Phatarawadee Phataranawik The Nation
The Mekong River is increasingly threatened by the construction of dams and industry, mainly in China and Laos. Before life along the river began to change utterly, Chiang Rai-based German photographer Reinhard Hohler made the effort to record its natural beauty.
His 2002 journey through the heart of what was once called Indochina will be documented in the exhibition titled simply “Mekong River” at Central Plaza Chiang Rai from August 29 to September 9.
Alliance Francaise is sponsoring the show from its recently opened branch in the northern town. The photos have been shown over the past decade in Bangkok, Vientiane, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, usually linked to international travel-trade events such as the Asean Tourism Forum.
Hohler, 63, is not about to forget the way the Mekong looked before recent despoilment. He has witnessed firsthand and at length the mundane charm of life living along its banks. Southeast Asia’s longest river meanders 4,800 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before reaching the South China Sea.
Hohler says his photographs “attempt to give the visitor an in-depth perspective on the different geographical, historical and economic aspects of the Mekong River”.
“The river,” he says, “should be protected accordingly.”
His 72 landscapes were taken during a voyage down the river in November 2002, beginning in Xishuangbanna, in southern China’s Yunnan province. He trekked the entire length of the stream to the delta southeast of Ho Chi Minh City.
He and his travelling companions visited the grave of celebrated French explorer Henri Mouhot in Luang Prabang, the man who mapped much of the river in the 19th century. The hovercraft the group used to explore the Mekong had to be “portaged” around the lovely Khone Falls on the Lao-Cambodian border. All this is chronicled in the exhibition, and there are views of Angkor and Vietnam’s Oc Eo as well.
“When the expedition finally arrived in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, it marked the first successful continuous navigation of the river,” Hohler claims.
An experienced tour director and “media travel consultant” on the Greater Mekong Sub-region, Hohler hails from Karlsruhe, Germany, on the Rhine River. He studied geology there and then ethnology, political science and more geography at Heidelberg University. He moved to Thailand in 1987.