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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No longer a gem mecca, but Pailin still sparkling

No longer a gem mecca, but Pailin still sparkling

120312_20

A gentle breeze, the song of cicadas, a waterfall and dense forest are the natural attractions of the Otavao valley, about a 20 minute motorbike ride from Pailin town on Phnom Kiev in Cambodia’s northwestern corner. 

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Otavao waterfall, with its many high slopes, is the top attraction here, especially for local people, who come every day to slide or soak in the cascading waters.

But that doesn’t mean Pailin province, about 400 kilometres from Phnom Penh and 18 kilometres from the Thai border, only counts the waterfall as its main attraction.

Visitors can admire Phnom Yat with it’s recently restored golden Burmese stupa on top and the beautiful landscape around Phnom Kiev.

Pailin town becomes hot in the dry season, so the waterfalls and cool breeze in Otavao make for a good place to relax.

With food stands near the waterfall, it’s easy to see the day go by here.

Otavao can be reached from Pailin town by car or motodop.

The price for a round trip to the falls and waiting time is about US$10 per motodop.

Apart from its charming scenery, Pailin also has another natural attraction – the precious stones buried beneath its surface.

The region was once home to a bustling gemstone trade, mainly rubies and sapphires.

Until 2000, gemstones were actively traded, but now only a few gem shops remain in the town.

But local miners still carry their sift baskets to a small stream near Sampoav village, about four kilometres from Pailin town, to search for stones the traditional way.  

Moeng Morn, 59, one of the miners, usually finds smaller pieces of ruby and sapphire rather than precious stones. However, he can still make some money from selling his small stones.        

In Pailin town, the owner of Pailin Gemstone Shop, Sheak Chhan Dara, said there are no problems selling gemstones on the market.

Many people, most of them locals or expat Cambodians visiting from abroad, come every day looking to buy rubies and sapphires.

One carat of sapphire or ruby costs about $300, he said. The problem for him is that miners cannot find the high-quality gemstones that clients want.      

Though the gemstone era has passed its heyday in Pailin, the economy here still has potential.

Yon Noeun, the credit officer of the microfinance company Vision Fund, based in Pailin town, notes that his clients are mostly former Khmer Rouge supporters who do well as farmers, growing corn, cassava, beans and fruit because the land is fertile.

Their products can be sent to Thailand very quickly because they are close to the border, he sad.

While Pailin is shifting from gems to agriculture, this former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, once studded with large trees, has been logged to accommodate wide agricultural fields.
 
Its unique history and natural beauty all make Pailin, both town and province, a corner of Cambodia worth exploring.  

Two popular guest houses with visitors are Pailin Ruby, in the centre of town, and The Bamboo, about 3 kilometres from the centre. The price for a single room is about $10.
There are two bus companies, Punleu Angkor and Paramount Angkor Express, that go straight from Phnom Penh to Pailin, and vice versa, with two departures a day: 8am and 9am. The ticket price is about $9 and the bus trip takes approximately six hours.

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