For the past 15 years Boonchu Tiengtan has been digging for gold in Panompa, a small village in Thailand’s Phichit province. His bare hands, a hammer and a shovel are his only tools.

Boonchu Tiengtan carries a load of stones to break at a primitive gold mine in Panompa near Phichin February 17, 2011.  REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Boonchy’s spouse sits in the shade of netting and patiently breaks rock into small stones with her little mallet. They seem to be a happy couple, laughing and joking when talking about what they do. We call it a hard job and primitive gold digging; they call it the only life they know.

A woman breaks stones at a primitive gold mine in Panompa near Phichin February 17, 2011.  REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

With gold prices skyrocketing and investors finding safe haven in precious metal, Boonchu and his wife make $30 dollars a day. That is more than what an average rural Thai family makes in the agriculture industry or with livestock.

A small rock containing the gold will go to the mill where it is put under the pressure of water. A piece of carpet filters the waste leaving little stones with gold dust at the bottom of a plastic container.

A woman holds two pieces of gold which her family extracted after a day of work at a primitive gold mine in Panompa near Phichin February 17, 2011.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The final phase of the process is a dangerous one; they use mercury that miraculously extracts the gold dust from the small stones. The silver metal liquid mixed with gold goes into a frying pan and the mercury evaporates into the smoke leaving lumps of pure gold on the black surface of a burnt pan.