conventional wisdom dictates that gold is difficult to find,
the precious metal has been discovered m many regions in
both upper and lower Myanmar, awaiting exploitation by
private hunters who take a practical approach to their
According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Mines,
there are 144 areas in Myanmar where gold exploration has
been undertaken with official permission.
Gold is extracted from gravel or from crushed rock by
dissolving it either in mercury (the amalgam process) or in
cyanide solutions ( the cyanide process). Some ores,
especially those in which the gold is chemically combined
with tellurium, must be roasted before extraction. The gold
is recovered from the solution and melted into ingots.
There are two different kinds of gold deposits: primary and
Primary deposits consist of areas where gold was originally
formed in the ground, such as the Kyaukpatho mine in Kawlin,
Placer deposits occur when gold is swept from primary
deposits by water and settles on the banks and beds of
rivers, streams and creeks. The biggest known placer
deposits in Myanmar occur along the Ayeyarwaddy and Chindwin
The Ministry of Mines issues three types of permits that
allow private interests to seek gold in Myanmar.
The first allows families to run small-scale operations
using conventional mining methods. Applicants are granted
one or two acres and are not allowed to use machines for
The second type is for cottage industries, which account for
the majoriry of gold exploration in the country. Such
operations are given 150 acres but are not allowed to use
heavy equipment, such as excavators, bulldozers or refinery
The third type of permit is for heavy industrial exploration
on 2000 acres of land. Such permits have been granted only
to the Ivanhoe Company near Yamethin in Mandalay Division.
Private citizens who are granted permits must sign an
agreement requiring them to turn over 30 per cent of their
refIned gold to the Ministry of Mines.
Once the permit is granted, the hunter must get down to the
risky business of searching for the precious metal.
"Private gold hunters are like any other hunter and need to
be familiar with the environment in which they are
searching. They must study the geology and be familiar with
the types of ore deposits in the area," said U Aung Kyin,
the managing director of Explorers Consulting Ltd.
"A practical gold seeker must be intelligent and optimistic,
and he also be adventurous," he said.
For government and corporate operations, good organisation
is of the utmost importance. Successful exploration depends
on good strategy and the utilisation of skilled operational
tactics by upper-level management, he said.
While larger operations can take advantage of advanced
technology that has steadily increased gold production
worldwide, traditional gold hunters must rely on experience
and luck, as well as basic tools like chopping hoes and
Traditional gold seekers ply their trade along river banks,
especially in upper Myanmar.
"Some private companies can produce from 5 to 10 viss (one
viss equals 3.6 pounds) of gold, monthly in areas like the
Thabeikyin gold field in Mandalay Division," said U Aung
On the international market, one ounce of gold is worth
US$400, but the price has risen precipitously over the past
Two-thirds of the total worldwide production of gold comes
from South Africa, the United States, Australia, China,
Canada and Russia.