Gem Market

Market in Chanthaburi

Every weekend, the normally quiet streets near Th Si Chan (or 'Gem Road') burst into life as gem traders arrive to bustle and bargain. It's incongruously humble considering the value of the commodities on offer, as people cluster around makeshift tables examining small piles of unset stones.

Buying and selling is not for the uninitiated, but it is a fascinating glimpse at a trade that has taken place here for decades. In the hills surrounding Chanthaburi, several sapphire and ruby mines once supplied the palace with fine ornaments prior to the mid-19th century when the mines were developed into commercial operations by Shan (Burmese) traders. These days, locally mined gems are of inferior international quality but the resourceful Chanthaburi traders roam the globe acquiring precious and semi-precious stones, which are in turn traded to other globetrotters.

The last remaining mine in the area is Khao Phloi Waen, 6km from town, which is famous locally for its ‘Mekong Whiskey’ yellow-coloured sapphire.