If you are to believe everything guides such as Wikitravel, or the Lonely Planet say, then you’d think that Anlong Veng was nothing, but a haunt for weirdos and without a redeeming feature.
In fact, Along Veng and its surrounding areas are not only beautiful but extremely important when it comes to the contemporary history of Cambodia. Here’s our ultimate guide to traveling to Anlong Veng.
History of Anlong Veng
The Khmer Rouge might have fallen from power in 1979, but it took almost 20 years for them to lay down arms, and in their former heartlands their influence has essentially never gone away.
Following the peace process and the elections that the Khmer Rouge boycotted in 1993 the group formed a rump state in the northern parts of Cambodia that they still held as The Provisional Government of National Union and National Salvation of Cambodia (PGNUNSC)
From 1994-96 the main capital was the gem producing city of Pailin before Ieng Sary defected to government forces, essentially being gifted Pailin in the process, whilst the remaining members fled to Anlong Veng.
From then on everything got a lot more complicated as infighting rocked Angkor (the organization).
In 1997 fearing more defections Pol Pot ordered the execution of Son Sen and Ta Mok (as well as their families). The execution of Son Sen proved successful, but Ta Mok was not only to survive but take over the Khmer Rouge.
As leader Ta Mok had Pol Pot arrested and put on trial, not for crimes against humanity you understand, but crimes against the party.
Pol Pot was to die in relative obscurity allegedly of a heart attack in 1998. A few months after the death of Pol Pot (in Anlong Veng) Ta Mok fled to the Thai border and was not captured until 1999.
Following the end of the Khmer Rouge rule and the patronage of Ta Mok, the area fell into relative decline, but this has improved somewhat over the last few years. There is also a burgeoning dark tourism industry related to the last of the Khmer Rouge, which is what brought us there.
How do you get to Anlong Veng?
There are buses from Siem Reap, where it is roughly a 3-hour drive from. It is possible to mix it up a bit and drop in on the Koh Ker historical sites before heading to Anlong Veng.
It is 5 hours, or so drive from Pailin (the last Khmer Rouge capital city) as well as being a Thai border crossing.
What is there to do in Anlong Veng Town
The main tourist attractions related to the Khmer Rouge are situated further up the mountain towards the Thai border, but there are a few bits in town to see.
- Ta Mok’s townhouse – whilst the Khmer Rouge and their leaders are not that well thought of, Ta Mok seems to be the exception. His townhouse is well decked out with photos and original artifacts. They even sell a book. Very interesting former “propaganda truck”, as well as great views of the lake. The Ta Mok lake was created at massive cost, both financially and ecologically so that Ta Mok had water next to his house.
- Grave of the Son Sen family – Son Sen was executed with his 13 of his family, including children, with the bodies being driven over by trucks. A very macabre site with sticks marking the mass grave.
- Memorial to Ta Mok – eerily located next to the grave of Son Sen. A very opulent memorial with everything considered.
Towards the Thai border
Once you go up towards the Thai border the historical sites start to get a bit more interesting
- Cremation site of Pol Pot – Located just in front of the Thai border and ironically now next to an absolutely huge casino (currently closed). People have described it as underwhelming, but frankly, they are wrong! If you need your tourist spots with all bells and whistles you might not like it here. Alternatively, if you want to visit eerie graves presented as they are then you will enjoy it here. We have written a blog dedicated to this site.
- Ta Mok’s mountain house – This is genuinely a bit underwhelming, but there is a plaque here and it is literally next door to the Anlong Veng peace observatory.
- Anlong Veng Peace Observatory – looks out at an amazing plateau of the Cambodian countryside, as well as having hammocks and cold beers. This is true Cambodian wilderness
- The house/bunker of Pol Pot – This deserves a blog in its own right and is no easy feat to achieve! You will need off-road motorbike experience as well as being able to drive gears. Alternatively, you can hire a motorbike driver/guide, although this will make it no less terrifying. What follows is a drive through the jungle and amazing mountainside scenery as you trailblazer where few tourists have ventured to tread. At the end, you are presented with a literal bunker and the last home of Pol Pot. Scary, hard work, but extremely worth it. For more detailed information on how to get to the bunker please click here.
Where to sleep in Anlong Veng?
There are numerous hotels, pseudo-hostels and guesthouses in town, but if you are up the mountain then our personal suggestion would be the Heng Hotel, located on the same street as the death place of Pol Pot. Reminds us somewhat of the Dongrim Hotel in Sinuiju, but when that comes from us it is an actual compliment!
It is a 3 star and costs $24 a night, really what more do you want?
Where to eat in Anlong Veng?
Anlong Veng town has multiple options, but by the mountainside, options are a little more scarce. We ended up at the Dangrek Mountain Restaurant. It is located within walking distance to the Thai border and for some weird reason had amazing fish! We also did breakfast and post motorbike beers here. Very friendly and efficient.
Conclusion on Anlong Veng?
We are currently marooned in Cambodia, so have been desperate to take this trip for a while. There is genuinely very little information about visiting Along Veng online, hence our Anlong Veng guide.
If you have more than a passing interest in Khmer Rouge history and like classic South-East Asian jungle trips then this is for you. If not, well it probably isn’t. It really is that simple.
Check out Anlong Veng, among other places on our Cambodia Dark Tourism Tour.