultural abundance, waterfalls, greenery, fruits farms, and rubies, sapphires, topaz and opals.

The fresh and clean air, mountains, and the stunning views make trekking, hiking and cycling in these verdant trials invigorating and relaxing at the same time. In addition, swimming at the base of the remote waterfalls in the area is a perfect escape and perfect for fond memories.

Before Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, Pailin was well known as a land rich in gems, timbers and fruit tree orchards. During the French colonial period, Pailin was home to a variety of coffee and rubber plantations set up by the French protectorate government.

In the late 1970s, Pailin prospered from the extensive logging and gem deposits in the surrounding countryside. Because of its abundant natural resources, it was one of the first cities invaded by the Khmer Rouge when they began their major offensive against the national government.

Until late 1996 Pailin was a major Khmer Rouge stronghold. Khmer Rouge traded gemstones and timbers with Thailand for survival. It is said that 70% of the area’s older men were fighters for the Khmer Rouge, but none of the regular fighters have yet been brought to justice. Up until late 2007, Pailin was home to Pol Pot’s brother No. 2, Nuon Chea and brother No. 3, Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thearith, former minister of Social Affairs, and former Head of State, Khieu Samphan, before they were arrested, detained and charged by the UN backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal. There remain hundreds of bullet holes in the walls of the old buildings, serving as a reminder of Khmer Rouge’s war on Cambodia’s peace loving people.

Pailin Province is the newest and second smallest province in Cambodia, with 803 square kilometres. Before reintegration in 1996, the population of Pailin was 17,850. Seventeen years later, the population of this area is about 70,000. Pailin, historically known for gem mining and processing, is recovering from its war torn past. Today, Pailin is transforming into an agricultural production center.

More interestingly, Pailin has great potential for ecotourism with its command of the northern approaches to the Cardamom Mountains’ waterfalls, rivers, untouched forests and abundant wildlife.

Visitors to the Pailin area can experience the moving memorial at the Well of Shadows and learn first-hand how ordinary Cambodians suffered and survived during this period.

With a wide variety of natural leisure activities, you can enjoy cycling, trekking, hiking, viewing landscapes, and involving yourself with local livelihood activities like agricultural activities which will immerse you a real combination of communities’ life experiences and natural tourism in Pailin, a realm of yet explored treasures.

Pailin is four hours drive from Bangkok, three hours from Koh Samet or Pattaya, two hours and half from Rayong, five hours from Phnom Penh, three hours from Siem Reap, one hour from Battambang, and close to the new (safe and easy to transit) Thai border crossing (Ban Pakard/Phsa Prum Border).

Get around

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.

Phnom Yat is known to be a sacred place of worship for the natives of Pailin Province. It is considered as well as the heart of this border province, wrapped with superstitions both known to the residents and local visitors. The mountain ranges 60 meters high, with 7 km. in length and 3 km. wide that covers an area of 3,000 square km. The top of the mountain is accessible by foot or by vehicle. A staircase of 242 steps with each step of about 25cm. in height was completed on October 13, 1998.

Here on top of the hill you will find Kola Pagoda. It was built by Kola natives in 1922 as a symbol of respect to grandfather and grandmother Yat. Another must see in this hilltop is the stupa behind the Kola Pagoda wherein the ashes of RattanakSambathis believed to be kept in here. RattanakSambath is the father of Cambodian literature KhunNiery, featured in the famous novel Pailin Rose written by Nheck Tem.

Recently, a giant Buddha statute just built on top of the hill. It highs 26m in faces to the west featuring of evil defeating.Also, on the foot hill

Phnom Yat is now one of the must see in Pailin visited by both local and international tourists who also enjoys relaxing on the small cottages while seeing the view from above.

At about 50 meters from the foot of the mountain is WatRattanakSopoan. A pagoda walled with bas-relief depicting the Hindu saga the story of the churning of the ocean milk similar to those in the Angkor Wat temple. Several ancient structures can be found in Phnom Yat including stupas and asroms in various sizes.


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.

Get out

  • 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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