While gems have been mined in Cambodia for centuries, it is a land that has seen little peace over the years. Since the time of the kings of Angkor, Cambodia and its Khmer people have been claimed by Vietnam, Thailand and France. These upheavals of politics interrupted the production of precious stones intermittently and left the details of mining locations and history difficult to determine.

Thankfully, Cambodia is now at peace and it is safe to travel throughout the country. I have made two extended expeditions from the new aquamarine pegmatite mines in Takeo to the famous zircon mines in Ratanakiri. This would not have been possible without the help of Mr. Votha Un who acted as my guide/interpreter. Neither of us had travelled to many of these areas and it was a great experience to explore them together.

There is much misinformation about what is currently happening in Cambodia. My visits were both in 2007 and I can only speak about what I have seen first hand. I know that the government is trying to reduce illegal mining and enforce more strict environmental regulations than in the time of the Khmer Rouge. This has slowed the issuing of new mining permits for gems. However, a few mining entities have requests and environmental impact statements in the works, so maybe another boom is coming!

Cambodia is passing through a window of its development that is perfect for the gem adventurer. There are many things to discover without being so far out of reach to be extremely dangerous, expensive or time consuming. The people are friendly, the food is good, and the weather is warm. Transportation and roads continue to improve. Votha and I did all of our traveling in his Toyota Camry or on the small 125 cc motorcycles that are so abundant in southeast Asia.

If you are looking for a place to explore, Cambodia is the perfect blend of adventure and comfort. Not only does this country have gems of the mineral variety, it has world renowned monuments of its glorious history and unique endangered species. Sometimes, these are found side-by-side. Soon this country will become similar to Thailand and no longer be the wild East. Cambodia has already made so many changes since my first trip nearly a decade ago. Sooner is better for those who would like to feel a sense of the Cambodia that was hidden away for decades. Another decade, and the generation that has lived through unbearable times will be gone.


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