About 30 kilometres from Ratanakiri’s Banlung town, 10 miners have dug holes deep in the ground in a rubber plantation, hoping to strike it rich.
Their tunnels range from 10-15 metres deep and their equipment is basic – everything is done by hand. These men work hard and the conditions are often dangerous.
What they are looking for is zircon, which comes in a variety of colours and is mainly used in jewelry when polished.
The raw gem stones can be many colours, but the men say the blue ones fetch the highest prices.
Zircon comes in light and dark blue and the dark blue stones are more expensive than the light blue ones, according to the vendors in Banlung market markets.
Most of the stones the miners find are sold by the landowners or brokers who work on the sites. The men can make from $25 to $100 a day, depending on their luck.
“It is hard to find the gem stones now,” said Chheun Chhean, one of the miners. “It depends on a lucky day and we also light incense and wish for luck. We actually don’t have any mechanical help to know whether there are gem stones down there – the only way is to just give it a try,” he said.