Hill of Gems, Gems of Labour – Mining in the Borderlands

by Arnab Roy Chowdhury & Ahmed Abid

The city of Chanthaburi in the Thai-Cambodia borderlands is small, but has played a significant role in the history of Thailand and in the history of gem trade throughout the world. Located 250 kilometers to the east of Bangkok, the Thai-Cambodia borderlands have traditionally produced world-class and yellow sapphires (GIA 2015).

The region is especially famous for its sapphire, which comes in yellow, blue, and black star varieties. These all share the same basic chemical composition, that is, aluminium oxide – the difference of colour due to various chemical traces make these distinct. Locally, gem mines of the Thai-Cambodia border are known as Bo Ploy. The Khao Ploy Waen or literally ‘hill of gems,’ which is one of the main mining areas of Chanthaburi (the other being Ban Ka Cha), is situated about 10 kilometers from the city in a scenic jungle area located on slightly elevated dead volcanic plugs. On the top of the hill, there is a Buddhist pagoda. In local narratives, the location seems like the setting for an Indiana Jones movie, a perfect location for the pursuit of ‘hidden treasure.’

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