While, possibly, all the good ones are gone from Pailin, a handful of panhandlers still search among the riverbeds after each rainy season to see what gems the rains have deposited beneath. Stones from here used to be considered among the finest in the world, though the professional take is now that the source has more romantic connotations than being an actual indication of quality.
At the right time of year, usually around October/November, you can have a go too. After all, it could be you. The river itself doesn’t look like much, but it might be a cheaper option than buying at the market where you will likely be overcharged.
References to the gems of Pailin go all the way back to the early 1400s when a Chinese explorer, Ma Huan, described them in his journal. Later on in the 1900s, the area had become the primary source for the world’s supply of sapphires. Now though, there is little left, especially after the thorough going-over the Khmer Rouge gave the area. One estimate in 1997 said that mining was bringing $20 million a year since 1993. In 2014, one panhandler found a large ruby worth $6,000, but such finds are now very much the exception. But, as the saying goes, you just never know.
Ask your guide to bring you to the best locations for panning, which are just outside of Pailin, and also further down the road in Samlot; your guide might be able to arrange equipment for you, but it will be something informal. We were unable to do it on our last visit through as it was not the right time of year.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 17th July, 2015.