Monday, January 4, 2010

Thai Rubber Plantations

One of the side trips we took in Phuket was a stop at a Rubber Plantation. We had seen the acres and acres of the rubber trees growing along side the highways with the small cups attached to their trunks to collect the sap. Truthfully, I had not given much thought to rubber production prior to our trip but you could hardly ignore the vast stretches of trees planted row upon row. Turns out, Thailand is the world’s biggest producer of rubber.

Our guide told us the trees are cut through the bark at an angle to a certain depth to release the milky white sap. The sap runs into coconut halves where it is collected each day. The cut is made in the middle of the night, which is apparently when the most sap is released. The trees do not begin producing the sap until they 6 to 7 years old and they can continue production for 25-30 years.

The roadside stop to this rubber plantation was actually quite interesting. For some of us, this was one of the more interesting stops on our trip – rubber is something that is integral to our daily lives, whether it’s the latex gloves Jeff uses at the hospital or the tires we have on our cars and bikes, and I knew nothing about where natural rubber came from (doing my research for this entry I did discover that there is synthetic rubber production for these products as well but that it is tied to the oil industry).

The workers demonstrated how the sap is poured into flat tubs and mixed with formic acid which causes the rubber to become solid – and is shaped into a round flattened ball. This is then pressed through two cylinders several times into the shape of a small mat (you can see Jeff and Walker pulling one of these mats against each other in the photo). The mats are hung out to dry and change from the milky white color to a light to dark brown color. The mats are usually bought by middle-men who collect them and take them to factories where car tires and latex gloves are produced.

Perhaps some of us enjoyed this stop so much because it was a nice break from all the tourist-traps that seem to be as abundant as the sand on the beach in Phuket. Sure the owner had his little gift shop but for once thankfully, there was no pressure to buy.

This was the first stop on a long day, we headed to Phang Nga Bay from here where "James Bond Island" is located. Tune in tomorrow to read about our next Thailand adventure.

Till next time, sayonara.

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