Charming rural town, hastily vacated, awaits new occupants: unique location with
spectacular lakes, forests and wildlife; excellent community amenities built with
foreign expertise; existing roads and residences, but may require a little handy-work
such as demining; access a bit tricky but perfect for adventure seekers. Applications
to new town managers, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
Thinking of moving house to escape the grind of urban living? Seeking a special home-away-from-home
for weekend excursions? Or looking for new business opportunities, in a land where
money literally grows on trees? For a piece of rustic real estate with an address
which will raise eyebrows, consider Anlong Veng, a sprawling semi-developed resort
in the jungles of northern Cambodia.
Its previous tenants forcibly evicted for anti-social behavior, this quaint lakeside
hamlet just became available on the market. (The previous landlord has designs on
resuming occupancy, so it may be wise wait a little before investing too much here).
If sister town Pailin is anything to go by, Anlong Veng is set to become a booming
center of prosperity, security and peace of mind for all.
Situated in northern Siem Reap province just 20km from the Cambodian-Thai border,
much of what you need for a rapid relocation is already here: accommodation options
range from an array of thatch shacks to one small mansion with elaborate wall murals
(bidding for that residence is likely to start high); a ready water supply from beautiful
lakes and reservoirs; and ancient Angkorian stone carvings to brighten up your house
and garden. For a limited time only, historical photographs, books and other souvenirs
are available at cut-throat prices to decorate your new abode.
The area's colorful history offers immense tourism potential, property values which
can only appreciate, and great dinner-table conversation for your weekend guests.
For your family, there are important amenities: the local school (just ignore those
slogans on the blackboards about destroying the enemy), and the hospital (which should
be fine once pharmaceutical supplies resume from Thailand).
Like the former occupants of Anlong Veng, you should be able to get anything else
you need from friendly Thailand as well. Famous for their generosity, open-mindedness
and refusal to jump to stereotyped prejudices about their neighbors, the Thais can
be counted upon to offer the best hospitality that money can buy.
Unfortunately, direct access from Thailand to this picturesque hideaway is not yet
recommended: the one-legged former lord of Anlong Veng and his hired hands remain
loitering in the border area, and are said to guard their privacy ruthlessly (except
when showing off their dead).
In the meantime, the transport options are army helicopter (tends to be overloaded
and attracted to minefields), or vehicle (anywhere between six and 10 hours) from
Siem Reap. Army tanks, mobile rocket launchers, trucks, water tankers and the occasional
jeep ply a dirt logging road to the heart of Anlong Veng. Extreme discomfort is assured,
but so too is charming conversation with fellow travelers, such as young buck soldiers
clinging to their jars of rice wine, rather than their B40 rockets, as they ride
After miles of weaving through dense jungle, the road suddenly improves and widens
into a clearing. The promised land lies ahead: Anlong Veng, bastion of rabid revolutionaries,
hardened guerrillas and tireless lumberjacks (not necessarily in that order) for
more than a decade, and scene of unspeakable brutalities and uncountable deaths.
At first glance, it seems a charming place to live. A large lake - dotted with marshy
islands and the slender trunks of hundreds of dead trees, poised like erect skeletons
in a watery graveyard - sets the picturesque scene. Mist shrouds the tree-tops; fish
ripple the still water; mango and coconut trees line the lake banks; a pangolin strolls
along a track; a blue-and-green wild bird arches through the air - and an RCAF soldier
hungry for fresh meat lets off a few shots at it from his AK47 - as the dull thuds
of exploding artillery shells float in from the distance. Paradise, almost.
"Sa'at na (very beautiful)" agrees a soldier, waving a careless arm toward
the lake before resuming his game of cards. He and several dozen other RCAF troops
and Khmer Rouge defectors camping in the center of the hamlet - most of their comrades
are away in the north, giving a loud sendoff to the town's previous residents - seem
The sun is scorching, but there's a ready supply of water to quench their thirst.
"Tuek Ta Mok (Ta Mok's water)," they gleefully remark, pointing toward
plastic containers of lake water. A KR defector explains that the natural lake used
to be only parched earth in the dry season until Mr Mok - better-known for his mass
murder than his community development - built dikes around it to maintain a steady
water level. That killed the trees, but in exchange Mok stocked it with fish. "He
banned the people from using nets; they could only catch fish one by one," someone
explains of the ecologically-friendly Mok.
But enough of nature. On to the amenities: first there's the plain three-story concrete
school. It boasts nine classrooms, with wooden shuttered windows and views across
the lake and countryside. This is a safety-conscious building: the stairway has a
plastic-coated iron banister, and anti-skid strips on the edges of the steps.
The curriculum may require a few modifications before you send your kids here, however.
"Bad-smelling meat or any enemies within our lines must be absolutely destroyed"
is one of dozens of rules and principles written on moveable blackboards in one classroom
- the previous school administration can't be accused of lax discipline standards.
The blackboards do offer advice on how to be a good leader, such as "learn how
to conduct hit- and-run warfare", "struggle hard against external and internal
national enemies" and, of course, "love the nation and people" and
"do not violate the principles of democracy". Bad behavior, meanwhile,
is said to include drinking alcohol, listening to enemy radio bulletins, stealing
or killing (except the enemy, presumably), gambling, doing business with people on
the government side, or being "completely absorbed in girls".
As for writing lines, a common punishment in any school, there is "Khmer are
not fighting Khmer. Khmer are all together fighting the Yuon [Vietnamese] genocidal
invaders" written in chalk on one blackboard.
Lying on a floor is a mock letter which shows children how to write to their parents:
"Dear parent.... I get up early in the morning to water vegetables, and then
I go to school. When I come back from school in the evening, I help to water vegetables,
fill the water jars and help to do other jobs.
Blackboard slogans at the school
"I am studying hard and build myself up to become a good child. When I grow
up, I will help the uncle soldiers to fight the aggressor yuon enemy out of Cambodia.
"I have almost run out of books, please send me some more. All the best. With
Outside, the school has a large dirt courtyard, complete with tall flagpole. There's
no flag, but two government tanks parked outside leave no doubt of who writes the
new school rules.
A few hundred meters down the road, the three-story hospital does bear a Cambodian
government flag fluttering from its roof. It should have previously flown the Thai
flag, if its pharmaceutical patrons are anything to judge by. Discarded medicine
boxes show that virtually all its drugs came from the Thai capital. "M&H
Manufacturing Co, Ltd 41 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok" reads a label on an empty
box of penicillin with an Aug 29, 1997 manufacturing date. A box of lidocaine hydrochloride
is identified as coming from Union Drugs Laboratories, Ltd, on the same Bangkok street.
The only non-Thai goods appeared to be a box of intravenous needles originating from
the Becton Dickinson company in Sandy, Utah, USA.
The hospital (built between 1993-95, according to a defector) has been thoroughly
looted but even in this state appears considerably better than many in rural Cambodia:
there are about 20 blue metal hospital beds, a couple of oxygen cylinders, boxes
of beakers and test tubes, Kodak X-ray film strewn around (no sign of the X-ray machine,
presumably looted), big bottles of hydrochloric acid ("For cutting people's
legs off," notes an RCAF soldier), wads of bandages and piles of handwritten
The living room of Ta Mok's former residence
Outside, there is a pleasant rest area, a concrete courtyard with 20 or so Angkorian
artifacts arranged around it. "From smugglers arrested by the Khmer Rouge,"
says an RCAF soldier as he runs his hands over them. The lions, nagas and other stone
carvings came from Banteay Srei, Angkor Wat and other temples, according to defectors.
Nearby is a large brick-and-wood hall, apparently the town meeting place, bearing
a large mural of Angkor Wat. There are also a series of community messages such as
"Hun Sen is a criminal who cruelly massacred Khmer people" and, in case
its residents didn't realize it, "[Anlong Veng] follows a parliamentary system
with democracy and pluralism and free-market economics".
Elsewhere, there are smaller barns: a paint shop, a workshop for producing steel
and concrete water pipes, and a shed for a large generator.
A two-lane firm dirt road winds around the lake, crossing a well-made concrete bridge
with the words "Built by the farmers and workers" carved into it. Well,
with a little help from the Thai engineers who came here last year to supervise its
construction, according to defector Oun Nin.
A deep irrigation ditch runs alongside the road as it continues past the bridge.
Turn right at an intersection, and the road stretches around the other side of the
lake. It's time to check out the best accommodation in town, and already its biggest
tourist attraction - Ta Mok's house. A communications aerial towering above the lakeside
house marks the spot that everyone wants to see.
Blooming red flame trees, potted plants and several Angkorian carvings create an
elegant entranceway to Chez Mok, though the aesthetics are ruined a little by a great
concrete wall propping up one side of his two-story abode. The inside, however, is
not disappointing. The ground floor is tastefully outfitted with timber beams across
the ceiling, neutral-colored floor tiles, and murals of Preah Vihear temple and Angkor
Wat on the walls. The furnishings have been looted, except for a fine wood table,
a couple of benches, and plant holders made out of the casings of old bombs.
One of Ta Mok's two toilets
Upstairs is similarly enchanting, with a painted landscape - elephants, deer, monkeys,
lush jungle and a glistening waterfall - sharing one wall with another picture of
Angkor Wat. Of dubious decorative taste, however, is the war map which holds pride
of place between the two murals: Cambodia's provinces are depicted in vivid colors,
with neighboring Vietnam marked as "yuon enemy"; a large yellow arrow points
to Ho Chi Minh City, identified as "Kampuchea Krom stolen by yuon enemy".
Huge wooden pillars hold up the ceilings on each floor. "We just chopped trees
down, cut them in two and dragged them in here," explains a defector. And the
roof? Ta Mok, the man who tried to ban tin roofs as an unnecessary luxury in this
land of revolution, had 'Hacienda'-brand ceramic tiles on his roof to keep the rain
The bathrooms are less than luxurious but do have western-style toilet seats (this
jungle revolutionary does not squat, it seems) though they have to be manually flushed
with water pails. The house comes complete with four large water tanks and a modern
water filtration machine (all Thai-made). There are two concrete bunker-type basements,
a carport big enough to take a couple of tanks, and two adjoining smaller buildings
for family, visitors or bodyguards. Unfortunately, the new tenants - RCAF soldiers
who have strung their hammocks around the buildings - have taken quite a shine to
the residence. For a new home of your own, you may have to look further afield. Virtually
within a stone's throw from Mok's house, down a smaller road, is the next-best accommodation:
the former homes of Chan Youran, Khieu Samphan, Tep Kunnal, Mak Ben and the other
supposed 'intellectuals'. Built on stilts, they are simple, one-room wood houses.
But - with their tin roofs - they are sumptuous compared to the thatch shacks in
outlying villages around central Anlong Veng.
Once you've found a home, you'll be needing some pictures on the walls. There's a
ready supply of historical photographs (Pol Pot with machine gun, Pol Pot with bodyguard,
Pol Pot in gray suit, and assorted other war criminals all looking smug) available
from a friendly RCAF soldier near you. Bring your own picture of King Sihanouk and
Queen Monineath to hang above your door, otherwise you'll have to pick up a tatty
one of the Thai King and Queen off the ground.
Beds in the local hospital
As for a library, you can instantly collect one: Chan Youran's copy of The Man Who
Kept the Secrets - Richard Helms and the CIA, by Thomas Powers ("A splendid
story...tells as much about the presidency as the CIA and leaves me scared stiff
of both" is the John Le Carre front cover endorsement); Khieu Samphan's surprisingly
well-worn copy of the UN International Bill of Human Rights (the only parts which
attracted his red pen were about the right to form trade unions and strike, and the
right to expel foreigners from a country for national security reasons); many French
and English dictionaries (the words "revolution", "cause", "perseverance",
"firmness", "surely decided", and "hatch the eggs"
handwritten on the inside cover of a 1970 edition of Cassell's Compact French-English,
English-French Dictionary). For heavier reading, there's the 1965 Cambodia's Foreign
Policy (Cornell University Press) and 1978 Communist Indochina and US Foreign Policy:
Postwar Realities (Westview Special Studies in International Relations).
If history rewritten is your forte, there's the locally-produced and more recent
Crimes Committed by Yuon Aggressors and Hun Sen Against Cambodians, 1978-97, a booklet
of photographs of malnourished, sick or dead people, apparently refugees in the 1980s.
Other collectibles abound in Anlong Veng, though their authenticity could be in doubt:
"Pol Pot's medicine!" one soldier touts, offering an unmarked old bottle
of yellowing pills.
Need business cards? Borrow Chan Youran's - "Ambassador of Cambodia, SNC,"
- or his wife's - "Mrs Chan Youran, Embassy of Democratic Kampuchea, Beijing"
- or an old card of Mr Zheng Guocai - "International Liaison Department, Central Committee, Communist Party of China." You never know, the right business card
might help ease your trade with Thailand.
A pot plant holder fashioned out of the tail of an unexploded
bomb at Ta Mok's house
Hospital courtyard with Angkorian statues