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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Thailand Reflected in a River

One of the best quality books available at my local Bookazine is Thailand Reflected in a River (ISBN 974-91246-9-3), written by Steve Van Beek. Originally published in 2004, it is, however, a timeless publication and is a body of work that has come from his personal paddling of all the major waterways, and his copious notes on each. Unfortunately, this wonderful book about Thailand was printed in Hong Kong. Shame!
In the introduction, Van Beek states his intention for the book to be far more than just the Chao Phya in Bangkok (as compared to Warren and Lloyd’s Bangkok Waterways ISBN 981-00-1011-7 with its list of the monuments and buildings along the shores), but an exploration of the Chao Phya and its four tributaries, the Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan. However, there is the 5th river, the Pasak that comes from Petchabun entering the Chao Phya above Ayutthaya.
As pointed out very early in the book, the Chao Phya system drains 23 percent of Thailand’s land mass and carries 16.7 billion cubic meters volume of water through an almost 3,000 km network.
The book is divided into four main sections itself, but these are not geographical. It begins with the Chao Phya in history, then the Soul of a Culture, the Chao Phya in daily life and finally Binding People Together.
Van Beek has a flowing literary style (making it a natural for an epic on waterways!) and easy reading of natural history, something many would balk at trying. The engraving done in 1658 AD showing that the Chao Phya originated in a great lake in China was a belief that was held well into the 19th century.
History gives way to the influences on and by the Chao Phya as far as the religion of the country of Siam is concerned and its eventual result today. This even includes a small treatise on the origins of water being incorporated into Christian theology.
The rites and rituals and water festivals are also explored. It is disappointing to read just how Songkran has degenerated over the years.
Flora and fauna, fishing and farming are covered in the same detail, and will keep you totally enthralled as it did me.
As in some of his previous books (he has authored 21 and 42 documentaries), Van Beek makes much use of archived photographs and maps, and it is some of these that makes this book even more of a resource material than otherwise. Present day photographs are excellent too, with most approaching ‘art’ and not just illustrative. The emotive photographic cover of the book being a fine example.
This is far more than a book on the history of a river, but is a history of a nation, its peoples, its culture, beliefs and religion, using the main river system to meld it all into one.
With an RRP of 1995 baht, this heavyweight is also fairly heavy in the wallet draining department, but is well worth it. The quality is there, all the way through from material, research, printing and binding. Get one for your coffee table.