Pailin Gemstone Jungle Tour in Cambodia

Pailin Gemstones and Jungle Tour

Pailin Cambodia is a small province located in the far west of Cambodia. Geographically speaking, the most prominent feature is the Cardamom Mountain range which lies between Pailin Province and Thailand.

The mountains hold extensive natural resources and also wildlife. Natural resources include forests for logging and large deposits of Pailin gemstones. Plus, tigers can still be encountered living in the wild!

The city of Pailin Cambodia is a small town that very much has a wild west feel to it. The streets are lined with gem shops that are filled with both refined and unrefined gemstones.

Photo Amethyst in Pailin Cambodia

Amethyst is one of the common Pailin gemstones. Other gemstones mined in the area include rubies and sapphires.

Khmer Rouge in Pailin Cambodia

Cambodia's Killing Fields

Cambodia’s Killing Fields

During the struggle to control the country, Pailin Cambodia was targeted by the Khmer Rouge. Pailin gemstones and logging were used to fund their successful military campaign. Additionally, after the fall of the regime in 1979 Pailin Cambodia remained a Khmer Rouge stronghold for nearly 2 decades.

Although a few of the leaders of the regime were eventually put on trial for war crimes, their leader Pol Pot was never captured. It is estimated that 70% of males over 70 years of age who currently live in Pailin Cambodia served as regular army troops under the Khmer Rouge.

Pailin Cambodia Jungle Tour

Pristine jungle still exists in the Cardamom Mountains and we deemed that this would be well worth exploring. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any man eating tigers or landmines.

jungle in cardamom mountains - Pailin Cambodia

We did some pretty extensive hiking in the Cardamom mountain jungle around Pailin Cambodia.

The jungle was a destination in itself. We both wanted to venture out and see what it was really like. We did come across a few small waterfalls but they were less than spectacular due to it being the dry season.

jungle in cardamom mountains - Pailin Cambodia

Exploring the jungle near Pailin Cambodia. These reeds along side the trail were enormous.

Pailin Cambodia Travel Guide

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Due to the obscurity of Pailin Cambodia it was not very accommodating if you don’t already know your way around. Therefore, in order to get the most out of our visit we decided to find a local guide.

We would be in luck because we found the perfect guy for the job.

Prospecting for Pailin Gemstones

First, we went to visit a local mining camp. The Pailin gemstone mining operations range from fully mechanized operations to solo miners working by hand.

Pailin Gemstones MIning operation in Pailin Cambodia

This was one of the fully mechanized mining operations near Pailin Cambodia. After the soil is blasted away from the hillside, it is washed into a sifter.

Pailin gemstone mining operation - Pailin Cambodia

The soil/mud is put through the sifting mechanism and is then washed out through the other end.

Gemstone Mining Pailin cambodia

This mechanized mining operation process was extremely noisy. That is our local guide walking in the background.

After reviewing the upstream operations we ventured over to the camp headquarters where we were able to view the payload for the last few days.

gemstone mining pailin cambodia

Unfortunately, modern day prospecting is not as rewarding as it used to be. The Khmer Rouge regime had scoured the entire area for Pailin gemstones in order to fund their military and government. Therefore, the best mining prospects were already worked over extensively. 

Pailin Gemstones - Pailin Cambodia

Fortunately, the local miners did have some precious gems to show for their efforts.

Panning for Pailin Gemstones

Mining the old fashioned way is also still practiced in Pailin Cambodia. Our guide informed us that they do still get lucky on occasion. Fortunately, the Khmer Rouge was not able to find every large gemstone hidden in the rivers.

gold panning in Pailin Cambodia

Mining by hand in Pailin Cambodia

gold panning in pailin cambodia

Land Mines in Pailin Cambodia

The fields and foothills surrounding Pailin served as battlefields during the war. Unfortunately, these areas still contain an abundance of unexploded land mines. As in Laos and other areas with unexploded ordnance, they are inevitably set off by farmers and civilians resulting in death and serious injury. This situation remains a harsh reality throughout the entire Pailin Province. 

landmines in Pailin

Agriculture in Pailin Cambodia

Major agricultural products in Pailin include coffee and also the cassava root. Originally, neither plant was native to SE Asia. However, the Europeans distributed them to their colonies and they are still cultivated here.

Coffee

Next we went to visit a coffee plantation located on an extensive estate. Our guide explained that the property was owned by the daughter of a high ranking government official.

Inevitably, jungle must be cleared for cultivation. However, this has reached extreme proportions. Unfortunately, the level of primary forest cover in Cambodia has dropped from over 70% in 1969 to only 3% in 2007. The original primary forest has either been logged extensively and/or cleared for agriculture.    

coffee plantation pailin cambodia

There was a drought in effect which had been having an adverse effect on the crop. However, we were still able to view some of the beans. Coffee cultivated in Pailin Cambodia is very good, although growing conditions are not as optimal when compared to the Bolaven Plateau in Laos.

coffee plantation pailin cambodia

Cassava Root

Cassava Root at Cu Chi Tunnels

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Cassava root is native to South America where it is still cultivated and remains an indispensable part of the local diet. In present day, cassava is also cultivated extensively in Asia.

In addition to being a basic food source, the cassava is also the source of tapioca which is a popular ingredient in pudding. However, what many pudding enthusiasts don’t know is that the raw cassava root is actually poisonous. Therefore, it needs to be processed correctly, if not it can cause ill health such as goiters or potentially death. 

There are several effective processing techniques. One common technique that was used by the pre-columbian natives in the Americas was to dry the roots and grind them up into flour. The flour is mixed with water and turned into a paste and then spread thinly over a blanket and left in the shade for a minimum of 5 hours. The result is that 85% of the poison will evaporate into the atmosphere and then the cassava is fit for human consumption.

In the photo below, the cassava is being cut up and left in the sun to dry. Afterwards, it can be ground up into flour and processed.

processing cassava root in pailin cambodia

Returning to Battambang

This concluded our visit to Pailin Cambodia and we would now be returning to Battambang and then continuing onward to Phnom Penh.

Below is a photograph of our method of transportation throughout Battambang and Pailin provinces. We also traveled throughout much of Laos using the same method.

traveling by motorbike in pailin province

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Additional resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pailin_Province
http://www.tourismcambodia.com/travelguides/provinces/pailin.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodia#Environmental_issues
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassava