Explore Ratanakiri

Last updated: 27.12.2022

Blue Zircon Gemstones Mines

Ratanakiri produces the worlds finest blue zircon gemstones. Blue zircon can only be found in a very few countries around the world and Ratanakiri in Cambodia is by far the best source for this unique gemstones as it produces the finest colors and largest stones without impurities as well as the largest quantity.


The zircon rich gravel layers are between 8 meter to 15 meter deep in the ground. Miners dig vertical shafts by hand into the hard ground until they reach the gem layer and from there they continue digging vertical tunnels. In most cases the tunnels are then fitted out with a wodden structure to support the walls and the ceiling.

Treatment / Burning of Rough Zircon

When the zircons reach the surface, the gems have a brownish orange and red color and don’t appear particularly pretty. Generally it’s the dark red colored rough, that turns into the most spectacular dark blue zircons, but there are no guarantees. In the worst case the rough turns into a greyish, almost colorless stone.

The famous blue color is achieved through a short heating process at a high temperature, this is done locally.

The treatment is done in  modified oil barrels that are able to hold the high temperature. The oven is heated up with a certain type of charcoal and an air blower that blows oxygen into the flames in order to achieve the right temperature. Cambodian zircons only turn blue in a reduced environment at the right temperature and timeframe. 

Visiting the Mines

Generally speaking it is possible for anyone to visit the mines, but one should ask the miners first if they allow you to take pictures and wander around. It is recommended to hire a guide who’s familiar with the mining region because it can be difficult to find the active mines. Mines are set up temporarily often within rubber tree plantations. Nowadays the mines tend to be deeper within the plantations futher away from the eyes of the authorities as not all of them have permissions to dig.

Most likely some of the miners will offer you to buy some stones as a souvenir and there is nothing wrong with that. Just be aware, just they will sell low grade stones to tourists. Meaning, the stones most likely have fractures and flaws and not suitable to facet.

The main mining region is in Bar Kaev region –  35 km east of Banlung. From there the gem fields stretch north until Boloy and south until Lumphat.

Buying a Blue Zircon in Ratanakiri

When you’re exploring Banlung and pay attention you will quickly notice the vast amount of gemstone stores in town. Many of the shop owners speak quite well English and are happy to assist you. Be cautious though! Besides blue zircon you also find other colored gemstones in their displays as well as fakes/imitations. We recommend you to stay away from anything else but blue zircon. You can buy quartz or amethysts here, but these are normally quite expensive compared to the world market price. Since you’re here in the blue zircon capital of the world, better take advantage and get one of those as a souvenir.

The prices range generally between $8 to $150 per carat for blue zircon. It’s possible to make a bargain here, but it comes all down to your negotiation skill.

How to choose a Blue Zircon in Ratanakiri?

When buying any gemstone the 4 C’s are important: Cut, clarity, color and carat weight. 

Cut: What do you want to do with the stone? If you want to set it into a piece of jewellery, then take the cut type into consideration. Typical cuts here are round, cushion, rectangular and teardrops. Also pay attention to the cut quality, that the meetpoints (where the faces meet each other) are spot on and that the stone is not cut too deep. Cutters mostly cut blue zircon quite deep in order to preserve as much carat weight as possible. A very deep stone is not suitable to set into rings for instance.

Clarity: Use a magnifying glass if you have one and a torch to shine through the stone to inspect it for impurities such as inclusions and cracks. However, gems with impurities can still be beautiful since many impurities are not even visible to the naked eye, especially when the gem is set into jewellery.

Color: The rule of thumb is, the deeper/darker the blue the more desireable the blue zircon. Light blue stones sell for much less than deep blue ones.

Carat Weight: Firstly, one carat is equal to 0,2 grams and carat is the standard mesurement unit when it comes to gemstones. Larger stones are more rare than smaller stones, thus the price per carat increases with the total weight of the stone.


Images of zircons and the mines


Bar Kaev is marked on the map below. It’s not possible to pinpoint to one specific mine here, because the miners keep moving around, abondon old mine shafts and explore new spots.

Other gems in Ratanakiri

While blue zircon is the main gemstone for the Ratanakiri gem industry, the zircon mines produce a number of other gems as well, tost commonly amethyst and dark blue sapphires. There are also a few spots where peridot is mined in a small scale.