The Chaophraya Treasure Hunters

The Chaophraya treasure hunters seek antiques and objects lost in the river. They have been digging under the muddy water for generations. Their dusty helmets and their makeshift boats enable them to dive every day. With bare hands they scrape the bottom of the river. Mud and debris is often all they found when they reach the surface. They desperately brave the current during hours, not certain that at the end of the day, they will find the expected troves.

Now the treasure hunters face expropriation. The Thai government plan to construct a concrete walkway on both sides of the river. The “promenade” will stretch on a 14 km distance during the first phase of the construction plan. The treasure hunters way of life, deeply entrenched in the river, will disappear. The plan will cause a disruption of the cultural landscape. The communities and ancient monuments located along the riveride will be cut from their natural environment.

Saam is 49 years old. He has been diving for 35 years. Fifteen people dive every day to collect ancient items and make their living selling them. The Community of divers, established near the Krung Thon Bridge, shares the rewards of their perilous work. Saam says that the treasures hunters embarked their quest maybe on hundred years ago. They have transmitted their knowledge for generations. A glance is enough to know if an item is valuable, where it comes from, if the buyer will be interested.

The lost antiques they pick up some 14 meters underneath the surface will end up on a well-known market of Bangkok. Amulets, ancient coins, ancient tableware are the relics of the past trading activity of the river.  During their remaining time, the treasure hunters will keep diving, praying that the obsolete motor pumping the air will not stop.

Laetizia Campana is a self-taught photographer and a former boxer living in Bangkok. She is interested in documenting vanishing worlds and people who live on the fringe of our modern societies.

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