Hohler first came to Thailand as a student over thirty years
ago. It was clear to him that he didn’t want to spend his life
in Germany, so he took advantage of a three month break between
his education and entering the German Air Force, to explore a
little bit of the world. He traveled east from his native
Germany to Venice, then on the Orient Express through Istanbul,
Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He went on to Sri
Lanka and visited the ancient Buddhist cities of the island.
Then he went home, his view of the world considerably broadened.
After a two year stint in the Air Force, he
returned to Bangkok and from there traveled all over Southeast
Asia. He went to Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Java and Sumatra in
Indonesia, but of all the countries he visited he liked Thailand
best. He loved the ancient cities, and he loved learning about
Buddhism. He was interested in how much the Thai people loved
their King. German people had a long tradition of coming to
Thailand that dated back to the days of King Chulalongkorn. He
wanted to find out why they loved it. He found the answer in the
climate, people, culture and food. It was exotic. It was
He studied the history of the Kingdom, and
began to visit every year. He entered university and began
studying geology. A professor sent him to Phuket to do field
research on the tin mines. He realized there that his interests
had considerably broadened since he entered university. He did
not want to be a geologist; he had discovered that he liked the
study of people better than the study of rocks.
He changed fields at Heidelberg University
and began a lifelong study of ethnology. He became an assistant
to a professor who was an expert on the Akha. This professor
suggested that Reinhard study the Lisu, and so the young student
began a ten-year study of the Lisu in northern Thailand.
Unfortunately reality reared its head a few years later, and he
was confronted with the need to earn a living! Tourism was
thriving between Germany and Thailand, and his expertise and
linguistic skills were in great demand. By then he spoke German,
Thai, Lisu, English and French, and could “get by” in the
border countries of Thailand with Burmese, Cambodian and
For twenty years he was as a tour director,
working closely with Thai tour guides and giving lectures as he
traveled with groups of tourists from Germany. They went all
over Thailand and throughout the neighboring countries of the
Mekong River. He co-authored a book about Yunnan, China, and a
documentary film about the Emerald Buddha. In order to comply
with Thai law, he had to obtain permission from the King of
Thailand for the documentary, which he did. In German, it is
called “In the Magic Circle of the Emerald Buddha”.
He married a lovely Thai woman and they had a
daughter. He continued his studies of the Lisu while traveling
and lecturing. Travel and Southeast Asia were in his blood. His
library of over 1,000 photographs and 2,000 books on Southeast
Asia attest to that.
The terrible events of 9/11 changed the
travel business all over the world. People simply quit
traveling, and the transportation and tourism industries
suffered badly. Reinhard made a segue into travel writing for
trade magazines, the Chiang Mai Mail and the Siam
Society. As a travel writer and media travel consultant he had
the experience of a lifetime in 2002 when he was asked to become
part of the Mekong Expedition, which traveled throughout the six
countries of the Mekong River from Yunnan Province in China to
Vietnam, exploring and photographing the people and places they
visited on the 3,000 kilometer trip. Photographic exhibitions
and lectures on the outcome of the expedition have been held in
Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen. Reinhard is working on a book, which
will include some of his beautiful photographs of the area. He
anticipates more involvement with the Siam Society.
Despite the devastating events of 9/11, SARS,
bird flu, AIDS and the tsunami, Reinhard says that tourism in
Thailand remains a resilient – even if somewhat uncertain -
industry. The climate, people, food and culture draw visitors
from many countries, and study tours are becoming a new niche
market. While academic study tours have long been established,
the new study tour includes tours of restaurants and markets by
chefs who come to study the cuisine, spa proprietors who
investigate the amazing and worldwide success of the spas, and a
host of other entrepreneurs. Reinhard is active in organizations
that analyze trends in tourism and promote tourism in the region
such as PATA and Skๅl.
When he isn’t leading tours or giving
lectures, Reinhard enjoys listening to the music of Bob Dylan or
the folk music of Isaan. He also likes to buzz around town on
his motorbike or ride through the hills outside of Chiang Mai in
his old Land Rover. A lifetime member of the Siam Society, he is
presently working on a project about Dr. Adolf Bastian, a German
explorer who wrote a travelogue of Southeast Asia in the 1860s.
His daughter is growing up and becoming an
accomplished Hohler herself. In her last year of school before
university, she dances, models, and is featured on a
children’s television show, “Kids Only”. She’s not yet
sure what direction her life will take, but she studies hard.
Reinhard hopes that Chiang Mai can preserve
its more than 700 years of culture despite “the onslaught of
globalization”. It remains a paradise for both residents and
tourists, but faces challenges to maintain that position.
He says his academic standing remains open. He may yet finish
that study on the Lisu and become Dr. Reinhard Hohler. A
professor at Heidelberg University had a saying, and Reinhard
repeats it, “There is no deadline, only a lifeline.” He
looks forward as he continues his work.