Long, lonely night at hotel Ieng Sary

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 February, 1999, 12:00am

If the cliche of a correspondent's life suggests long nights in lonely hotel rooms, then the new Hotel Pailin leads the field, offering nights that are both the longest and the loneliest.

Owned by Ieng Sary, the late Pol Pot's former foreign minister and long-time ideological soul mate, the Hotel Pailin lies in a shaded compound in the heart of a town which is now controlled by Khmer Rouge defectors.

For Ieng Sary, old habits die hard, it seems, and the hotel is at the creepy end of spartan to say the least.

Not only is there no pool, no phone, no pets, as the old song goes, but you can also forget about hot water, towels, toilet paper, air conditioners or power for 19 hours a day.

Drinking water? Room service? Not only is there no restaurant, but there are no actual staff to call, other than the surly watchman who tends the big, padlocked gates.

Certainly, no one seems to have hired a cleaner.

It has to be said that from the road it does not look so bad. The warm neon sign out front sports a shimmering red ruby - the symbol of the now-fading gem business - and casts a glow over the huge acacia trees that fill the compound. But once inside, the glow disappears and darkness hems you in.

Light a match and you discover stone-tiled floors and whitewashed walls, already covered with the bloodstains of Pailin's feared mosquitoes that seemed to be trapped in the room by screens on the windows.

'Before turning in, be sure to check under the bed for a chhlop,' a Cambodian colleague warned, referring to the years during Pol Pot's rule when spies were dispatched to listen to sleep-talkers and the whispers exchanged by husbands and wives. 'I tell you, it is that kind of place.' In reality, the interior serves as a resounding echo chamber for the dripping tap that will keep you company in the long hours ahead.

If you do manage to fall asleep, expect to be woken at 4am by the most alarming cacophony of wails, screams and howls - the dawn chorus from the jungle-clad mountains that looked so calm and soft at sunset the day before.

During my stay, it was at about this time when I noticed a tiny, pulsing red light outside my window.

As I nervously crept out to investigate, I crashed headlong in the darkness into the sound equipment of a colleague from a Swedish radio station.

'I've got to get this down on tape,' he said. 'I've never heard screams like this before.'