Just over 125 kilometres north of Siem Reap, straight up the N67, Anlong Veng is many things: a frontier town, a crossroads, a border, the last refuge of the Khmer Rouge and the final hideout and ultimate resting place of its notorious leader, Pol Pot. It’s also pretty quiet.
There is really not a great deal going on in the centre of town, which consists mainly of roads that seem built to take you somewhere else. But there is an eerie lake, from which the naked remains of dozens of trees poke like fractured bones. It sits aside the road heading north to Choam on the border with Thailand, and makes for interesting photo opportunities. To the north, the Dangrek Mountains mark the border with Thailand, and are also a superb platform for some of our favourite views across Cambodia.
If you fancy a flutter, there’s a casino on top of the cliffs in Choam. The Sangam Resort & Casino is a surreal experience, even if you’re not a gambler. You’ll also find the site of Pol Pot’s cremation, and not far from there the creepy guesthouse that used to belong to Ta Mok, Brother Number 5, a man also known as “The Butcher”, thanks to the enthusiasm he brought to the paranoid purges carried out by the Khmer Rouge in 1978. Along the promontory here, you will however find some of the most spectacular views in Cambodia.
While Anlong Veng is probably the best-known town in Oddar Meanchey, it’s not the provincial capital — that would be Samroang, which is even further off the map, and offers few reasons to visit.
Oddar Meanchey is a strange province largely occupied by former Khmer Rouge cadres — many still nostalgic for the “good old days” — and families from across Cambodia who had become dispossessed and were awarded land here. It sometimes feels more disconnected and less open than other parts of Cambodia. The province is actually quite young, being only formally carved out of a much larger Siem Reap in 1999, a move deemed necessary in order to make the newly defined provinces more manageable.
At that time, the Phnom Penh Post defined Oddar Meanchey by reference to a prevalence of disease, dislocation and destruction of its resources. There were also the land mines to consider. This corner of Cambodia was once one of the most heavily mined areas in the world, and it is still not a place you ever should step off the main path.
Anlong Veng itself consists of just four roads: south to Siem Reap, east to Preah Vihear, north to Thailand and west to O Smach, another politically interesting town. Fifteen kilometres to the north, Choam is a steep climb up the south face of the Dangrek Mountains which mark the border with Thailand.
The border crossing at Choam is slowly starting to see a little more traffic, with roughly 20 to 30 people a day making the journey to Thailand. This is likely to grow as people realise that it is easier to access northern Thailand from here; easier in the sense that it is not Poipet, with everything about speed, ease and a lack of corruption (so far) that that entails.
You should be through here and out the other side in under an hour. In theory. The authorities do of course have the capacity to perhaps make things a little more difficult if you don’t have your paperwork in order, including passport photos. Any shortfalls will no doubt be dealt with in the usual way — that is, by payment of a small “fine”. Once you’re through to the other side, it’s roughly an hour and a half drive to either Surin or Si Saket.
Back in Anlong Veng, there is a small handful of guesthouses, with not much to distinguish them. If you need to stock up on necessities, there is a small Lucky Mart on the eastern road that goes towards Preah Vihear. You’ll find snacks and toiletries here, which may be essential if you’re planning on staying the night on Phnom Dangrek as the food in the guesthouse is somewhat sketchy.
Next door you’ll find Acleda Bank, which has international ATM services. Next door again, you’ll find the post office, though we would suggest waiting until you’re elsewhere if you really have things to mail. For minor ailments, Anlong Veng Referral Hospital is found just north of the roundabout. The number is (012) 656 6999. For anything serious, of course you’ll want to get to Bangkok.
By Nicky Sullivan.
Last updated on 12th November, 2016.