Pailin is a city in Pailin Province, in the Cardamom and Elephant Mountains region of Cambodia.
Historically a gem town, Pailin attracted immigrants from gem-rich 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 1980s. For most of the 1990s the area was a Khmer Rouge stronghold, resulting in exploitation of gems and hard woods, 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 easy treatment.
Pailin is 80 km from Battambang on Hwy 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 hr) costing USD4. This journey can also be done by taxi, costing a little more.
The border crossing at Phsar Prom (USD4 by motorbike taxi) is 18 km west of town on Hwy 57. This crossing is more scenic 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 Hwy 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 border (16 km by road) for about USD3-5.
- O'Tavao Waterfall (pronounced like "Ortavao") (Take Hwy 57 towards Battambang for a few min past Phnom Yat, then turn off to the right. The turning is signposted, but only in Khmer and only if heading to Pailin. Look for a large hoarding with two faded, hand painted pictures of waterfalls. Then head for about 6 km up a tricky track that is possibly treacherous during the wet season). Actually a cascade, is a beautiful spot up in the mountains south of Pailin town. 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. Motodop there and back is USD7. USD1.
- Wat Phnom Yat (Atop Phnom Yat, a hill 500 m S of town, the one with the town-dominating Buddha statue). A pagoda well-known to Cambodians. It features a Burmese-style stupa built by Shan immigrants in 1922. It's quite a walk to the top, but fantastic views of the surrounding area can be appreciated at any time of day. Can get extremely busy on Cambodian public holidays. Free.
- . Using a well-worn dirt path around its base. Various other paths lead off to villages replete with peasants, livestock and land mines (at least land mine 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.
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.
- Gemstone Guesthouse (Centrally located, on Hwy 57, 50 m SE of Pailin Market). The only new and clean guesthouse in town. A room with fan and bathroom is USD5. The same, but with a window view of the mountains costs USD7..
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 USD0.50/ 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 Hwy 57, the road is only paved for a few kilometres.