Pailin is a backwater border town between Cambodia and Thailand that is very much off of the Cambodia tourist trail. There are though enough things to make a trip to Pailin worth your while, and of course, it played an integral part of contemporary Cambodian/Khmer Rouge history.
History of Pailin
Pailin is famous for its gemstones, and when you have natural resources, you get a lot of popularity. Pre-revolution, the area, was populated by Shan Burmese people who came to take part in the gem trade.
Due to its wealth, it was one of the first places to be taken over by the revolutionary Khmer Rouge forces. The Communists subsequently used the wealth derived from Pailin to fund their revolution and 1975-79 regime.
Following the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, they retreated into to Pailin, again using the gemstones to fund their war against the central government. Pailin remained the essential capital of the rebel Khmer Rouge government until 1996, when Ieng Sery defected to the government.
The province was later carved into its own province, some would say as a way to leave the Khmer Rouge in power there. Since then, many former members have gone into hiding, some have been arrested, but essentially the area remains under KR control.
How Do You Get to Pailin
Like everything in Cambodia, there are locals buses that will take you here, but the best value, particularly if you are in a group, is to rent a vehicle. Siem Reap to Pailin is about a 4-hour drive, Battambang under 2 and Along Veng around 2, or so. Keep in mind that the state of the roads can change everything in Cambodia.
What Is There to Do in Pailin?
Not all that much, particularly if you are looking for things related to the Khmer Rouge rule in the area. There’s certainly not enough for a standalone visit. That being said, if you are looking to escape the city and enjoy a bit of the countryside, Pailin is very relaxed.
Wat Phnom Yat – A famous stupa built by Shan Burmese immigrants in 1922. At the top of a 500-meter hill, which can be driven, or walked up. Free entry, but if you want to get fully involved, go with a Khmer friend pay the donations and get prayed for. It is a very big complex, with a huge statue of Buddha being a highlight. You can easily spend a few hours strolling around here. At the bottom, there are a few coffee shops, as well as people selling Durian.
Durian Farm – Carry on from the bottom of the Wat Phnom Yat and head up towards the mountains. They farm Durian amongst other friends, which is interesting enough, but it is the gem handling operation here that is most fascinating. Alas, they will not sell you gems.