River Presents a Golden Opportunity for Kompong Speu Village

samraong tong district, Kom-pong Speu province – One of the first villagers to discover gold in the Prek Tnot River couldn’t believe her luck.

“I saw some in a rock and thought it couldn’t be true,” Sim Chrep, 37, said during an interview Monday. “Then I found some in the sand and was very happy.”

She took the gold to Thnal Tor-toeng town nearby, where a goldsmith applied heat to it, and when it did not turn black it was revealed as pure. That was in November 2007.

Today over half of the families in the village pan for gold, Chheu Tealkrom village chief Leng Phang said Monday. “Around 50 families out of 91 are working to find gold along the river, while 30 families are growing vegetables,” he said.

The best time to find gold is from February to April, when the river is low during the dry season, he said.

Villagers aren’t quite sure why the gold is there, but they do have a couple of theories.

“About a kilometer upriver there is an ancient Islamic mosque that collapsed into the river, and some think the gold comes from there,” villager Leng Yorn said Monday while standing beside the 300-me-ter stretch of river where gold has been found.

“But I think it is natural, and there is a vein [of gold] here, plus the water is very cold here,” he said, adding that the cold water bubbles up from underground springs.

The villagers dig sand and rocky material along the banks of the river and place it in a large pan. The villagers use the pans to slowly stratify the material until it is re-duced to a fine black powder consisting of iron sand that carries the gold. The gold can then be separated by finger or further panning.

One prospector, Yong Maak, 61, said Monday that she made about 290,000 riel—around $70—panning for gold in 2008, but that was only when she was in good health.

“This is about eight days’ worth of panning,” she said, showing a clear plastic bag holding about 1.5 grams of gold.

The villagers agree their methods are crude, and that if they had better equipment the take would be higher.

The village chief said he showed a photo of the gold to the Ralaing Kroeul Commune Council and told them of the find, but there was no interest.

Many of the villagers interviewed Monday said they would welcome a commercial interest in the gold.

“If commercial development comes to our village we will know how real it is and how much is here,” Yong Maak said. “They would have to develop our village with roads and infrastructure” in return, he added.

Thnal Tortoeng goldsmith Sar Sav said Monday the gold found by the villagers is high quality. “When they first started bringing it to me it was very low quality, but after a time the gold they brought was of the finest quality,” he said.

The villagers said they are surprised that there has not been more interest in their find.

“We want someone to invest be-cause we are poor and cannot af-ford good equipment,” Leng Phang said. “Besides, we do not know how to dig for it” properly.

Related Stories

Latest News