An eerie haze rises above the trees as dawn breaks over Anlong Veng. This small market town slowly awakes as iron gates are gradually pulled back and the day’s stock revealed. Children rush to school all the while older ladies take their daily pilgrimage to the market. 24 hours had passed since leaving Siem Reap.
Leaving via the temple road, our journey north started at the Angkorian Archaeological Park passing Sras Song and Pre Rup towards Bantey Srey. Along the way we see the new Butterfly Center, the Landmine Museum, the Institute of Khmer Textiles and signs for the Angkor Centre of Conservation and Bio-diversity. This new route is finding itself full of tourist activities. Another detour could take us to the cooling waterfalls of Mount Kulen or the river of a thousand lingas at Kbal Spein. We proceed forward to our next destination of Anlong Veng, a two hour journey straight from Siem Reap.
Straw roofed huts, ox drawn carts and locals getting on with their daily lives show a true reflection of Cambodia away from the tourist bubble Siem Reap has become…
Simple farming communities line the newly built roads which make our journey swifter than had we taken the same route a few weeks earlier. Straw roofed huts, ox drawn carts and locals getting on with their daily lives show a true reflection of Cambodia away from the tourist bubble Siem Reap has become.
Standing proud, on the side of a lake, we visit Ta Mok’s house. It is more or less a shell with nothing left but a few reminders of its stronghold in history; two rusty cages and one rickety prison van. Inside, the walls are painted with colourful pictures of temples and jungle scenes of bountiful forests with an abundance of animals. How Cambodia once was. It is an interesting US$ 2 spent, but unfortunately lacking any sort of historical reference to its owner, a senior figure in the Khmer Rouge.
Curiosity sets in as we see for sale tea and unrecognisable substances… ‘No more sick’ is the response to our query as we exchange quizzical looks over some strange black sticks. Apparently a magical healing power if mixed with rice water or straight onto a bad tooth to heal its ache.
Outside, we visit Anlong Veng’s tourist information centre hoping for a better insight of what this region has to offer. Disappointingly, we are greeted with brown faded photographs and magazine cut outs of luxury hotels in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Not far from Ta Mok’s House a dusty red track leads to Restaurant 168 offering welcome refreshment. Ta Mok’s lake provides an interesting back drop. This manmade baray was built as a watering hole during Khmer Rouge time. By simply filling up an empty meadow killed the vegetation and all that’s left are prominent, decaying trees; rotting trunks jutting from the water.
We snake up towards Dorngrek Hill, Pol Pot’s jungle hideaway. Quite literally Thailand is on the other side. Spirit houses, Halo Trust and Danger Mines signal the way. It is well advised not to go off the beaten track. The mountainside view is incredible and you can even stay for US$ 8 a night and wake up to look out over the Cambodian plains. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a concrete eyesore. Nevertheless, cold beers and hammocks allow time to rest and enjoy the view.
Back down the hill we visit, in trepidation, Pol Pot’s grave. ‘That’s it?’ was one visitor’s comment. It’s a sombre, lonely place. ‘Shouldn’t there be more?’ Perhaps a historical anecdote of the death destruction caused during the regime? Or just leave it – a silent grave on the incline of a hill left to the wilds of nature?
24 hours on as the morning fog clears we are faced with a beautiful orange and pink dazzling sun. Anlong Veng is a busy market town. What it is not is a backpackers’ hangout or tourist Mecca. It is, however, of specific historical significance, and a good half way spot for those travelling on to Preah Vihear.
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