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Oddar Meancheay

Introduction

Oddar Meanchey is one of the smallest provinces of Cambodia located in the far Northwest bordering with Thailand. Its name means Victory Province and the provincial capital is called Samraong. This area was formerly known as Phanomsok, a province of Thailand, which was ceded to French Indochina in 1906, and now remains a part of Cambodia. This province is also a recent creation that was carved out of Siem Reap Province, which the government did not control for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

The countryside is covered by the Dangrek Mountains (or escarpment, as they are sometimes called), which was an optimal shelter for the Khmer Rouge to hide. It is a very remote province that has been a notorious place, because this is where he nastiest of the nasty Khmer Rouge made their last stand. The diabolical Pol Pot and his seemingly bloodthirsty henchmen, Nuon Chea, Ta Mok, Son Sen and Khieu Samphan holed up here for the last years of the Khmer Rouge’s existence (another of the henchmen, Ieng Sary, already worked out a surrender and defection deal with the government in 1996).

Pol Pot died mysteriously here, after a supposed power struggle within the power elite (he had Son Sen and his family murdered) and after a controversial show trial. The debate focused on whether it was real or just a sham staged for the outside world to try to legitimize remaining Khmer Rouge figures. The trial took place in the power centre of the Khmer Rouge, the village of Anlong Veng. Pol Pot died mysteriously after he was sentenced to house arrest and the international community began real efforts (for the first time ever) to capture and put this butcher on trial.

His henchmen had more than enough reasons to believe that he wasn’t dead at that point, because a Pol Pot on trial, as the ringleader most responsible for the genocide wrought upon his fellow countrymen, would probably have tried to shift portions of the blame (rightfully in the case of these guys) to the rest of the power elite.

The Khmer Rouge kept fragmenting after that and Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan worked out a surrender-amnesty deal with the Cambodian government and Ta Mok (also called The Butcher) was subsequently captured and is still awaiting a trial in Phnom Penh. As of March 2000, the United Nations and the Cambodian government finally seem set to come up with an agreement on putting the top surviving members of the Khmer Rouge regime on trial in Cambodia, with assistance from and in a partnership with the International Community. Stay tuned though, as this has been a real political football with seemingly more concern for one-upsmanship and personal gain than justice for the dead and surviving victims of Khmer Rouge brutality.

The international border is 14.5 km from the circle in Anlong Veng (Anlong Veng-Choam-Choam- Srawngam and O Smach-Chong Jom). There are plenty of tanks and tank shells to look at along the way and also a strange site in the form of a boulder that had Khmer Rouge soldiers carved out of the sides of it- they have all been decapitated since government forces took control of Anlong Veng. Anyway, it’s an interesting little ride to a low-lying part of the Dangkrek Mountains. The road is in fairly good shape with the exception of the climb up a rocky hillside near the border.

Geography

Oddar Meanchey province is 6,158 square kilometres big. It’s located in the far Northwest of the country and is bordering to the North with a lengthy borderline to Thailand, to the East with Preah Vihear, to the West with Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap to the South. In the North the province consists of the re-known Dangkrek Mountains, which are more or less the hill foods of the massive mountain range (the real Dangkrek Mountains) coming from Thailand. There is a nice interesting wildlife sanctuary called Kulen Promtep in the Southeast of the province. The rest of the province is an agricultural used strip, where the illegal logging of the 1980s and 1990s shows its rampant face.

Climate

The country has a tropical climate – warm and humid. In the monsoon season, abundant rain allows for the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. This year-round tropical climate makes Cambodia ideal for developing tourism. Travelers need not to fear natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or earthquakes, and the country is not directly affected by tropical storms.

Cambodia can be visited throughout the year. However, those plans to travel extensively by road should be avoided the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable. The average temperature is about 27 degrees Celsius; the minimum temperature is about 16 degrees. December and January are the coolest months, whereas the hottest is April.

General information about the provincial climate:
- Cool season: November- March (22c-28c)
- Hot season: March- May (27c -35c)
- Rainy season: May – October (24c-32c, with humidity up to 90%.)

Population

The current population in this province is about 102,835 people or 0,7% of the country’s total population (14,363,519 person in Cambodia, 2007, provincial government data), with 52,650 male and 50,185 female. The population density is therefore 16,7 people per square kilometre.

Economy

The province’s economy is 93% based on farming and the remaining other 7% are based on fishing and trading. Because of its border with Thailand, the international trade is also booming and becoming another important sector of the province’s economy. There is several developing plans from province based NGO’s, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Thailand and Cambodian government itself. The economy and infrastructure of the province was sustainably destructed during the Khmer Rouge stand and needs therefore a whole new stable backbone.

How to Get There

Bus/Share Taxis:
If you wish to go to Anlong Veng you best come from Siem Reap via Major Road No 64 (distance: 142km). The time of journey vary depending on the season between 4-6hours. The easiest transport mean is a share taxi, which will charge you around US$4-5. Anlong Veng is also connected by reasonable roads to the provincial capital Samraong (US$4) in the West and Prasat Preah Vihear to the East.

Coming from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: (Bus)
Several guesthouses, travel agencies and bus companies offer daily bus transport between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It is a smooth 314 km, 5-7 hour trip. The bus makes at least two stops along the way (at Skun and Kampong Thom). All charge the same, $3.50 (14,000R) one way. The earliest buses depart starting at 6:30AM and that last buses between noon and 1PM.

Neak Krorhorm Travel :
Phnom Penh office at the corner of Street 110 and Sisowath Quay. Siem Reap office opposite the Old Market GST: Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market).

Phnom Penh Public Transport Co.:
Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market). Coming from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: (Share Taxis) Local shared taxi: 25,000 riel per person. Departs from southwest corner of Central Market in Phnom Penh. 5-8 hours Private taxi: US$38-$45 for the whole car. 5-6 hours. Due to rising fuel costs, prices are in flux.

Motorbike Info to Anlong Veng:
The road to Siem Reap is in good condition, but driving in Cambodia is still challenging in the extreme, and should be attempted only by experienced riders. Speeding taxis, slow cows, and oblivious children are the norm. The trip calls for a dirt or road bike, no smaller than 250cc. It can be made in a day, but two days with a layover in Kampong Thom is a more relaxed alternative and allows time to visit the pre-Angkorian ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk. Leave Phnom Penh via the Japanese Bridge and follow National Highway No 6 75km to the North. You’ll reach the Skun intersection (Skun is known for its exotic foods – check out the fried spiders, turtle eggs and more at roadside stands.), where you have to turn left and follow NH 6 to Kampong Thom – about 2-3 hours. In Kampong Thom, the Arunreas Hotel (062-961294), Stung Sen Royal Hotel (012-309495) and Mittapheap Hotel are all decent mid-range places. Arunras Guesthouses and Restaurant next to the hotel is the place to eat cheaply.

From Kampong Thom to Siem Reap the trip takes another 2 hours. From there you?ll have to search the Major Road 64 to Anlong Veng. This will take you another 6h on bumpy unpaved dirt roads through monotonous dry forest changing sometimes to jungle sections. Going to Samraong: (Share Taxis/Pick Up/Motorbike)  Heading west on the NH 6 from Siem Reap you’ll reach an intersection after 51km. Turn right and you enter after some 100m a small town called Kralanh (US$1.5 from Siem Reap or Sisophon). From here you take another pick up or share taxi to the North on laterit-paved and bumpy Minor Road 68 (US$2-3, 2-3hours, 65km). Sometimes you can find early taxis leaving to Samraong from Siem Reap (US$4-5).

What to see

Champei waterfall or Laang Ta Thong waterfall is 35 kilometers northeast of Odda Meanchey provincial town. A natural site, is includes a huge boulder that measures 500 meters squar. There is also a mountain valley on both sides of the waterfall and the surrounding area is full of flowers, particulary orchids.

About 500 meters from the waterfall, there is a natural and cultural site organized by the monks who meditate at the site. Known as Ruot Champei, it has a number of statues that describe the life process from birth until death, as well as other religious and wildlife statues.

The provincial tourism office is organizing and developing other attractions in Oddar Meanchey province, including: Tonle Sar site, O’Angkrong site, Sneung temple, Tropiang Baray, Por Temple, Kuy Plantation, Beung Snor, Tumnub Thmei and Toul Kruoy, a killing field during the Khmer Rouge regime and the site of a Khmer Rouge prison.

O’Smach is on the Cambodian-Thai border, about 41 kilometers north of Oddar Meanchey provincial town. The town features a resort which includes a number of casinos, good restaurants and luxury hotels. The resort has been organized by the Royal Group and VIP Shop Group companies.The O Smach Resort has an impressive entry complete with a giant glowing green lotus set in a fountain. The resort has beautifully maintained grounds which feature, for some unknown reason, two military armoured vehicles decorated with Christmas lights.

The O Smach resort has a casino and 198 hotel rooms and suites. Room facilities include satellite tv, aircon, en suite, mini bar etc.The resort facilities include a restaurant, 24 hour coffee shop, swimming pool, gym, sauna and massage parlour. Across the road is the Royal Hill Resort, offering yet another casino and hotel complex. Prices and facilities are similar to those at the O Smach Resort.The gaming rooms and interior of the Royal Hill Resort are rather utilitarian, in stark contrast with the impressive entry arch way and shrine in the grounds.O Smach in Cambodia is located 100 metres over the border checkpoint at Kap Choeng, Thailand. It is 68 Km south of Surin and 440 Km from Bangkok. From O Smach it is 150 Km to the world famous Angkor Wat ruins near the town of Siem Reap.

As at 2006 the road to Siem Reap was poor and the journey can take all day by truck. A road is being constructed to Siem Reap which will improve this journey markedly.If you are entering Thailand from Cambodia at this border crossing most nationalities will be granted a visa on arrival at no cost. Entering Cambodia from Thailand you are required to pay 1000 baht for a 30 day visa. The border point re opened in 2002 after being closed for a number of years to due fighting on the Cambodian side. O Smach was the scene of heavy fighting in 1997 as the remnants of Sihanouk?s forces battled opposing forces. Peace came in 1998 and the military evicted local residents and sold off the land to the casino developers.

The border at O’smach is definetly open for foreigners. Exited Cambodia there with one Thai registered bike and one Cambodian registration. Thai 30 day visas on entry and normal customs , but quick as no one goes thru with vehicles as they park on the Thai side a walk/songtow to the casinos just across the border.On the Thai side it is called Chong Chom The border post can be found by following Higway 214 south from Surin. From the Cambodian side the road from Anlong Veng to O’smach is very good, 100-120 kmh easy, demining going on along the road.The road up the escarpment is also good.Also a good road north from the Sisophon-Siem Riep road. An alternate border post for those sick of Aranyapratet.

Also noticed new temporary export procedures at Aran, now need to stamp passport out first, then back to customs, then to immigration again for an airline crew(yes!) list , 2 copies of everything (B50 for copies-no receipt), then exit at immigration. Takes a lot longer than the previous 5 minutes. Cambodian side, if you stop at the customs they want to see a Carnet, which of course you can’t get for a Thai rego bike.After a while they just stamp the back of the Thai export paper if you agree to come back thru there on the way back, I never have because you normally can’t find anyone or I’m in a hurry. Interesting to note that there was no Cambodian customs at O’smach.

The Cultural Site Of Khmer Rouge (Tamok House): In Anlong Veng district, along Road 68, about 100 kilometers east of Oddar Meanchey provincial town, is a house once owned by former Khmer Rouge Commander Ta Mok. From 1979 until late 1997, this area was organized and controlled by the Khmer Rouge armies. Some remaining statues describe the way the rebels lived and how they arranged their troops during their bloody struggle against the government.

In additional, in the forest is a pile of tires which is believed to be the funeral pyre and burial site of Pol Pot, the leader of Khmer Rouge. Many tourists go to Anlong Veng to see and photograph the sites and activitues associated with the former regime, and the government has discussed turning this area into a historical site to attract even more tourists.

Where to Eat

As Samraong isn’t big at all you will easily find the central market with several food stalls around offering saucepans of pre-cooked food for around 2,000-3,000 Riel a serve. Unless the pots are still hot, it’s a good idea to have them hear your servings up again so that you don’t get more than you bargained for like getting sick. If you would like to go more for some sophisticated food, check the Santepheap restaurant (one of the best in town), where you might find some proper dishes, but don’t expect Western food.

The best restaurant in town is only open for breakfast and lunch. A friendly English- and French speaking Cambodian gentleman and his family run it. They can make up most Thai Khmer dishes that you may wasn’t and also serve a good breakfast of eggs, French bread and coffee. The restaurant scene in Anlong Veng is similarly limited as in Samraong. There are several local food stalls around the central roundabout offering some local dishes at very reasonable prices mostly its typical Khmer and Chinese noodle dishes.

Where to Stay

Actually Samraong has never been a big touristy spot so you’ll just find some very basic guesthouses clustered near the dirty little market, which is advantageously located right next to the taxi station.

Rikreay guesthouse:
This is a simple but clean place with a bed, mosquito net, fan (for a part of the night, as electricity may shut down) and share bathroom going for 10,000 riel.

Meanchey Guesthouse:
The Meanchey Guesthouse is likely the most conclusive one among these with some NGOs visiting. This place is similar to the Rikreay, only the power stays on for twenty-hours, which means your fan should stay on all night. A room with a share bathroom, net and fan is US $ 4 and a double room with a simple bathroom inside of it is $10 – expensive for what it is but you are paying extra for the power. The US$ 4 room is so to say the better deal.

In fact that there aren’t that much tourists staying overnight there are 3 very basic guesthouses in Anlong Veng. The most convenient one is the Reaksmey Angkor Guesthouse in the North of the small town. You will find quite clean rooms with mosquito net and a bathroom. The price is around 15,000-25,000Riel.

Shopping

s it is quite common in Cambodia even small towns, such as Samraong have at least one marked. You may also find a market in Samraong centre, which is a busy area with local shops dealing the local daily consumer products, like fish, fruits, vegetables, meats and packed products. Most of the food and drink shops are surrounding the market.