Rock star

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The giant rocks appear out of nowhere in a vacant lot on a road just outside the beach town of Nha Trang

Fossil wood, quartz rocks, granite rocks, amber and sapphire - most of them are millions of years old and many are huge, weighing dozens of tons each.

The lot in Phuoc Dong Commune is just a part of Ho Khiem's vast collection of rocks. He also keeps thousands more meteorites, fossils, and gemstones of all shapes and sizes crowding every corner of his small house on Vo Thi Sau Street.

After collecting for more than 30 years, Khiem has become a household name among rock collectors and petrologists throughout the country.

Khiem only brings back the most beautiful rocks he finds "hiding" for millennia in forests and rivers. He often sets out for months at a time in search of specific rocks.

Rock hunter

Khiem's passion for rocks began at the age of 16 when a family friend gave him a black meteorite as a gift. Khiem couldn't take his hands or eyes off the precious stone and he began collecting beautiful rocks wherever he went.

The passion led him to leave his home in the central region to study petrology at university in the former Saigon. Khiem says he then began traveling to seek out the rarest stones and rocks in 1972 and hasn't stopped since.

After 1975, he worked as a scientist for mining companies throughout the country, offering him the chance to seek out rare versions of what he calls his "children."

Khiem has since become a determined rock hunter, traveling far and wide, often with very vague tip-offs and un-detailed information from local residents about where to fine precious stones.

Rock hunting has brought him throughout the Central Highlands, the whole of central Vietnam as well as deep into the jungles of Laos and Cambodia.

Pride and joy

A 2.7-ton piece of fossil wood, found in the southern province of Binh Phuoc, is on display at Ho Khiem's garden in Nha Trang

Khiem proudly gives tours of his vast collection. Each piece has a unique story to tell.

On a carpet of grass in the middle of Khiem's garden is a giant piece of fossil wood. The 2.6-meter rock weighs 2.7 tons. Its dark yellow and brown hues resemble oil paints while the holes and cavities creeping throughout the stone look like the stalagmites and stalactites of a great cave.

Khiem said fossilized wood such as his - with cavities and see-through holes - was very rare and precious. He said it was part of an agarwood tree that lived tens of millions of years ago and was found deep under a forest in the southern province of Binh Phuoc's Loc Ninh District in June this year.

Another giant is Khiem's two-ton quartz rock, two meters in height, discovered in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.

In addition, a huge volcanic rock found in the central province of Phu Yen resembles different things depending on which angle you view it from. You can see the shape of Vietnam, a dragon breathing fire, or an abstract sculpture. Khiem says he named it Nguon coi (The Source) and will exhibit it at the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi celebration next year.

Treasures, not for sale

Back in his house, Khiem also shows off his beloved small stones.

"I found this sapphire in Dak Nong in 1979," he says, fingering through a small pile of stones. "I spent a lot of time and effort tracking down this aquamarine sapphire along with a tourmaline and an amber in Laos in 1992."

Khiem almost paid the ultimate price for his passion in the 70s' when he contracted malaria near the Vietnam-Laos border after days of trekking through the forest for meteorites. But the disease didn't prevent him from discovering two precious meteorites.

Khiem also shows off three yellow stones from a meteor rain in Russia, which he obtained in 1990. And he also loves his meteorite from Siberia given to him in 1993 by geologists from the former Czechoslovakia.

He also shows a white, twisted stone: "This is a moonrock I exchanged with a foreigner in 1982."

Many have offered Khiem thousands of dollars to buy parts of his collection, but he always refuses.

"If Nha Trang had a museum for rocks, I would donate my entire collection."

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