When I first left China on February 7th to escape coronavirus and without the knowledge of how serious it would become, I decided to arrange a research trip. Not owling tours in Asia you understand, but to research some serious dark tourism. Not that there’s anything wrong with owling tours that is.
Said trip would have me taking in various places in South-East Asia, whilst finishing in Anlong Veng in northern Cambodia. Alas COVID-19 became much more serious and of course other parts of life got in the way.
Fate though being what she is led me to be based in Cambodia, so whilst it is 4 months late, I have now finished my trip.
What’s the deal with Anlong Veng?
Beijing Tokyo Anlong Veng is not! Anlong Veng is a small town bordering Thailand in northern Cambodia. During the 80s it was occupied by Vietnamese forces, but after their withdrawal came the Khmer Rouge. They would remain there in some shape or form until 1999. It is the last resting place of most of the main players of the Cambodian genocide.
How do you get to Anlong Veng?
It’s roughly 3 hours from Siem Reap, although we took a detour via the Koh Ker Temples, which added another 3 hours to the journey. I’ll write later about the Koh Kor temples as they’re well worth a visit. There’s no airport here so to fly from a Beijing Tokyo type route you’d initially need to fly to Siem Reap.
What is there to do in Anlong Veng?
This is a dark tourism spot and you come here if you’re interested in historical sites related to the Khmer Rouge.
Anlong Veng Town
The town is fairly unassuming in itself, but has at least one attraction, namely the home of Ta Mok. Ta Mok is also known as Brother No 4 and in less eloquent circles The Butcher.
Ta Mok’s Townhouse – Easily signposted in Anlong Veng town. This is the closest to a classic tourist attraction you will find here. A post apocalyptic heavy truck used for propaganda, many open rooms, a book for sale, and photo displays on the wall. Of all the corner Khmer Rouge cadres he is the most widely appreciated due to the economic progress he brought to the area. Next to his house is the man made lake he created to make his house more comfortable!
Heading up the mountain – setting the adventure standard
The rest of the attractions are located when you head up the mountain and towards the Thai border.
Grave of Son Sen – Grave is a bit of exaggeration here. Pol Pot ordered the killing of Son Sen in 1997. Twelve family members were shot, ran over with a trick, and buried in a mass grave. This is really macabre. Five minutes walk from the mass grave is the memorial to Ta Mok which truly adds to the surreal situation.
Towards the Thai Border
Grave of Pol Pot – as soon as you get to the top of the hill you’ll see a HUGE casino resort, ironically Pol Pot is opposite here. Many have described the grave site of Pol Pot as underwhelming. It isn’t, unless you need a gift shop and a ticket booth. This is off the beaten track travel.
The Thai Border – Remember the old days when we crossed borders? Here’s a genuine border! There’s a cool old crossing with amandine buildings on the way to Pol Pot’s house.
Anlong Veng Peace observatory – Offers stunning views over a plateau into northern Cambodia. You can also grab a beer here, which I guess makes it street food valid.
Mountain home of Ta Mok – opposite the observatory and genuinely underwhelming. Worth coming just for the hammocks and the view.
The Pol Pot bunker
This is as off the beaten track as it gets. The only way to make the final 6km from the observatory is by taking a motorbike off-road, really setting the adventure standard of the trip. If you can’t drive gears, or you’ve never driven off- road you’re gonna have a bad time. The alternative is to take a driver, although this makes it no less terrifying. The journey there will consist of lots of stopping to ask Khmer people (who don’t speak English) “Pol Pot”? And then following where their hands point. What you are greeted with at the end makes it all worthwhile. Pol Pot’s bunker shows just how paranoid the Khmer Rouge leader was at the end. Suffice to say not many tourists venture out this far.
Where to eat in Anlong Veng?
If you’re in town there’s lots of options, but if you head up to the mountains by the Thai border, less so. We ate at the “coffee chnganh phnom dong rek” which aside from great coffee had surprisingly good seafood.
Street Food Anlong Veng
Well I am the street food guy after all! When you arrive in Anlong Veng there’s lots of classic outdoor Khmer cuisine restaurants. It’s easy to pick up street BBQ, Cambodian noodles and the like.
Where to sleep in Anlong Veng?
Again lots of options in town, but if you’re up on the mountain it’s all about Hang Hotel. It reminded us of the Dongrim Hotel. We are some of the few people that compare to a North Korean Hotel, but mean it as a compliment. Three star, no breakfast, but 24 dollars a night.
Conclusion on Anlong Veng
If you read Wikitravel or the Lonely Planet you’d assume this place is a hell hole and everyone that visits is evil. This is a really interesting place, the scenery is stunning and it offers a much rawer experience than just going to S-21 or a killing fields tour.
Street Food Guy likes Along Veng!