One of the most enchanting industries in Southeast Asia is also one of the most lucrative: the natural rubber industry. Thailand is currently the world’s biggest producer of natural rubber, and in 2010 was one of eleven countries that produced 92% of global natural rubber. Unlike most of the rubber used in the worldwide market today, natural rubber is made from liquid latex tapped from para rubber trees (Havea brasiliensis). The liquid latex is then mixed with a diluted acid (often formic acid) and then rolled—after hardening—into a flexible white sheet. What struck me most about this process was the beauty of the latex tapping. A sharp hooked knife is used to cut a diagonal strip of bark back from the tree in order to allow the sap to flow. Even more interestingly, this is usually done at night just a few hours before dawn, as this is the time the latex sap flows the easiest. Tappers use headlamps in order to see in the dark rubber forests.

Para rubber trees are not indigenous to Thailand, however, and many environmentalists fear that their excessive use of water and shallow root systems are damaging to the environment. Furthermore, the price of rubber has decreased in recent years, and many people are using the rubber trees for a different purpose: wood. Kiln-dried rubber wood lumber is increasing in export value, and it is very common to see 1-3m long para rubber wood logs being trucked away to sawmills, white latex seeping from the tree rings. One of the most beautiful things about the para rubber industry is the innovation implemented by the Thai community—the idea that an object can serve many uses, and a community can adapt to a changing market. Because Thailand’s economy relies heavily on its exports, the ability to adapt is crucial for para wood farmers.


AZoM. “Natural Rubber / Latex – Production of Natural Rubber.” AZoM. AZO Materials, 09 Nov. 2006. Web. 28 July 2016.

Matan, Nirundorn, Dr. “Thai Rubberwood Lecture.” Walailak University, Tha Sala, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand. July 2016. Lecture.

Boonkaew, Sunthorn. Head of Tourism and Hospitalisty Program, School of Management, Walailak University.