Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fossickers know gems are forever

Fossickers know gems are forever

Fossickers know gems are forever

Are the gemstone processors of Pailin the last of a dying breed? Photo by: Hector Bermejo

Are the gemstone processors of Pailin the last of a dying breed? Photo by: Hector Bermejo

PAILIN is renowned throughout Cambodia for its gemstones, but for how much longer?

Tu Chatarong has been selling gemstones from a small shop at the foot of Phnom Yat for six months. Before that, he processed stones collected from around the mountain since 1998.

“We buy the raw stones, then we process them,” he says.

Tu Chatarong says people are no longer allowed to roam the provinces digging for gemstones .

“People in Pailin are still digging for stones, but they have changed from digging in the mountains or sifting through rivers,” he says.

“They dig close to their homes because the authorities have banned digging at the mountain.”

This has made trade more difficult, Tu Chatarong says.

“Before, they used heavy mach-inery to find the stones, and more people found them.

“But now, fewer and fewer  people are finding anything.”

The stones they do find – mostly rubies and sapphires – are not necessarily of the highest quality.

Tu Chatarong opens a small pouch of stones and pours them on top of his display case.

“These are worth US$200,” he says. “But they are not of such good quality.”

Despite all this, Tu Chatarong is confident that Pailin’s gemstone business will continue.

“I don’t think Pailin gemstones will vanish, because they will still find stones somewhere and we still have lots of land,” he says, pointing  into the distance.

“Like the Blue Mountain: nobody has dug there, and it is a  likely source of stones.

“But we don’t have enough capital to explore there. If I had more capital, I could dig there because I know the land.”

Around the corner, Mut Sary, 35, sits at the front of his house processing gemstones.

One of nearly 100 processors in Pailin, he has sold gemstones since 1998.

“I sell in Phnom Penh and Batt-ambang, and sometimes customers come to buy from here,” Mut Sary says.

“Business is more difficult now because we don’t have as many stones to buy.

“Some people who used to dig for gemstones have given up and become farmers.”

This fact has made Mut Sary consider his own future.

“Sometimes I think about quitt-ing, but I still want to wait and see what is going on,” he says.

“If some people are still finding stones, and there still some people willing to buy them, I will wait.”

Like Tu Chatarong, Mut Sary is convinced that Cambodia’s gemstone processors will survive.

“They will never die out,” he says confidently. “Every day, we have people coming to us with something to sell.

“If people look in lots of places, they will still find gemstones.”



  • Temi tourism project approved by the CDC

    The $500.4 million Tourism, Ecological, Marine and International (Temi) tourism project has been approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), according to a notice on its Facebook page on Monday. The project is part of Chinese-owned Union City Development Group Co Ltd’s (

  • Rainsy will return at ‘favourable time’

    Opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Saturday suggested he would not return to Cambodia as he had previously promised, saying that like liberators King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Charles de Gaulle, he would only do so at a “favourable time”. “I will go back to Cambodia

  • NagaWorld casino sees net profit of more than $390M last year

    Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino posted a 53 per cent net profit increase last year at $390.6 million, a sum which is almost equal to the combined net profit of all Cambodian commercial banks in 2017. NagaWorld’s parent company, NagaCorp Ltd, is listed on the Hong Kong

  • US Embassy urged to stop ‘disrespecting sovereignty’

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation called on the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Saturday to respect the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations after it called former opposition leader Kem Sokha “an innocent man” – a move deemed to be “disrespecting Cambodia’s