What to See in Pailin
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 ’80s. For most of the ’90s, the area was a Khmer Rouge stronghold, resulting in the exploitation of gems and hardwoods, with the profits funding their guerrilla campaign. The town and its surrounding area today have been stripped of any natural resources, including those that made it famous. Minefields 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.
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 a 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.