Prices have now returned to more than $13,000 for the new “miners” – the computer hardware that solves the complex math puzzles which release the Bitcoin rewards from the network.
“Chinese miners got rid of their machines and the price collapsed by 30 percent,” Pongsakorn told Al Jazeera.
In September, Beijing banned all cryptocurrency trading and mining amid concerns virtual currencies were “breeding illegal and criminal activities” and posed a risk to the “economic and financial order”.
Still, Pongsakorn, 30, has been able to sell hundreds of units across Thailand as small players jump into cryptocurrencies as China cracks down on the lucrative market.
The biggest packed up and shifted operations to the United States – particularly Texas – Malaysia, Russia and Kazakhstan among other countries.
The crackdown forced some of the world’s largest Bitcoin mining operations to seek out new bases with friendly regulations and the essential ingredient of cheap electricity to run thousands of computers around the clock.
But for many smaller miners keen to quickly cut and run for fear of incurring the wrath of China’s authoritarian government, the priority was to claw back some money on their now useless computers.
That created an opportunity for entrepreneurs like Pongsakorn, who was on hand to whisk the unwanted gear – mainly the Bitmain Antminer SJ19 Pro – from Shenzhen to Thailand.
“Bitcoin is the gold of the digital world. But a mining rig is like gold mining stocks: you’re paid dividends according to the gold price,” he said. Pongsakorn’s rigs have fuelled a cottage industry of miners across Thailand, each of whom can earn $30-40 daily from each running machine.
“There’s around 100,000 Thai miners now,” he said. China’s crackdown on cryptocurrencies is fuelling a cottage industry of crypto-miners in Southeast Asia [Courtesy of Pongsakorn Tongtaveenan]
Their ranks include people chasing a stable income during the pandemic, but also investors who believe in the future of digital assets. “The moment China banned crypto, we were ecstatic,” one Bitcoin enthusiast turned miner, who runs a small solar-powered processor from his garage in eastern Thailand, told Al Jazeera.
Many bigger Thai investors are closely watching neighbouring Laos, which is tacitly embracing the rise of cryptocurrencies. The poor, officially communist country of 7.2 million people has an internet penetration rate of just 43 percent, according to a 2020 study by internet and social media analysts We Are Social and Hootsuite.
“I made it all back in three months,” said the miner, who asked to remain anonymous. For an initial outlay of about 1 million baht ($30,000), he got a rig up and running.