An interesting diversion
Because we could, we took a morning excursion from Pailin to Samlot. Normally a tour would include a trip to a sunflower plantation and some more hill trekking, but we didn’t have time. What we saw though was lovely and of serious interest to travellers interested in food. Samlot is found 25 kilometres southeast (as the crow flies) of Pailin, and was one of the last places in Cambodia where the civil war held sway, with fighting and looting still ongoing as late as 1998.
The other areas were Anlong Veng and O’Smach, names well-known to historians. Samlot was more of a “sideshow” and one of the causes/consequences was the widespread looting of the nearby forests, with lumber being carted out wholesale. Lots of fine wooden houses were built in Battambang at this time using wood from this area. Travelling here then would have exposed you to a risk of Khmer Rouge squads and more.
Today, those are gone but their legacy remains. While signs indicating that certain areas have been cleared of land mines abound, the lethal menaces sown by the fighting forces still lurk beneath the surface. While you may be off the metaphorical beaten track, it is a very good idea to remain on the physical one.
Today, the area feels as peaceful as can be. The low, green mountains colour in the western horizon while a brown river meanders along their apron tucked and rucked into bursting waterfalls along the way. Along the river’s banks, pillars of tall, wet vines reveal a spicy harvest of peppers. He may be biased, but our guide Phalla says they’re the best in Cambodia which, by default, would make them the best in the world — though they are likely not organic, which is one of the principal characteristics of Kampot pepper.
We got here by driving south towards Battambang, taking a diversion to see a coffee plantation near the Otavao waterfall. Sadly, we couldn’t find a kettle in the warm, wet fields where we were warmly greeted by a pair of youngsters very keen to show off their toy car, which was in much better condition than our motorbike it must be said.
For Samlot, once off the main road, there was another 10 kilometres of dirt road to do. What can we say? Wear a sturdy bra ladies. Your guide may take you by tuk tuk but if you can, try to see if you can get there by moto. It’ll be quicker, and possibly more comfortable.
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.