Unregulated mining stripped Chanthaburi of its authentic gemstones. Now the ethically dubious techniques that are sustaining trade in the Thai town are threatening the industry.
Every morning, in a small wooden pavilion overlooking a creek, 64-year-old Olan Phengkit eats a breakfast of steamed dumplings. Short in stature, with an admirably large belly, Olan has been involved in the mining, selling and buying of gemstones since his youth.
The creek, 20 metres below and roughly half the size of a football pitch, is full of dark, murky water. It shows the extent of his mining activities. “I stopped one year ago because I simply ran out of land,” he says, pushing his gemstone-viewing goggles onto his forehead, “so now I just buy and sell.”