Bangkok: Kneeling before his homemade metal scuba helmet, Bhoomin Samang prays for good fortune before he dives into the day’s work – scouring the bed of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river for sunken treasure. The 62-year-old is part of a small community known as Thailand’s ‘Indiana Jones’ divers, who brave the inky-black underworld of the trash-filled waterway in search of coins, china, jewellery and scrap metal.
If you are afraid of ghosts, you can’t go: Bhoomin
Bhoomin, a veteran diver who has been scouring the river for 30 years, said, “We look for old coins, sometimes we are hired to find lost objects in the river. In the old days, we lived on rafts and had floating markets. Villagers lost their jewellery and money in the river.”
At times, they also stumble across skulls and skeletons as they feel their way along the river bed in total darkness. “If you’re afraid of ghosts, you can’t go in because you can’t see anything. But we’re used to it,” he explained.
They operate under radar
- The ‘Indiana Jones’ divers use more makeshift equipment and operate under the radar in the middle of the country’s urban metropolis. In shorts and T-shirt, Bhoomin jumps off his motorised skiff into a river strewn with sewage and debris. He is able to breathe because of the boxy helmet that weighs 20 kg, and is hooked up to a rubber tube that connects to an air tank in the boat.
- The divers turn a decent profit from the recovered materials. Selling copper coins can make them some $15. A piece of jewellery or a rare coin can also be sold for up to $300 at Bangkok’s antique markets.
90% divers to lose livelihoods
- Now, the divers’ fate is in limbo as urban development threatens their riverside community, which stands on weathered wooden stilts. Bangkok officials have ordered the families to relocate away from the river as part of the junta government’s gentrification plan for the city. The divers fear that without direct access to the river, up to 90% of them will lose their livelihoods.
- But that is not their only tension with the law – taking artefacts is technically prohibited and can be punished with fines or jail time, reports showed.