If you visit Preah Vihear, then an interesting route back to the hustle and bustle of the real world is via the town of Anlong Veng. This is an adventurous detour along Cambodia’s northern border, travelling across Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces. Now, this dusty off-the-beaten track town is not exactly on the tourist trail but definitely a place to visit and see where one of the twentieth century’s most notorious tyrants and butchers saw his last stand.
Anlong Veng | Last Bastion of a Dictator
How to get to Anlong Veng
Another private taxi, another ride blazing along the roads of northern Cambodia, and another fighting cock, which if you are lucky will get plonked on your lap for part of the ride. Private taxis are one of the few ways to get to the town, as regular bus services are erratic and problematic. Of course, you could hire a motorcycle to get you there or cycle!
One other fact, for a more comfortable taxi ride it is possible to get the front passenger seat to yourself. However, the price is twice as much as you occupy space for two people. At first thought this may seem unfair then you think “you should feel lucky that you’re not charged for four or five people”.
Anlong Veng | Subdued Arrival
The taxi pulls up in the centre of town, which is handy. Anlong Veng is a bit short on five-star hotels, but, apart from a few beaten up guesthouses along the main drag, there is a comfortable-looking guesthouse on the road into town, which you can see on the way in. It is on the right as you walk out of town. It isn’t the place on the left, with the nefarious name of October guesthouse, which might allude to a certain revolution and some other more ominous connections.
The town isn’t big, in fact, you could throw a stone across its width. However, it packs a wealth of history and has earned a rather dark place in the annals of history.
No matter which way you come into Anlong Veng it will have been a long trek. Stay a couple of nights and take in what the town has to offer. While sleepy during the day, at night the shops along the main street come alive and there is a lot of food to be had. All kinds of pork and chicken dishes along with rice or noodles. Most of the shops even open for breakfast. Anyway, tomorrow it’s off to see what Anlong Veng is about.
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The Dictator’s Grave
First thing in the morning was a trip to why this place is notorious. The motorcycle heads up the Dangrek Range, just out of town, into the forest of casinos that marks the Cambodia-Thai border, around a corner, down a road and nestled in a clearing is a rusty corrugated iron roof; a mini-shed with no sides. At the entrance is nobody, but as you make your move to enter this sanctuary an old lady, ninety if she’s a day, springs out of nowhere ninja-like with her hand outstretched demanding an entrance fee.
Inside there is a grave obscured by weeds and there is no indication of the activities of Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot. A shrine has been set up nearby and the grave has flowers in front of it. Here lies Brother Number One. Once the leader of the Khmer Rouge and now dust in the wind. But why would somebody place flowers at his grave.
After staying in town for a while, you start to think where people’s loyalties lie. The Khmer Rouge occupied the town for so long and the thought may cross your mind that on the surface the people are glad to be rid of the Khmer Rouge, but how many supported them and miss them. Probably few, maybe this will never be answered. Although you can bet that some of the old guard are still lurking.
Pol Pot fell off the perch in 1998
His body was torched, and the remains thrown in this shallow grave at Along Veng. A rather inglorious end for the former leader of the Angkar and the ‘revolution’. Even in death there was controversy. Some say he committed suicide rather than be handed over to the Americans. His second, Ta Mok, denied the allegations claiming he died of a heart attack.
The Killing Fields
Apparently, there is a Killing Fields not far from grave. However, the motorcycle man was reluctant to go there, indicating there were still mines in the area. Later on, a Cambodian said that probably the real reason for his reluctance was the man’s fear of spirits that he believed haunted the area. Who knows, maybe there isn’t a Killing Fields.
The Butcher | Brother Number 5
Another notorious figure who lived in town was Ta Mok (Uncle Mok), or Brother Number Five. He also went by the moniker the Butcher. The reasons for the latter become obvious when you visit his abandoned Anlong Veng house.
As you pull up in the house of Ta Mok’s front yard, there is an old wrecked truck. It is a wireless truck that has been left to rot. Maybe he used it to listen to enemies or the Voice of America.
More telling are some cages that can be seen outside his house. They were probably originally used to house pigs but then used for another function. How many people could be squeezed into these to await their fate is anyone’s guess. Most likely poked, prodded and yelled at while they cooked in the sun.
The interior walls of this house are painted with images of Angkor, a map of Cambodia, and other temples. He was reportedly likened to a little Napoleon. Perhaps these images were his thoughts of being an Angkorian king ruling over Cambodia.
One room has a hole in the floor. Apparently, Ta Mok would torture prisoners then throw them down this dark hole into a room with no windows. Using a ground-floor door to enter the dark room is eerie. It is not a place a person would want to stay in for too long.
Go out to the balcony and a great expanse of water presents itself. The flooded areas were to prevent enemy forces invading the area. The dead tree trunks that pepper the water give it a surreal and eerie quality.
Eventually, Ta Mok was caught then imprisoned in his home town of Takeo; justice was cheated by his death. Curiosity satisfied, and some questions answered it was time to leave the town.
Anlong Veng and Beyond
From Anlong Veng it is possible to cross the border into Thailand at a couple of crossings. It is also possible to travel onto Siem Reap via Phnom Koulen and Banteay Srei. Or a visit to Krong Battambang which was part of Thailand not that long ago.