Million-dollar ky nam (agarwood) has enticed thousands of dreamers all over the country to try their luck in a jungle in the central region where they are facing threats of theft, rockslides, and deadly diseases or even involved in bloody scuffles.
Following a recent rumor that seven kilograms of ky nam worth VND55 billion (US$2.64 million) have been cultivated in a small valley in Khanh Hoa central province’s Khanh Son district, countless people hailing from neighboring provinces like Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, and Phu Yen have flocked there to search for the precious wood in hopes of finding a better life.
During the week-long course of working undercover to do this photo report, Tuoi Tre reporter witnessed the horrible living conditions of the wood hunters as they had to drink polluted water from puddles of water around or used chopsticks made of small tree branches to eat.
At nightfall, they slept in hammocks hung in the jungle or some slept sitting up by a cooking fire despite high risks of malaria or other jungle-born maladies.
Most of the wood hunters are poor and many of them had to borrow money from their relatives or friends to pay travel costs for the trip to their “dreamland”.
However, just a few of them were fortunate to find small pieces of ky nam and many went home empty-handed with deep-set eyes due to lack of sleep and dark dirty skin after hardworking days of searching in the sun.
Truong Tan Dat, a 47-year-old wood hunter hailing from Van Ninh district in Khanh Hoa province, told Tuoi Tre: “I arrived here after traveling a distance of more than 400 kilometers to avoid police and security guards because I was curious about the rumor that a group of people has found ky nam here and because I have five mouths to feed.”
“But the weather has been ugly in the area, so probably I will go back home empty-handed,” he sighed.
Agarwood, that has three varieties: ky nam, tram huong, and agarwood proper, is dark resinous heartwood that forms in do bau (Aquilaria) trees. There is a belief that ky nam and its essential oils gained great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations world-wide.
A hunter luckily finds a piece of ky nam as small as a finger that is craved by hundreds of eyes around.
Agarwood hunters are looking for their landing field in the jungle.
A young man is watching foggy that shrouds Gop Nga mountain before he and his companion take a trip to an area - a couple of hundred meters away from their place - that is rumored to have ky nam.
A frugal lunch of a small dried fish for wood hunters hailing from Van Gia commune in Khanh Hoa province.
A group of wood hunters from Van Ninh commune had waited in a tent until the rain stopped.
Huynh (L), 50, and Kien hailing from Van Gia commune risk their lives, sheltering under a huge rock. They believe that the two small tree trunks as seen in this photo are able to prevent a rockslide.
A group of wood hunters shelter under a canvas during a rain.
Countless people are scouring a 200m2 area that is rumored to have ky nam.
Each team has a leader, who is in charge of entering the names of the members on the pay-list which will later make it easy for him to share money if they find something valuable.
Two young men from Van Thang commune, Van Ninh district take a short rest after hardworking hours of searching.
A man luckily finds a small piece of ky nam as small as a finger in an area of Gop Nga mountain.
After hours of scouring, a team of 300 hunters from Van Gia commune discovered some pieces of ky nam as small as a finger. The members were delighted by the discovery while the leader quickly put the pieces into his pocket to prevent them from being robbed by aragwood thieves.
On the way to their hometown on the afternoon of September 28, the team of agrawood hunters from Van Ninh decided to change their direction after they had been informed that the team from Da Nang would stop them at the T-junction Dong Lac in Cam Ranh city in Khanh Hoa province to rob their ky nam.