Pailin is a small municipality in the West of Cambodia very
closed to the border of Thailand. The provincial capital is
called Pailin City and is known to much of the world as being
the area where many of the Khmer Rouge leaders came from and
retreated after their fall. Until the year of 2001 Pailin was
part of the Battambang Province, but was then elevated to city
status and thus became a province and autonomous zone of its
The city was during the 1980s and 1990s a major Khmer Rouge
strongpoint and resource centre. Even after the death of their
brutal leader Pol Pot in 1998, many Khmer Rouge leaders still
remained there. Some of the leaders went into hiding in fear of
punishment for their crimes, although other leaders or henchmen
lived openly in the province. It is said that almost 70 percent
of the area's older men were fighters for the Khmer Rouge, but
unfortunately none of the regular fighters have yet been brought
to justice. As of September 2007, Pailin's remaining Khmer Rouge
leaders were being rounded up to face justice by an
international tribunal, including Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea.
So after years of the governmental dump contemplation regarding
the crime of the Khmer Rouge, its time for lasting enlightenment
of what has happen.
is now more and more becoming a boomtown attracting Cambodians
from around the country seeking to make their fortune, or at
least a better salary than back home. Pailin was the major
revenue producer for the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, being a major
gem producing area as well as a prime logging area.
While gem production seems to have tapered off a bit, other
business opportunities and the lifestyle have attracted
prospectors to the town. Up until the surrender deal of Khmer
Rouge’s number three men, Ieng Sary, in 1996, the townsfolk
lived under the strict rules of the KR hierarchy, with little
freedom of expression and most aspects of life being completely
controlled by the paranoid regime.
Pailin is just another Wild West town of Cambodia and like the
gold-rush days of California, people seem to be everywhere in
the hills sifting through mud puddles and scratching at the
dirt, looking to strike it rich with the find of a nice gem.
Still, there is more control of some aspects of life than in
other areas of Cambodia.
But this seems to have attracted people rather than kept them
away. Several people, who had moved to Pailin from Phnom Penh,
gave this as the main reason they made the move. They liked the
idea that criminals did not enjoy the same impunity that they
seem to enjoy in Phnom Penh. The influx of residents from other
parts of the country has produced a friendlier Pailin.
Nowadays the mixed lot of Pailin residents seem happy to see
foreigners coming in for holidays and check the place out,
realizing that their presence means that normalcy and revenue
are arriving in Pailin.
Even the Vietnamese residents seem to have been accepted, which
is truly amazing given the hatred the Khmer Rouge have generally
shown them. Pailin is worth checking out. The town is nestled in
a beautiful valley with picturesque sunsets over the mountains
that separate Cambodia and Thailand close by.
Wat Gohng-Kahng is very famous and features the
much-photographed landmark gate of Pailin town that you face as
you arrive on the highway from Battambang. This wat is the
centre of holiday festivities these days in Pailin and was the
scene of the official Pailin reintegration ceremony in 1996,
after the Ieng Sary faction of the Khmer Rouge worked out
surrender and semi-autonomy deals with the Cambodian government.
Pailin City municipality is the second smallest so-called
province in Cambodia with 803 square kilometres. It’s located in
the West of the country surrounded by Battambang province and
bordering Thailand to the West. In the North, the small
municipality consists of the typical plain wet area for
Cambodia, covering rice fields and other agricultural
plantations. Pailin City itself is located on the foothills of
Chuor Phnom Kravanh, an extension of the Kardamom Mountains,
which range until here. The South of the municipality is quite
hilly and tops with the highest altitude of 1164m. The province
also features some smaller rivers coming from the mountain
How to get there
For getting from Phnom Penh to Pailin please have a look on the
Battambang Province Page. Coming from Battambang is the only
wise thing to do, except if you’re coming from Thailand over the
international border crossing. Pailin itself lies about 83km
southwest of Battambang and is just 19km from the border with
Thailand. The Major Road 57 from Battambang to Pailin has gone
to pieces and makes it a pretty hard ride. The road can only be
managed by smaller lighter cars such as minibuses, pick ups or
share taxis due to its wimpy condition, but its still better
than it was a couple of years ago, with many new bridges.
The scenery along the road heading to Pailin is nice and there
are a couple of interesting places on the way. One is Phnom
Sampeu, a mountaintop temple, which has memorials set up with
skulls and bones of Khmer Rouge victims. It’s located 15 km from
Battambang on the Pailin road. Security is not a problem. Never
go off the street as there are many mines still remaining in the
ground. The ride from Battambang to Pailin (4hours) with a share
taxi or minibus costs around 160Baht and with a pick up 120Baht
(inside) or 80Baht (on the back).
Pailin to Koh Kong
It’s now possible to make a journey from Pailin to Koh Kong
through the scenic Cardamom Mountains of Pursat and Koh Kong
provinces. This route takes in areas that are considered to be
the most pristine and untouched in all of Southeast Asia. Ask
the pick up drivers.
Cambodia-Thailand international border crossing:
The Cambodia-Thailand border crossing is just 19km west of
Pailin town. It’s supposed to be a full-service crossing issuing
tourist and business visas. Crossings however, can sometimes
take its time while the border officers try to ask you for more
money for the visa issue. The border opens daily between 7am and
8pm. To get from Pailin to the border crossing take a moto
(50-100Baht) or a share taxi (40Baht). Don’t wonder about the
two big casinos there, where mostly Thai people try to chase
their luck. There is also a small market if you need something.
There is also a breathtaking tour from Pailin to Krong Koh Kong
(South) for hardcore bikers with plenty of off-road experience.
It starts in the Treng district, just 25km East on the road to
Battambang. Than it runs down South through former Khmer Rouge
strongholds such as Samlot and Veal Veng, which is 275km from
Pailin and the last place to refuel. Good luck!
Where to eat
There are small soup and rice shops all along the main drag and
next to the market. They offer decent, cheap food.
As the sign implies, this is a friendly place with an English
menu and good food. They even have a Tiger Beer girl who is
quick on the draw for those thirsty travellers.
Phkay Proek Restaurant:
The restaurant is located almost on the end of the ridge street.
The local Khmer and Thai food served here is reliably good. This
restaurant is part of an extended family of restaurants that
have taken the west by storm, with branches in Battambang,
Sisophon and Poipet.
Hang Meas Hotel & Restaurant:
Located just some steps upward the hill. Chinese, Thai, Khmer
and a bit of Western food are served in this top spot of Pailin
(English menu). The beer girls do double duty between the
restaurant and nightclub.
Green Dragon Restaurant:
Thatched roof eating areas are next to the dusty parking
area-it’s best to eat inside if you are going here.
Kim Young Guesthouse:
Also located just some steps from the market uphill. Delicious
Khmer food and English menu are available.
Where to stay
he change since early 1997 is dramatic. There was only one
choice, a guesthouse run by a one-legged former rebel. It
featured a wooden bed with no mattress, no mosquito net, no
electricity and bathing facilities that you didn’t want to use.
There are a number of places now.
Hang Meas Hotel: (tel:012/787546)
This guesthouse is located west from the town’s centre in
direction to the border crossing. It is probably one of the best
ones in town. It is quite a new place in town and also by far
the top digs. The rooms feature all the amenities (including
satellite TV, h/w shower) and the hotel has twenty-four-hour
power, a Pailin exclusives. US$ 11 gets you a nice room, with
more tricked-out rooms going as high as US$50. Obviously, the
owners are high on Pailin’s prospects. The hotel also features a
restaurant and nightclub.
Kim Young Heng Guesthouse: (tel: 016/939841)
This guesthouse is located just some steps from the market
uphill. They have some light and attractive rooms with fan or
air-con and bathroom and some very small, windowless rooms.
Prices are around US$5.
Hotel Lao Lao Kaing: (tel:012/712316)
This is a very basic guesthouse with fan (some with air-con) and
That’s the only name on the sign. The rooms are small, but
clean. The bathroom is to share, with fan, 150 Baht.
Hotel Neak Pak:
These are bungalows that have a large bed, Western bath, a/c, TV
and fan. They are overpriced at 500 Baht.
Hotel Sang Phi Run:
There is a nice second-floor terrace with a view of the main
drag and the mountains to the west. Most rooms are windowless,
dark and stuffy places as the power is turned off in the middle
of the night, which means you wake up sweating and bump your
head on the way to the toilet. The cleaning leaves a lot to be
desired. Mosquito net included, 300 Bath.
As it is quite common in Cambodia even small cities, such as
Pailin City have at least one marked. You may also find a market
in Pailin City centre, which is very busy with local shops
dealing the local daily consumer products, like fish, fruits,
vegetables, meats and packed products mostly from Thailand. Most
of the food and drink shops are surrounding the market. To take
something special from this province along, buy some small gems
from the gem shops, but be aware of fakes.
What to see
Bah Hoi Village
Bah Hoi Village You will pass through an internal
refugee camp from different areas of the country that
were formerly under khmer Rouge control and are now in
the hands of the government. The people feel more safe
around their own kind (ex-Khmer Rouge) and with the
Pailin faction of the Khmer Rouge still having effective
control of the area; they don’t worry about government
soldiers hassling them. The people are quite friendly
and don’t mind a chat.
Border Crossing & Casino Area
Border Crossing & Casino Area The locals refer to this
area as simply Pbrohm. This was a main lifeline of the
Khmer Rouge during the years of fighting with the
government. Food, supplies and weaponry were brought
over from Thailand here.
The action today is of the gaming type with the Flamingo
Casino open for business and another under construction.
The casino sees a lot more business than the one in
town, as the Thai people that represent the vast
majority of customers like the idea of staying within
spitting distance of Thailand. So if you like tossing
money away, you have several choices in Pailin. There
are also a few seedy looking karaoke bars with ladies
working near the casinos and border. As for using Pailin
as a border crossing to and from Thailand: The Thais
have no problem with it and will issue you a Thai visa
or stamp you out between 7 am and 5 pm. The problem is
on the Cambodian side as the immigration police say that
it’s not an officially sanctioned crossing and there is
no way that a foreigner can cross here. So for now it’s
best to sticks with Poipet and Koh Kong for land
crossings. Getting to the border is the interesting
About 5 km on the way from Pailin is a small wooden
bridge going over the Oh-chah-rah River. The water
coming down from the mountains is clean, so a swim here
is an inviting prospect. You also pass by the bombed
shell of a tank, reminding you which side of the border
you are on. Tank bodies just sit where they die in
Cambodia and simply become another part of the
landscape. The border is easy to get to –just the one
turn on the map. It takes just under a half hour and is
around 180 baht for roundtrip moto-taxi.
The casino and pub located in the same complex are open
off and on these days. As mentioned earlier, the Thais
prefer the Flamingo Casino with its border location. If
they book a group of Thais to come to town they open the
Goh-Ay Mountain The destination here is a river that’s
great for a swim. Definitely for the dry season if you
want to be a bit more adventurous and see more of the
area. Your best bet is to talk to the guys’ at the
English school next to the Hotel Sang Phi Run if you
want to venture out this way, as they can help with
direction or take you out there. Definitely stay on the
worn trails by the river area. There are landmines
Kbal O'Chra is located O'Chra village, Toul Lwea
Commune, Kan Pailin, about 5 kilometes from Provincial
Town. It is a Nature & Wildlife Preserves.
O'Eb is a natural site located in Sangkat O'Chras, Khan
Pailin about 10 kilometers northwest of Pailin city
along the road to Bo Yakha and Bo Tang Sour. It has a
O'Tavao is located in Sangkat O'Tavao, Khan Pailin,
about 5 kilometers from Pailin city. It is a natural
site rich in beautiful scenery and clean water, which
flows from Phnom Khieu.
Phnom Koy Resort
Phnom Koy is located in Sangkat Stung Kach, Khan Sala
Krao, about 20 kilometers north of Pailin city. Phnom
Koy is a national site rich in forest and big lianas. A
natural stream flows down this mountain.
Phnom Yat is a cultural and historical site located in
Pailin City. It is not a holy place where people come to
worship, but also the heart of Pailin City.
The mountain is 60 meters high, 700 meters long, 300
meters wide and covers 30, 000 square meters. The top is
accessible on foot or by vehicle. A staircase of 242
steps, each step about 25 centimeters high, was
completed on Oct 13, 1998.
The site includes an old pagoda similar to Kola pagoda.
It was built on the hilltop by the Kola people in 1922.
The are many ancient structures on Phnom Yat, including
the big and small stupas and Asroms (the hermitage, a
place for meditating). The area holds many superstitions
for Pailin residents and some visitors.
Although a wealth of gems already have been mined in
Pailin, the hill is till believed to hold more. Many
kiosks, or small cottages, are available for visitors to
relax in on the mountaintop.
Steung Kuy is located in Phnom Kuy Village, Sangkat Sala
Krau, Sala Krau District, about 20 kilometers (1hours)
from Provincial Town. It is a Nature & Wildlife
Wat Phnom Yaht
Wat Phnom Yaht This is the hilltop temple next to Wat
Gohng-kahng. The temple is a good example of how things
have changed in Pailin since the surrender deal. A
number of moths after the deal a friend and I had a
conversation with the head monk of the temple and he
said that he still felt very intimidated by the local
authorities, all ex- Khmer Rouge. He was strongly
discouraged from giving Buddhist instruction to the
townspeople. With the influx of Cambodians from other
parts of the country and a change of heart for some of
the ex-KR, the temple has seen a rebirth.
There is a beautiful new decorative stairway leading to
the hilltop temple area, where a new temple is under
construction and the monks openly teach the faith.
Obviously, respect for monks has risen, and temple
projects are receiving a lot of donations. Great views
of the Pailin area and the dynamite sunsets over the
Border Mountains can be had from the hilltop.
Wat Rattanak Sopoan
About 50 meters from the foot of Phnom Yat is another
pagoda, What Rattanak Sopoan. On the walls of the fence
surrounding the pagoda is a bas-relief depicting the
story of Churning of the Ocean of Milk (Cambodian calls
Ko Samutra Teuk Dos) which is similar to the wonderful
base-reliefs on the wall of Angkor Wat.
Waterfall Like all waterfalls, the rainy season is the
best time to go with the water flowing best then. But
there are still pools of clean water to cool off in
during the dry season and the heavily forested hills
provide nice scenery. Locals and folks on holiday from
Battambang come here on weekends and holidays and the
well-worn pathways and picnic spots are safe for your
use. Hiking to the upper level brings you to more pools.
Your best bet for getting out here is to take a moto-taxi
or have one lead the way, as there are several turns on
unmarked small roads.