Tall thin trees with only very few leafs are planted in perfectly aligned endless rows that cover hundreds of hectares of Thai soil. They provide a little bit of shade during the hot summer months, give off a slightly offending smell and supply their owners and their farmers with an income. We are talking rubber trees and are about to discover the ins and outs of rubber making.
To observe the rubber tapping from up close, we spend a few nights on the rubber plantation of Manora garden, a home away from home just a few kilometres north of the Phang Nga bay, famous for housing Thailand’s most dramatic karst formations and the James Bond island. Literally surrounded by rubber trees, one can witness the process of collecting the natural latex by the farmers.
In order to obtain the latex the trees are often tapped after sunset or early in the morning as it is easier to work on the plantation when it is cool. Cutting the bark of the tree without damaging the tree too much is a precise work. An eight-millimetre deep and a rough 30-centimetre long incision is made along a spiral shape underneath the cut of the previous day. The viscous white liquid slowly drips into a cup attached to the tree for about four hours, until the cut has healed itself.
“There are different ways of collecting the rubber once it has dropped into the cup”, Gerard explains. He is the owner of the Manora Garden rubber plantation. “Some people gather the viscous liquid while others solidify it by stirring a spoon full of acid through it which turns the liquid in the cup into a rubber clump.”
It is then sold to rubber processing plants. Here, the rubber is pressed and rolled into rubber sheets. These rubber slabs are then masticated in other presses and rollers to refine it. Chemicals are added to improve its strength and waterproofness before the rubber is shaped into the right form to serve its purpose. In the final stage, the rubber is vulcanised (heated to about 140°C and mixed with sulphur) in order to reach the utmost endurance.
Thailand is the leading exporter of natural rubber, but over the last few years the prices for natural rubber have decreased dramatically, affecting about two million people in Thailand who struggle to make a living. Due to the oversupply of natural rubber and the rising demand for synthetic petroleum-based rubbers, many rubber farmers expand into the more profitable palm tree business to produce palm oil. The biodiversity decreases as palm oil trees cover more and more surface area in Southern Thailand.
- A stay at Manora Garden will give you an insight into rubber tapping, while having the opportunity to explore the authentic area around Phang Nga by bike, with its temples, waterfalls and swimming holes. It is also a great starting point to visit the famous James Bond island and stunning Phang Nga bay.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!