Where the rubber meet the road- Rubber Trees of Thailand

Sap being gathered

The rubber has to dry for up to a year

My newest motorcycle-- died in floods of 2011

A few years ago I made a trek on my motorcycle. At the time I had a ‘big’ bike. A 850 TDM Yamaha. Over here that is a big bike. The Thais called it a buffalo because of its size and look.

I travel to the eastern part of Thailand where the borders of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand meet. It’s rural and a poor area but as always the people are wonderful and happy. I stopped at a small village and asked if there was a place to stay for the night and a pretty young woman offered her family’s house as a stopover. I wasn’t sure what to think but her house was close so I went for a look. I was relieved to find her sister, husband, three kids and father also lived there and they all insisted I stay for as long as I like. Of course the kids took to me right away.

These nice people opened their house to me, fed and entertained me. They made their living extracting rubber, latex, from their grove of trees. I was excited because I wanted to see what rubber trees really looked like. I picture the thick leaf, bulbous trunk trees just waiting to pour out their essence to a passerby. Guess what? I was wrong again.

We walked at least a mile to their land and as we walked I looked at all the maple looking trees grown in orderly rows along the way. I wonder what they used these trees for and even asked the young husband. He gave me a very odd look and simply said, “Yang”. Thai is a tonal language where every word can have up to 5 meanings by the way it is said. ‘Yang’ to me meant ‘no’ or the rubber tires on a vehicles. It also means rubber from trees—who knew. I figured this out when we arrived at his grove. The trees do look like maple trees and each had a small cup attached to it and a number of very neat cuttings in the bark. The sap from the trees is pure white and sticky. The man asked if I would like to help and of course I agreed. We then turned around and went back to the house—I didn’t understand.

At around 10:30 pm he handed me a flash light with a head strap and said it was time. We went to the grove of around 1000 trees and with a special half-mooned shaped blade he started making very neat cuts at the bottom of the area that had other strips cut. He watched as I made a few cuts and then took the knife away. He said I was cutting too deep and it would harm the tree. I held the light after that. After an hour and a half he had completed his task and we headed home. I thought, “This isn’t so hard.”

Well at around 3:00 am he woke me and handed me the light—I knew there was more to it than making a simple cut. At the grove we emptied every little cup into a large can until it was full and then he allowed me to carry that big can all the way back. I was asleep in moments after my head hit the mat.

At 6:00am I was up and helping him pour the liquid into rectangle containers and adding an acid to the mix. I asked, “Are we through yet?” He just smiled.

I went off to enjoy the family and kids. It was like show and tell as they took me to each house in the village to introduce their guest to everyone. I was a star! Then around 3:oo pm the young man said it was time to finish—do what?

The sap had congealed to a thick sheet and had to be handled carefully. He had a thing that looked like the rollers of a very old washing machine- but much bigger. I got to provide the power to turn the rollers and we flattened out the sheets to about ½ inch thick. We made 20 18×24 sheets and then we hung them to dry. It takes almost a year to dry completely and be ready to sale.

He went through this process every other day for two months and then let the trees rest for a month. It takes five or six years for the trees to mature and then they produce for thirty more years.

I stayed for a week but only helped that one night. The village had parties- not on my account- and everyone visited everyone else. These were happy people and they took me in as one of their own.

The next time you put on rubber gloves, see a car rolling down the road, wear a rain coat or see anything made of rubber you might think of these hard working people who get very little for all their effort. I know I do.

I hope you enjoyed this small tale of a writer living in Thailand.  Thank you for reading and I hope you’ll comment!

22 responses to “Where the rubber meet the road- Rubber Trees of Thailand

  1. A very enlightening post. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes we take the basics for granted. I can imagine the year to dry considering the length of the rainy season.

  2. Dannie, I always love your adventure tales of Thailand. Your posts about the rains were fascinating–to hear that first hand. This post was beautiful! Love your descriptions of the Thai people. Enjoy following you:-)

    • Thank you, Cindy! Fascinating isn’t the word I would use about the floods, lol. That’s a little joke. I’ve seen a side of these great people I never expected to see during this trying time but they will get their smiles back and it is only affecting a small portion of the country. I’ve been wondering about rubber trees every since I was small. My saw one in a store– wasn’t real, but I didn’t know. It was amazing to see how the hard working farmers did get it out. I happy you are enjoying my stories.

  3. You’re right, Nancy. We do take much for granted and there is so much that enlightens me, lol. I’m learning the hard way all the time. Hope you have fair winds and blue skys!

  4. What a wonderful way to learn about how rubber is made! And you got to participate in it too. I love this story and it’s only more heartbreaking hearing about the continued flooding in Thailand. Do you know if this area has been affected as badly as in Bangkok?

    Sorry to hear about your bike, Dannie. I’m keeping you in my thoughts and hope the sun comes out and the rain stops.

    • It is always great to hear from you, Eden! I did enjoy it but wouldn’t want to do it for a living. That area did have some flooding with the heavy rains but not for long. I believe they are now in the dry season. When I write these stories I get an itch to go back and visit. If I do I’ll be sure to let you know.

  5. Dannie, when are you going to write a memoir on your Thailand adventure? The story is wonderful! I know of an area in southern China where they collect tree sap for rubber-making. It sounds like hard work. But I could feel from your story how contented the locals are. I must have been truly rewarding to mingle with simple blessful people. Write more!

    • So good to hear from you, Zee. You were my first ‘author’ friend and I really treasure everything you have to say. Me? A memoir. The truth is a difficult thing to keep real and interesting– perhaps someday when I’m old, lol. That’s why I love to write fiction- one can make a life much more interesting that way.
      You’re right about the people I meet. By our standards they have little but their hearts are so full an they live happy lives. I envy them sometimes.
      You are the one to write about your youth in China. What I have have read is so interesting and exotic.

  6. Oh so interesting, Dannie! A great post! I will say, however, that the whole process sounds a lot like tapping sap from sugar maple trees in Vermont! The only difference is that you don’t have to wait a year before the sap is “ready!” Boil it down right away, and YUM!

    I don’t remember Josh talking about the rubber trees, so i’ll have to ask him if he ever witnessed what you did!

    Love to read your stuff, and I haven’t forgotten about posting reviews of your two great books! Someday hopefully in the near future1

    • Hi Paula, It reminded me of gathering maple sap as well and the trees looked so familar. With 1000 trees that family would sell the rubber about four times a year when they had the right amount. They only got somewhere around $600 dollars each sell.
      I’ll bet Josh has seen the trees. They are beautifully organized in rows. I do a lot of things I later think I should have been more careful but that family left a lasting impression on me. And I was a star in the village, lol. I think that’s one of the reasons I like it so much over here. I’m not just another old man, Ha!

      I hope you enjoyed my books. I look forward to the reviews but please take all the time you need. One secret- you and I know– is a write really lives for the words of readers! I’m waiting on your work in progress. It can only be a hit!

      One thing more and this is to you and other bloggers that I love. I appologise for not commenting as much as I did. With the floods I have taken to writing a lot everyday to take my mind off the cleanup to come. I think some my best work is coming out now. The muse is on me and won’t let go– and I love it.

    • Well I’m glad someone appreciates my loss, LOL. I will miss my bike but when looking at the bigger picture it’s just a small thing. My wife is mourning our fridge and washing machine. Much more inportant.

      Thanks for stopping by, Rob. Hope Texas is getting some rain.

    • Kathy, I really hope you do get a chance to see Amazing Thailand. Even with the floods there is much of Thailand unaffected by the mess. It’s a beautiful country. Good to hear from you.

      I love that bike too. I will try to rebuild it– if I ever get back to my house. Still three feet of water in the house which means 6 feet outside. Today was the first time the news talked about it going down a little. There is hope, lol.

  7. Thank yuo, Diana. Not sure how much help I was, LOL. But I think I did leave them with a different view of a people from the west. They did leave me with a lasting impression of good hard working people who know how to enjoy life as it comes.

  8. Hi Dannie, I made it here at last – too much distractions :)!

    Anyway, I agree with Zee, it would be wonderful if you do a memoir of living in Thailand, so fascinating! We know very little how Thais live and you’re an insider!

    Looking forward to reading more posts like this. I admire those people who work hard and for very little reward. They are the backbone of our societies!

    • Thank you Junying. I so understand about being busy. I’ve just gotten back from going to our house near Bangkok. I hope you’ll read my next post and see the pictures. The Thai people are going through something that is hard to imagine if you’ve never been throught it. They are strong and good people.

  9. Thailand is a beautiful place and I love it. I have been here 3 months this time (soon to return to UK) and am staying with my son and there is a rubber plantation very near. I have always wondered how the rubber was collected and when. I love your story and I know now. As you say the people are wonderful. Certainly a ‘Land of Smiles’. Thank you. Jenny

    • I’m so glad you liked the post. Living in Thailand I learned new things all the time. Hope you stay has been enlightening as well. I’m back in the States but miss Thailand very much. Thank you for commenting

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