Crossing the Phsar Prum Border and visiting Pailin

From Chantanaburi

We began our little journey by walking to the bus terminal in Chanthaburi on the Thai side, and preparing ourselves for the beady-eyed touts. We’ve learned that the best course of action is to be very polite. Getting mad or frustrated just adds another degree of thrill to their game.

We got through one, two, three, four touts (no, we don’t want a taxi. No we don’t want you to drop us in ‘Central, yes?’, wherever that may be. No we don’t want a private mini bus), and finally ended up on a public bus heading to Pong Nam. The cost was 40 baht each – a bargain. The conductor, a lovely old lady, yelled, “Okay you get off here,” and we hopped off into the dirt beside the road. “That way to the border,” the driver called after us, pointing down highway 3193. “Songthaew to border, 100 baht each person.”

It was lightly raining in the cute little town of Pong Nam, and so we took shelter with some hot kuey teow nam. Eventually we decided to try hitch hiking, so we trudged to the edge of town and I stuck my thumb out. In less than two minutes we were in a truck belonging to a Thai couple, whom, although they were actually planning to turn off before reaching the Phsar Prum border, ended up taking us all the way.

The Border

There were more touts at the Phsar Prum border, but seeing us exit from a private Thai vehicle confused them. We took advantage of their puzzlement by sneaking past and lining up at Thai immigration before they could gather their thoughts. Blam. Stamp. Easy. Friendly. No tricks.

* Update!
In Cambodia we met an American couple (using US passports) who were charged $100 (USD) to exit Thailand. The officers refused to return their passports until they paid. After half an hour of arguing, they gave up and forked over the hundred. Absolute dickery. We had no such trouble, probably because Caroline went in first and everybody likes Caroline. For the record, you don’t have to pay to exit Thailand unless you’ve overstayed.

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Officially out of Thailand, we walked through no man’s land being followed by touts who didn’t seem to know what to do with us. Around the gates, over a little bridge, and up the promenade towards Cambodian immigration. Wacky vehicles crossed the border with us (seemingly without any checks), such as half-tractor things, exposed engines pulling logs on three wheels, and Bedford trucks from the 60s.

For being ASEAN, Caroline got 30 days for free in Cambodia, and I was required to pay $30 (USD) for a one-month visa. At the visa office I was overcharged $5 by man loftily named Police Captain Srey Sokha (his name is stamped in my passport forever). What was I to do? Short of saying, “Isn’t it thirty USD?”, which I did say, it was either pay or enter a standoff with what looked like an incredibly patient (and presumably unmovable) man. Caroline wisely said to look on it as a donation. She was required to pay 100 baht, and so were a bunch of Thai tourists who were doing the crossing. None of these fees were legitimate, but that’s fine. Lunch is on us, okay guys?

Prum

The tiny town of Prum had two prominent features; a handful of casinos that attracted Thais across the border, and several jovial men with holes in their teeth who wanted money from confused looking people wearing backpacks. We peered into the former, and ran away the latter. It was still raining, and we ambled aimlessly about the ramshackle town looking for a place to have a drink and gather our thoughts. During our walk a man on a motorcycle pulled up and asked us where we wanted to go. Something about the guy was likeable, and so we began to negotiate a price to get to Pailin.

Then somebody over the road started yelling in our direction. Then a car pulled up and a man leaped out, pointing up at the rain. Two men suddenly appeared behind us and started squabbling. The man who first yelled was now upon us. They all wanted the same thing: sweet, sweet foreign money. It was like innocently throwing a bit of bread to a single seagull, and then having to run to your car because you’ve found yourself in an Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ situation. While the men argued and boomed prices at us, we calmly finished our negotiations with the original driver ($6 to Pailin). He managed to squeeze two of us and our bags on his bike, and we quietly drove away.

Pailin

Pailin is a town which is still clearly feeling the wounds of the Khmer Rouge. It was the final stronghold of the regime*, and was one of the main towns they retreated to before the fall. A large portion of the men who live in the area fought for the Rouge, and will possibly never be taken to trial for their parts in the bloody regime. Landmines litter the area, and are still being reported exploding as late as 2014.

* Apologies, but this is not accurate. Anlong Veng was actually the last stronghold, finally coming under government control in 1998.

The area was once rich in gemstones, but most of these were mined to support the Khmer Rouge, and now the stores at the market are selling low-quality or imported stones.

We only spent a couple of days in Pailin, walking the rubbish-laden streets, past quiet small businesses, attempting to chat with the people, and diving into our first taste of Cambodian food. The demeanor of the people we met was reminiscent of the places in Kalimantan and Thailand that were off the tourist path; curious (to the point of looking surly) and then very smiley once greeted. Despite the obvious poverty, rubbish, and struggling nature of the town, the people seem to realise that life goes on, and the feeling that the town exuded was welcoming, if not charming.

'Char katna', according to the woman who made it, or 'fried broccoli'. Clearly, it's not broccoli.

‘Char katna’, according to the woman who made it, or ‘fried broccoli’. Clearly, it’s not broccoli.

"Char kdal', fried chicken with lots of small bones. Again, that may of may not be the correct name - it's just what I wrote down in my notebook.

“Char kdal’, fried chicken with lots of small bones. Again, that may or may not be the correct name – it’s just what I wrote down in my notebook.

Barbequed pork on rice with condiments. Very chinese, and very delicious. Everything you see here, including bottomless tea, cost $2 USD.

Barbecued pork on rice with condiments. Very Chinese, and very delicious. Everything you see here, including bottomless tea, cost $2.

Walking the streets

Walking the streets

A bas-relief depicting the Samudra manthan or Churning of the ocean of milk in hindu mythology. Long story short: demons and gods tug at opposing ends of a snake that is wrapped around a mountain. The mountain rotates, and eventually extracts the nectar of immortality, among other things.

A bas-relief depicting the Samudra Manthan or churning of the ocean of milk in Hindu mythology. Long story short: demons and gods tug at opposing ends of a snake that is wrapped around a mountain. The mountain rotates, and eventually extracts the nectar of immortality, among other things.

This is the demon side

This is the demon side

A leaning chedi at Wat Rattanak Sophoan...

A leaning chedi at Wat Rattanak Sophoan…

...and the cows behind it

…and the cows behind it

The pagoda at Wat Phnom Yat, built by Burmese Shan immigrants in the early 1920s

The pagoda at Wat Phnom Yat, built by Burmese Shan immigrants in the early 1920s

The view of Pailin town from the top of our 'guest house', the Pailin Ruby.

The view of Pailin town from the top of our ‘guest house’ (multi-storey hotel), the Pailin Ruby. Knowing that this is downtown gives you an idea of how tiny the place is.

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Just an ordinary train

4 thoughts on “Crossing the Phsar Prum Border and visiting Pailin

  1. Hi there, great page. I randomly came across your page when searching for things in Pailin. I’ve travelled from Battambang to Pailin and will venture over the same border in a few days. I checked out the Ruby hotel (double bed quoted for $11) but the viewed room was a little run down but ok for a short stay. Decided to look around at other options. Not many at all. The guy in reception was helpful in pointing us to the better Pailin City Hotel, which is quite new, US$15 a night for a double bed, but they call it a single room because it has one bed. A room with a double bed and a single bed is US$20. Other options also available. Tonight 9.30pm, went for a walk looking for food, not recommended, almost nothing open and many dodgy characters checking us out. It was like a ghost town in fact. Returned to the hotel and purchased cup noodles for 50 cents. I’m looking forward to the interesting journey ahead over the border into Thailand. All the best to you.

    1. Thanks for the info and kind words, Nick. Pailin is certainly quite different from Battambang, and if your next stop is Thailand you’ll see an even more drastic difference (assuming you haven’t already visited Thailand).

      50 cent noodles don’t sound too appealing! I remember in Pailin at dinner time we approached a cart that looked like it sold food, but we couldn’t figure out what they had or how to order. It may have been soup of some kind, but it wasn’t immediately obvious. We spent a couple of flustered minutes trying to communicate with the lady who ran the cart, but she just looked at us like we were crazy and we eventually walked way. That’s what you get for not knowing ANY of the language after one day in a country.

    1. You have a very specific reason to travel, eh? Nope, we didn’t find (or try to find) any weed in Pailin. If you do get some in Cambodia and then are caught with it, apparently they’re quite lenient as long as you don’t have too much. Just pay a bribe.

      Note: this is not legal advice. In fact, it’s terrible advice.

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