Weekly Local Biography

  Reinhard Hohler

Reinhard 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 paradise.

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 Chinese.

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.