We are currently camped out in a small hilltop hotel in Cambodia, 30 km from the Thai border. We had a sunny, hot, and moderately hilly ride today, but it is currently 85 degrees and raining hard. We are at an outdoor restaurant enjoying a victory beer, catching up on Wi-Fi and contemplating the history that surrounds us.
After crossing the border from Thailand this morning, the landscape changed a bit.
The newly paved Thai roads with wide shoulders, bike lanes, and rest stops were replaced with ruddy, dirt roads and rough pavements. There are more scooters on the main roads but it is still very comfortable biking. We rode some dirt back roads and paths through plantations of tapioca plants with the Cardamon mountains in the background. Very little traffic on the back roads.
The scenery could not have been more beautiful, and we have been tickled at the kids running out to greet us and practice their “hellos” then chuckling at our bumbling Cambodian greetings.
Our destination was Pailin, a sleepy hill town, which was once a thriving agricultural location with many French coffee plantations before the Cambodian civil war. The town, once numbering over one million people and now only about 80K, is working to rebuild the economy and deal with the tragedies of the past. As late as 1996, Pailin was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and residence of two of their top leaders (two brothers of the infamous Camobidian leader, Pol Pot)
We are staying at Memoria (Spanish for memories). It is a great little spot about 10 minutes from town. The hotel is run by a brother and sister team that is working to make a difference in the community. The site is said to be an old ammunition store for the Khmer Rouge, and the pool site, overlooking the city of Pailin, was said to have been a location for artillery and cannons that reigned down on the city below. The two owners are building a local company to help the economy and provide jobs as well as building a spot for visitors to consider and remember the past.