Laterite stone is common throughout hot, wet tropical areas, and the Kingdom is no different. Typically a reddish colour due to its high iron content, it forms under the earth after prolonged weathering. Heavy rainfall and alternate wet and dry periods over centuries led to its formation.
This type of stone was employed by the ancient Khmer to build many famous temples, including Prasat Sambor Prei Kuk, Banteay Srei, Kampong Kdei Bridge and Eastern Mebon.
Laterite was used most commonly from the 6th century until the Angkorian period, in the 13th century.
Although no large temples are currently under construction, demand for laterite remains. It is generally used to repair temples, or to build and maintain pagoda walls. Where there is demand, there are suppliers.
Kuong Kin has been quarrying laterite for around 20 years, and supplies in to brokers.
His mine is located in Khvav commune’s Chrey village of Siem Reap province’s Chi Kraeng district.
Kin uses a heavy steel bar to dig out the stone. The physical demands of the heavy 10kg tool mean there are few others who are interested in the pursuit of laterite.
“It takes me about a week to dig one piece of laterite out. The tools I use are heavy, and my hands have deep calluses. I think that may be why nobody else wants to do this job,” he said.
He has excavated many blocks of stone from the site, and the area is scattered with broken pieces that were too small to sell.
“I really only quarry stone to order these days – I am also a farmer,” he said.
“Orders are declining as well. Demand is sometimes just one or two kilos a month. When I began quarrying this stone, I was selling hundreds of kilos per month,” he added.
Kin explained that sometimes it took four or more pieces to make up a single kilo. His broker generally pays around 350,000 riel per kilo.
Although quarrying is not his core source of income – and is physically demanding – he encourages his son to take over from him once he can longer do the work.
“I make a contribution to the repair of some of the Kingdom’s most important cultural legacies – the temples. My laterite ensures that they will stand strong for a long time to come,” he said.