Pailin has been a gem-mining centre for nearly a hundred years – it’s said that sapphires, rubies and garnets once lay everywhere on the surface. Now much of the land is mined out, and fortune-seekers have to dig deep into the rocky ground in search of the stones, which in their raw state resemble fragments of broken glass. It’s hard toil for the prospectors and, for most, hope turns to wistfulness as they sift painstakingly through mounds of red dirt, sorting earth from rocks; piles of spoil scar the landscape, creating an almost lunar scene.

Most of the claims are now abandoned, and those prospectors still at work are pretty secretive about their diggings. If you’re interested ask at Bamboo Guesthouse for information about where the current workings are, but note that there’s little to see other than a hole in the ground and a pile of earth. Typical finds today are small garnets and topazes; rubies and sapphires are now rare.

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