BATTAMBANG PROVINCE was the leading rice-producing province in Cambodia before the years of war and Khmer Rouge domination. After the outbreak of the Cambodian civil war in 1970, the Battambang-Phnom Penh road was a prime target of the Khmer Rouge insurgents, who, by capturing it, severed Phnom Penh from its major source of rice.Battambang did not give way to the Khmer Rouge movement until after the fall of Phnom Penh, but was the center of the government-Khmer Rouge conflict after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 pushed the genocidal regime out of Phnom Penh and to the Northwest. Until the surrender deal of Ieng Sary—Khmer Rouge number three man, who was based in Pailin—in the mid 1990s, Battambang was under Khmer Rouge control.
Battambang lies in Northwestern Cambodia is the home of the Cardamom Mountains, the last refuge of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, Thai-frequented casinos, a spectacular Angkor-era temple that Thailand and Cambodia fought a mini-war over, and some of the the world’s most god-forbidden roads that can make travel to some destinations bone-rattling in the dry season and impossible in the wet season.
In its earlier history Battambang flip-flopped back and forth between Thailand and Cambodia. It's been a part of Thailand most of the time since the 15th century, with Cambodia regaining control, due the French, in 1907. The Thais grabbed it again, with Japanese assistance, in 1941 and kept the region until relinquishing it after World War II in 1947.
The Allied Forces helped persuade the Thais that the region was originally part of ancient Cambodia and the world community would not take kindly to the Thais holding onto it further. Like the rest of the Northwest, there is still a lot of Thai influence apparent. The main currency is still the Thai Baht and many people are able to converse in Thai. But the area is very Khmer, with ancient Khmer ruins scattered around, and even the ways of life are much more similar to the rest of Cambodia than to Thailand.
Battambang Province has a total land area of about 11,702 square kilometers with around 67.7 inhabitants per square kilometer. The provincial capital of Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia. It is located in the middle of one of the biggest rice-growing areas in Southeast Asia. The average altitude of the province is around 50 meters. The province is bordered to the North by Banteay Meanchey Province, to the West with Thailand, to the East and South with Pursat Province and the great lake Tonle Sap.
The population census in 2007 shows that Battambang is a densely populated province with 511,378 male and 525,145 female inhabitants and total population of 1,036,523 people. The population density is 68 per square kilometer, which is slightly higher than the national density of 64. The population of this province constitutes 6.9 percent of the whole Cambodian population. Battambang rice and rubber were principal export of Cambodia, but exports fell sharply after the onset of the civil war in 1970s, which put most of the rubber plantations out of operation. By the 1990s, however, rubber plantings had been undertaken as part of a national recovery program. Battambang oranges are famous in Cambodia. recently, inadequate transportation hampered exploitation of the province’s vast forests, but by the mid-1990s timber had become the largest source of export income. Exploitation of mineral resources like phosphate rock, limestone, semiprecious stones, and salt supports important local mining operations. Inflation was 1.6 percent in 2002, whereas official unemployment figures amounted to 2.6 percent. Due to closed Thailand there is quite a lot of financial influx from foreign (Thai) investors
In Battambang the cool season is from November to February with temperature averaging around 26 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 28 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from June to October. Temperature average above 31 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.
Battambang (291 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh and 103 kilometers from the Thailand border) is Cambodia's second-largest city and the capital of Battambang Province. Founded in the 11th century, it is the former capital of Monton Kmer and lies in the heart of the Northwest of Cambodia. Before the war years and Khmer Rouge domination, in which almost all of its infrastructure was destroyed, it was the center of the leading rice-producing region in Cambodia. The name Battambang or Batdambang, literally means "loss of stick" referring to a legend of the Preah Bat Dambang Kranhoung (Kranhoung Stick King). The population is around 250,000 people
Battambang is located in western Cambodia along the banks of the Sangker River in the heart of large rice growing region and developed as major marketing center. Before 1975, Battambang was the site of productive textile and cigarette manufacturing industries. These industries were heavily damaged by the Khmer Rouge.
Battambang was acquired by Thailand in 1809 and returned to Cambodia in 1907. It is a riverside town and home to some of the best-preserved, French colonial architecture in the country. It also has a technical university. There are fruit and cashew plantations outside the city. Until the 2000s, Battambang was off the map for road travelers as it was a Khmer Rouge stronghold, but facilities have recently been improved and it makes a great base for visiting the nearby temples, such as Phnom Banon and Wat Ek Phnom, as well as the closeby villages.
Battambang city is a peaceful and pleasant place these days. The main parts of the city are situated close to the Sangker River, a tranquil, small body of water that winds its way through Battambang Province. It is a nice, picturesque setting. The network of charming old French shop houses clustered along the riverbank is a highlight A small museum has a collection of Angkorian-era artifacts, and beyond the town there's a number of hilltop temples, yet more Wats and a pretty large lake. One of the more famous hills is Phnom Sampeau (Ship Hill) with the notorious killing caves.
Battambang is the main hub of the Northwest connecting the entire region with Phnom Penh and Thailand, and as such it’s a vital link for Cambodia. Located on both the highway and railroad linking Phnom Penh with Thailand, it is also a secondary hub on the overland route between Thailand and Vietnam, and if the National Highway No 6 from Poipet to Siem Reap is ever upgraded it'll become an even smaller hub.
Sights in the Battambang Area
Two ancient Khmer temples, Prasat Snung and Prasat Banon, are located near Battambang. These temples date back to the 11th and 12th centuries.. Within the city, the Pothiveal Museum contained many beautiful examples of Khmer art. It closed long ago unfortunately. Wat Tahm-rai-saw (White Elephant Pagoda) is one of the visited tourist spots in the city center area. This famous temple is located in one of the busy districts of the city and is known for its elaborate architectural. If you are to visit this popular tourism destination, you are to take one of the roads known to be Road 2 or Road 3. Road 2 is comparatively busier than Road 3. There are road side shops and eateries on the two roads. Many hotels and lodging places are nearby. The best time to visit the White Elephant Pagoda is during Khmer New Year, when the temple and the adjacent streets are decorated with various colorful ornaments and an important festival takes place. Classical dancing accompanied by traditional music is sometimes performed at the temple, particularly at the time of Khmer New Year, when people also throw plenty of water mixed with colored powder at people on the street as a good luck wish and to bless them with fun and prosperity.
Barseat Temple (15 kilometer from Battambang) is located in Barsaet Villlage, Tapoan commune, Sangke District. It was built in the 11th century, between AD 1036 and 1042, during the region of King Suryavarman I (A.D. 1002-1050). This temple was seriously damaged, and only the door frame remains. Next to this temple, there is an ancient pond that is 20 meters long, 12 meters wide and 10 meters deep. It hold water year round.
Wat Ek Temple (Piem Ek commune in 14 kilometers from Battambang) adapts the architecture of 11th century and was built in 1027 during the reign of King, Sorayak Varman I (1002-1050).
Prasat Snung (15 kilometer from Battambang) features three separated stupas made of brick, located on a hill having 30 meter length and 20 meter width, in Snung pagoda’s area, Snung commune, Ba Nan District. According to the style at the gate, the temple is similar to other temples from the 12th century. Behind the temple, there is another newer temple.
Phnom Sam Pov Resort (12 kilometer from Battambang) is located along the National Road No 57 (the former National Road No. 10) at Sam Puoy commune on a 100-meter-high hill. On the top of Sam Puoy hill there are temple and three natural wells, namely Pkar Slar, Lo Khuon and Ak So Pheak. Next to Sam Puoy hill there are some mountains, and the natural sites: Phnom Trung Moan, Phnom Trung Tea and Phnom Neang Rum Say Sork. These mountains are prominent in the Cambodia folk legend of Reach Kol Neang Rum Say Sork.
Getting to Battambarg
From Phnom Penh to Battambang it's about 291 kilometers via national road number 5. Battambang is also accessible from Thailand via Pailin, Banteay Meanchey. Siem Reap to Battambang can be reached overland. There are no flights between Battambang and Siem Reap at this time. According to ASIRT: Roads were heavily damaged during the civil war. Unimproved roads are heavily potholed and generally lack pavement. Passage is difficult in the rainy season. Upgrades have been completed on several main roads. Landmines and unexploded ordnance were removed before construction began. Be alert for herds of freely wandering livestock, even on main roads. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]
Shared Taxi from Battambang: Battambang to Phnom Penh 300 baht (US$ 10) Battambang to Sisophon 50 baht (US$ 1.7) Battambang to Pursat 100 baht (US$ 3.4), Motorcycle Touring: Riding by motorcycle is the best way to see the countryside and the sights along the way. You may stop by at some pagodas or ancient temples on the national road No 5.
Speed Boats to Battambang: During the rainy season, it's a good alternative to the shared taxi. The road from Siem Reap to Sisophanis is quite lousy. So therefore it's best to take the opportunity of a nice and relaxing boat trip. The dry season eventually makes this impassable as the river water level goes down. Departing from Siem Reap taking the 7 am boat, you'll arrive at Battambang about 10:30 am. The cost is around US$10-15 per person, depending on demand. So it's negotiable. Departing from Phnom Penh taking the 7:00-8:00am boat, you'll arrive at Battambang around 3:00-4:00pm. The cost is around US$ 16-22 per person.
Train to Battambang: The old saying goes there is no such thing as a free lunch, but in Cambodia, the old train is still free. for foreigners, that's it. However, it will just cost you some time (maybe some officers will ask you for a creative donation). The Phnom Penh to Battambang journey usually takes about thirteen to fourteen hours, if no mishaps occure. The scenery is not nearly as stunning as parts of the Phnom Penh-Kampot-Sihanoukville routes, but you certainly will get a good sampling of rural agriculture scenery. Train Schedule: Phnom Penh to Battambang -departs between 6:20 & 7 am daily Sisophon to Battambang -departs at around 2 pm daily Battambang to Phnom Penh -departs between 6:30 & 7 am daily Battambang to Sisophon -departs between 6:45 & 7:15 am daily.
Battambang to Phnom Penh: It's a tough but definitely doable road if you are on a motorcycle circuit tour. They are slow resurfacing sections between Battambang, Pursat and Kampong Chhnang, from which the road is then pretty fair to Phnom Penh. On the Battambang -Phnom Penh highway, daytime security is not a problem, but at night scores of military checkpoints spring up with logs being put across the road so that vehicles stop. They just want a toll fee but it's not a fun time of the day to be dealing with the soldiers as they are pretty liquored up by then. Avoid possible problems and just ride of taxi during daylight hours.
Battambang to Sisophon: The trip is about 64 kilometers and takes about 1½ hours. Battambang to Pursat is about 103 Battambang kilometers and takes about three hours. Battambang to Phnom Penh takes about six to eight hours, depending greatly on whether you are riding yourself or in a share taxi (which mostly takes longer). The road between Battambang and Pailin is a very rough road that has only a few decent stretches -it's a lot better than it was a few years back, but that knowledge won’t mean much to your sore tail-side.
Security is not a problem. Getting to Phnom Banan is easy-just head south on the River Road (Road1) about 20 km, which at a moderate pace should take just over half and hour. You can't miss the big hill with the temple on top, visible on the right side of the road. Turn right at the dirt road that runs smack into the middle of the hill. There are drinks and snack stands near the base of the stairway going up. There is also a dirt road going to the left by the stands that you could take up, but take the stairway as the Khmers did at the time the temple was in use.It's part of the fun. A round-trip moto-taxi from Battambang is approximately 120 baht (US$ 4.5) including their waiting time.
SIGHTS NEAR BATTAMBANG CITY
Tourist Attractions in the Battambang Area: Dang Tung (54 kilometers from Battambang) is a wildlife preserve very popular among nature lovers. It is located in Danng Tung Village at Rattanakmundul District and takes about three hours to reach from Battambang. Gold Buddha Hill (60 kilometers or so from Battambang) is on the way to Sisophan. It's easy to spot from the road.
Phnom Trong Morn Trong Tea (fifteen kilometers, forty minutes from Battambang) is a wildlife preserve. The place boasts of various types of wild animals. The location of Phnom Trong Morn Trong Tea is in the region of Samnagn Village which is located in the Phnom Sampov Commune. This place is situated in the district of Banann. Various kinds transportation make the rough journey to the entry point of the Phnom Trong Morn Trong Tea. The journey tough but is filled with lots of excitement and fun.
Boeng Kam Pinh Puoy Resort (35 kilometer from Battambang) is located between two mountains, named Phnom Kul or Phnom Ta Nget and Phnom Kam Pinh Puoy, at Ta Nget village, Ta Kriem Commune. Boeng kam Pinh Puoy has 1,900 meter width, 19 kilometer length and can load 110,000,000-cubic meter water.
Sek Sak Resort (50 kilometer from Battambang) is a natural resort, which has been popular since before the civil war time. Sek Sak stretches along the river bank full of plant, trees and bamboo-green nature in 500 meter length. Near Sek Sak, tourists can also visit other attractive sites like Po Pus Pich Chen Da Dong Tong and Sa Ang speak—pre-history sites five kilometer to kilometer in distance from each other. Sek Sak located Treng commune, Rotanak Mondul District along the National Road No 57, the former National Road No 10.
Kamping Pouy Bassin
Kamping Pouy Bassin (35 kilometers west of Battambang) was gigantic civil-engineering project was central to the Khmer Rouge’s plan to irrigate the countryside around Battambang. Tragically, the construction of the Kamping Puoy Reservoir resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Unlike the victims of S21 and Choeung Ek most of the deaths on the Kamping Puoy project were caused by malnutrition, disease, overwork or mistreatment. The deaths were in short, preventable.
A gripping, visceral and painfully honest account of life in Battambang under the Khmer Rouge was written by Haing S. Ngor, the Cambodian doctor, actor and community worker who won an Oscar for the film The Killing Fields. His book “Survival in Cambodia's Killing Fields is perhaps the most eloquent account of day-to-day life during the Pol Pot period. It is laced with insights into the Khmer psyche and is ultimately a heartbreaking read.
Located between two mountains—Phnom Ku or Phnom Ta Ngen and Phnom Kamping Pouy—in Ta Nget Village, Ta Kream Srok commune, Kamping Pouy Bassin is six meters long and 1,900 meters wide. During the rainy season the basin can hold 110 million cubic meters of water, which is used primarily for agriculture. Kamping Pouy basin is vital to this area. It is now a popular picnic site for residents of Pailin and Battambang because of its fresh air. Lotus flowers grow in the water and nearby you can buy lotus seeds to eat (they are delicious and taste a bit like sweet, uncooked peas). Takream Commune in Banan District is the nearest settlement. See History.
PAILIN (near Thailand) is a small municipality in the West of Cambodia very close 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. 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.
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 own. As of September 2007, Pailin's remaining Khmer Rouge leaders were being rounded up to face justice by an international tribunal. They included 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. See History
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. Poipet 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 municipality is the second smallest so-called province in Cambodia, covering 803 square kilometers. 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 a typical wet plain area for Cambodia, with rice fields other agricultural plantations. Pailin City itself is located on the foothills of Chuor Phnom Kravanh, an extension of the Cardamom Mountains. The southern part of Pailin municipality is quite hilly and with mountains reaching a height of 1164 meters. The province also features some smaller rivers coming from the mountains.
The population of Pailin municipality is about 35,234 people or 0.25 percent of the country's total population (2007, provincial government data), with 19,059 male and 16,175 female. The population density is 44 people per square kilometer. The area surrounding Pailin City was rich in a variety of gemstones which were mostly mined out to support the Khmer Rouge. They also logged the area to create personal wealth with no regard for the effect on the environment. Nowadays all you can find is low-quality, cheap, hand-faceted gemstones at the market in Pailin downtown.
Pailin and the Khmer Rouge
During the 1980s and 1990s Pailin was 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.
During the Khmer Rouge occupation and after Pailin was like Wild West town in 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. Even though the gems are mostly gone Pailin still seems to attract more people rather than kept them away. 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 generally showed them.
After fully exploiting the region’s natural resources, the Khmer Rouge invested their money in casinos around Pailin. Pailin is located in the most heavily mined area in the world, so be especially careful. Stay only on marked roads. Don’t wander off into the bushes to pee. In Pailin the cool season is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 22 to 28 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 27 to 34 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 24 to 32 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.
Pailin City: Gems, Thais and Gambling
Pailin City (19 kilometers from the Thai border) was the former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. Ruled until the early 2000s by the Khmer Rouge defector Ieng Sary, it is a pleasant place with some of Cambodia's cleanest and well-kept guest houses and brothels, a busy marketplace, billiard halls, casinos, gambling halls, gas stations, karaokes and restaurants. The first brothel opened in September 1997. Soldiers in the town are prohibited from carrying guns.
Pailin has traditionally been a gem-dealing town. Roaming around town are gem dealers who offer rubies, sapphires and diamonds to Western visitors and anyone else that passes through. As the gem-producing areas of Pailin are mostly played out many of the gems originate form outside the region. Many of the visitors these days are high-rolling Thais who play baccarat and roulette tables in open air casinos and larger places like Caesar International Casino, a building that looks like an airplane hanger and offers “Disco, Dance, Karaoke, Restaurant, Massage” as well as gambling.
Many of the Thais come just for at night to gamble and then go home. The town has its share of drugs and Khmer and Vietnamese prostitutes. There are a few visible remnants of the war and Khmer Rouge occupation other than some tanks that children climb around on and suspicious looks by local people towards foreigners. Bright warning signs and white tape show where mines are potentially located.
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 center 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.
Getting to Pailin
Minibus/Shared taxis:For getting from Phnom Penh to Pailin please have a look at the Battambang section. 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 83 kilometers southwest of Battambang and is just 19 kilometers 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 shared 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 kilometers 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. The route from Pailin to Krong Koh Kong is a challenge for hardcore bikers with plenty of off-road experience. It starts in the Treng district, just 25 kilometers East on the road to Battambang. Than it runs down South through former Khmer Rouge strongholds such as Samlot and Veal Veng, which is 275 kilometers from Pailin and the last place to refuel. Good luck!
Goh-Ay Mountain (near Pailin) boasts a river that’s great for a swim. Talk to the people 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 aor take you out there. Definitely stay on the worn trails by the river area. There are land mines around. Kbal O'Chra (five kilometers from Pailin) is a Nature and Wildlife Preserve located in O'Chra village, Toul Lwea Commune, Kan Pailin. attractions in Pailin City. Steung Kuy (20 kilometers, or one hour from Pailin) is another Nature and Wildlife Preserve.
Cambodia-Thailand International Border Crossing Near Pailin
The Cambodia-Thailand border crossing is just 19 kilometers west of Pailin town. It's supposed to be a full-service crossing issuing tourist and business visas. Crossings however, can sometimes take some time while the border officers try to ask you for more money for the visa issue. The border is opens daily between 7:00am and 8:00pm. 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.
The Thais present no problem at the border crossing 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 part.
About 5 kilometers 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. It takes just under a half hour and is around 180 baht for roundtrip moto.
Bah Hoi Village (near Pailin) is 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 and Casino Area Near Pailin: Locals refer to this area as 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. As of the late 2000s the Flamingo Casino was open for business and another under construction. Thai people represent the vast majority of customers. Pailin. There are also a few seedy looking karaoke bars with ladies working near the casinos and border.Thousands of tourists visit Ceasar Casino. There is also a Ceasar pub located in the same complex. Both the pub and the casino are frequented by Thais and tourists.
BANTEAY MEANCHEY PROVINCE
BANTEAY MEANCHEY is a Cambodian province in the northwest of the country. Its capital is named Sisophon. Like Siem Reap and Battambang Provinces, control of the province has changed hands many times between the Thais and the Khmers in the more distant past, and the Khmer Rouge and central Phnom Penh government in recent decades. With the final demise of the Khmer Rouge (locals, however, firmly believe the Present national reconciliation only the Khmer Rouge trick), the province and towns are striving to rebuild their culture and economy.
Banteay Meanchey is a very friendly place with the locals genuinely happy to see foreign faces and the stability that it implies. Normally just a passing-through spot on the way to the border, or between Battambang and Siem Reap, the area has a few sights that warrant a visit, such the Banteay Chhmar temple ruins, the only other Khmer temple ruins besides the Bayon (Angkor) and Preah Khan ( Preah Vihear Province ) that features the famous four-faced monuments.
This area was part of the extensive Khmer empire, with its most notable remains the Banteay Chhmar temple (built in 12th and 13th century) in the north of the province. In the 17th century the Siam took control over Cambodia, and made the area of the modern province part of Sisophon Province. In the year 1907 the Siam had to cede control to the French, and the area was then included into Battambang Province. In 1988 the province Banteay Meanchey was split off from Battambang.
Banteay Meanchey is located in northwest Cambodia. It borders Thailand to the west and north, with Oddar Meancheay Province also to the north, Siem Reap Province to the east and Battambang Province to the south. The province is mostly covered by extensive lowlands, with a few uplands to the north and east. The entire province covers 6,679 square kilometers. The main rivers are the Mongkol Borei River and the Sisophon River.
The total population of Banteay Meanchey is 816,382 or 5.2 percent of the total population of Cambodia (2007, provincial government data). There are 402,201 males (49.11 percent of the population), and 414,181 female person (50.89 percent). Of the 654,033 people that live in the province, 93 percent are farmers, one percent are fishermen, five percent are traders and one percent work as government officers. Because of it's border with Thailand, the casino business is booming and becoming the main economy to the province.
The average temperature in Banteay Meanchey is between 30 degrees C and 33 degrees C. The province receives 885.30 millimeters of rain a year, with 3.37 millimeters a day during the August-to-October rainy season. The cool season is from November to February with temperature averaging around 27 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 28 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from June to October. Temperature average above 32 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.
Sisophorn (359 kilometers from Phnom Penh via national road number 5) is the main town and capital of Banteay Meanchey Province. It is mostly a quiet place that only gives hints to its turbulent past upon closer examination. Sites Near Sisophorn: Banteay Neang (11 kilometers from Sisophorn) takes 20 minutes to reach by car from Sisophorn. There are several historical sites and colonial buildings. It is located in Road No. 69A of Banteay Chhmar Village, Banteay Chhmar Commune, Tmar Puok District. Banteay Torp (55 kilometers from Sisophorn) means the army base. It was the biggest army base during the civil war that began in 1970.It is located in Road No. 69A of Banteay Chhmar Village, Banteay Chhmar Commune, Tmar Puok District. Today, it is a historical war place. Cheung Krouh (63 kilometers from Sisophorn) is a wildlife preserve that takes about 2 hours to reach by car. Wildlife here is preserved with help from the WWF organization. It is located in road 69A of Banteay Chhmar Village, Banteay Chhmar Commune, Tmar Puok Dis
Getting to Banteay Meanchey and Sisophorn
Sisophan is about 359 kilometers from Phnom Penh via national road number 5. You may also reach the Province from Bangkok via Poipet border. There is not alot of choices to get to the province. You either take your own motorcycle or take a shared taxi. But wait; let's not forget the train. Or maybe we should, because it's very slow - the railroad doesn't even want to quote you an correct arrival time, because it’s never going to be the same.
The road between Sisophon to Siem Reap is a terrible bomb-cratered road that you will need to go slowly on. The road from Sisophon to Battambang is fairly decent in certain stretches, not so nice in others, but definitely the better one of the two roads. The Sisophon to Poipet stretch has some pretty fair stretches for a motorcycle, with other stretches having some humps in the road that are big enough to make any rollercoaster operator envious.
The train from Battambang arrives in Sisophan sometimes between 10:00 - 11:00 am (usually). The trip takes around 3½ hours, which is about double the time that the shared taxies need for, but unlike most things in life, it’s free ! This won't last for long as the poor Khmer people are paying, while visitors are not. The government just hasn't organized the train service for tourists yet.
Shared Taxies, per seat, approximate rates: 1) Sisophon to Siem Reap 120 baht, US$4; 2) Sisophon to Battambong 50 baht, US$2; 3) Sisophon to Poipet 30 baht, US$1.4; 4) Sisophon to Phnom Penh 250 baht, US$8.5; 5) Sisophon to Samrong 100 baht, US$3.5. These rates are the same going in the other direction.
Poipet: Gambling Town That Caters to Thais
Poipet (near the Thai border) is a grimy town with casinos that cater to Thai businessmen. Poipet is a key crossing point between the two countries, and also extremely popular as a gambling destination with lots of casinos (gambling is popular, but illegal in Thailand). There is a strip of casinos, guesthouses and hotels between the Thai and Cambodian passport control counters, enabling Thais to gamble in Cambodia without needing to go through Cambodian immigration. Poipet is adjacent to the city of Aranya Pratet on the Thai side of the border.
The Aranyaprethet/Poipet border crossing is ideal if you want to start your visit to Cambodia in the north at Battambang and Siem Reap. From Bangkok, you can reach Aranyaprathet by train (7 hour) or by air-con bus (4 hour). The border is open daily (7:00am-5:00pm) and visas are issued on arrival. From Poipet, onward transport by shared taxi or pick-up is readily available to Sisophon (for Siem Reap) and daily boats from Hong Kong to Sre Ambel (for Phnom Penh) and to Sihanoukville. The nearest train station is in Sisophon.
Ang Trapeang Thmor (about 100 kilometers from Siem Reap town) is a wildlife preserve located in Banteay Meanchey Province. It is a unique wetland ecosystem giving home to over 200 bird species including the endangered Sarus Crane. The population of the Sarus Crane species in this area has risen constantly within the last years to number more than 300 birds today. A total of 18 bird species found in Ang Trapeang Thmor have been classified as near threatened. A project in Ang Trapeang Thmor tries to help prevent the birds from disappearing. Birds can be watched throughout the whole year but the best time for seeing the Sarus Crane is from February to May. Ang Trapeang Thmor also harbors the globally endangered Eld’s deer. From Siem Reap Town it is a two hours drive during dry season and a three hours drive during rainy season by minibus, taxi or motor taxi. To have access to the forest it is indispensable to have your own 4-wheel drive vehicle.
ANLONG VENG, LAST REFUGE OF THE KHMER ROUGE
Anlong Veng (100 kilometers east of Oddar Meanchey town) is the village where Pol Pot spent his last years. The hut that he lived in during that time and died in final days in has become something of tourist attraction. As of early 2004, all that one could see in the hut were some broken bits of toilet seat and some empty medicine bottles. The place where he was cremated is marked by a simple blue sign. Pol Pot chose to live here because the village is very remote: the jungle is very dense and if necessary he could quickly escape to Thailand. He died here because there was nowhere else he could go. Nearby is the brick and concrete structure he lived in before he died. Local people say he stashed his riches in the basement. Near this is a stream was dammed for Pol Pot’s swimming pool. See Pol Pot, History.
Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Anlong Veng has the insubstantial look of a Wild West town, with a single basic guesthouse, a few cafes and street carts heaped with tiny freshwater clams, a popular snack food. Its hospital, dike and dam were built by Ta Mok, On the way to Pol Pot's last lair and cremation site near the town of Anlong Veng, we passed rickety houses built on stilts, boys fishing for dinner in drainage culverts, card games in front of country stores selling gasoline in recycled Johnnie Walker bottles. As little as a dozen years ago, the area was still in the hands of the Khmer Rouge, scattered but not gone.”[Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2011]
Anlong Veng is a pretty remote place. It is located in a malaria-ridden jungle. It is reached along dirt and single-lane roads in the Dangrek Mountains near the the Thai border where Khmer Rouge holdouts fled after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979. The roads are often not passable in the rainy season and difficult to manage even in the dry season. The journey from Siem Reap can take all day. It is easier to arrive from Thailand. A new border post was opened up nearby in the early 2000s. There are still land mines in the area.
Tourism at Anlong Veng
Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, A shack on the main road, the Anlong Veng Tourism Office, lists the sites, showing faded photographs of weed-filled plots labeled as the former homes and swimming holes of Khmer Rouge leaders. Tiny enterprises opened — food stalls, gasoline sold in recycled Johnnie Walker bottles, pirated videotapes, hair dressers and vendors selling cigarettes, duck eggs and mobile telephones. The past and the present mingle as thin white cows wander among the parked motorbikes. And that is where development has stopped, at the bottom rung of Cambodian poverty, except for the wide blacktop road that runs through it, with its incongruous yellow center line. “Gift from Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Royal Government of Cambodia, 104 kilometers of road built by the Army engineering unit,” reads the town’s only monument. If tourists ever do come, the smooth road will speed them nine miles up into the mountains to the weed-filled lot where Pol Pot was cremated, [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, August 12, 2006]
Many tourists go to Anlong Veng to see and photograph the sites and activities associated with the former regime, and the government has discussed turning this area into a historical site to attract even more tourists. Pol Pot’s home has been designated a historic tourist zone to prevent uncontrolled development. According to one tourism official, “The plan is not designated to glorify Pol Pot. It will preserve the bitter history for the young generation to learn that anything tat goes against the law of human progress cannot last long.” There are plans to develop the whole site into a tourist attraction. A tourism official had found the sofa, tables and chairs that had been looted from the house in the home of a carpenter who built the original hut. There are also plans to restore the entire village, which contained the Khmer Rouge headquarters, courthouse, office, a jail, guard posts and other facilities and charge tourists $2 a head to visit and build hotels and restaurants.
Ta Mok’s House (in Anlong Veng) is located in Anlong Veng district, along Road 68, in Oddar Meanchey province. The house was owned by former Khmer Rouge Commander Ta Mok. From 1979 until late 1997. This area was organized and controlled by the Khmer Rouge armies. Some remaining statues describe the way the rebels lived and how they arranged their troops during their bloody struggle against the government. Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Ta Mok, a Khmer Rouge official nicknamed "The Butcher," died in prison in 2006, awaiting trial. His former communications aide Mork Dett showed us the way to Ta Mok's lakeside villa, where Khmer Rouge adjutant Son Sen was killed along with 13 family members in 1997 on the orders of Pol Pot.”
Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “The only site that draws a regular trickle of visitors is Ta Mok’s concrete villa in the center of town, with its irrational maze of big, bare rooms and its underground bunker.Its broad balconies look out over a swampy artificial lake dotted with the skeletons of dead trees, a vista created by a man who seems to have felt a kinship with death. When Ta Mok’s harsh utopia collapsed, the outside world flooded in, bringing colored clothing to replace the black pajamas of the Khmer Rouge. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, August 12, 2006]
Pol Pot’s Burial Site
Pol Pot’s Burial Site (near Ta Mok’s House) is a pile of tires in a muddy, weed-choked field in the forest and hills of northern Cambodia. Pol Pot it is said was cremated and buried here. See History.
Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Pol Pot was cremated 980 feet from the border with Thailand. Once abandoned in the mountain overgrowth, the cremation site now seems forgotten in the midst of a burst of small-scale construction. The buzz of cicadas is drowned by the whine of power saws as small houses crowd the edges of the fenced-in lot. As in the rest of Cambodia, the future is being built on the ruins of a devastated past that has never been faced, where skulls from killing fields still lie in piles and three decades have passed without any formal accounting. “They’ll all be dying soon,” said Loan Pheap, who pumps gasoline next to Pol Pot’s cremation site, “all the old grandfathers. They are already shaking with age. They’ll all be gone before anybody can put them on trial.”
Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Even now, little is known about Pol Pot, except that he was born in 1925 with the name Saloth Sar and educated at a Catholic school in Phnom Penh. As a young man he traveled to Paris to study electronics and join the political underground, imbibing communism from tomes by Marx and Lenin he once admitted he did not fully understand. No one can say what turned a revolutionary into a mass murderer. Nor do all historians think that he was chiefly to blame for the Cambodian holocaust. Standing at Pol Pot's grave, I mentally retraced the road I'd taken through Cambodia, showing how all the conditions were present that had allowed the Khmer Rouge to take power: poverty, ignorance, misgovernment, radical ideology, foreign intervention. The only additional element needed was the psychopath buried at my feet.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020