A small town 17 kilometers from the Thai border and 80 kilometers from Battambang, Pailin is often called the Wild West of Cambodia. During my three-night stay, I didn’t see another Westerner. I was even forced to try out my very limited Khmer when it came to ordering food and drinks and finding out how much things cost. Pailin would be the perfect antidote to anyone burned out from Cambodia’s “tourist trail”.
It’s true that there’s not a lot here for travellers, but for me that’s part of its appeal. There are no Western-style bars, no nightlife to speak of. It’s a true Cambodian town which has not felt the touch of tourism. In fact, every transport option that I was given while there offered me a lift out of town, either to Battambang or to the Thai border. For a Westerner to stay in Pailin is evidently still something of a novelty.
The town has a chequered past, from being a wealthy area famous for its abundance of gems and timber in the 1800s to being one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge as recently as 1998.
The area is populated with descendents of Burmese immigrants who came to the area in the late 1800s in search of fortune. One of the remaining influences from Burma is the golden stupa at Wat Phnom Yat on the edge of town.