In the footsteps of Henry Mouhot. (Long Read)

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In the footsteps of Henry Mouhot. (Long Read)

Post by Kung-fu Hillbilly »

Henri Mouhot sitting at the foot of a tree and drawing; Laos; wild elephants (background); servants preparing food (foreground) (Drawn by A. Poccourt from a sketch by H. Mouhot)

by Dawn F. Rooney

The First King of Cambodia (Ang Duang, reigned 1848-1860) was in residence and granted an audience to Mouhot, who presented the king with an English 'walking-stick gun.'

For nearly three years, from 1858 until his death in Laos in 1861, Henri Mouhot explored the inner regions of Thailand (known as Siam at that time), Cambodia and Laos. His legacy is a detailed and unfinished diary of his keen observations of the places, people, animals, insects and shells of the region. Some of his notes are the earliest surviving records of previously uncharted areas.

Mouhot used many modes of travel - fishing boats plying the coastline, elephants, surefooted horses for mountainous areas, oxen carts and, often, he trudged through the jungle on foot. He slept in a hut when he could, but his accommodation was usually a hammock strung between two trees and a mosquito net. He even spent one night in a tree when he was exploring a mountain range and lost his bearings while chasing a wild boar.

In the spring of 1859, Mouhot left Chantaboun in a fishing boat and followed the coastline along the Gulf of Siam to Kampot, on the west side. The First King of Cambodia (Ang Duang, reigned 1848-1860) was in residence and granted an audience to Mouhot, who presented the king with an English 'walking-stick gun.' The king reciprocated by giving Mouhot permission to travel to the capital of Udong, an eight-day journey to the north-east by oxen. There Mouhot met the Second King of Cambodia (Norodom, reigned 1860-1904) who provided him with wagons and elephants to continue north to the village of Pinhalu where he visited the Stiens, a savage tribe occupying an area east of the Mekong.

Mouhot's first impressions of Nokhor, or Ongcor [Angkor] testify to his astuteness and perceptiveness. 'In the province still bearing the name of Ongcor,...there are,...ruins of such grandeur, remains of structures which must have been raised at such an immense cost of labour, that, at the first view, one is filled with profound admiration, and cannot but ask what has become of this powerful race, so civilised, so enlightened, the authors of these gigantic works? One of these temples -a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michael Angelo - might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome...' (EN 8)

In the summer of 1860, Mouhot set out on another pioneering journey, this time to north-eastern Siam and Laos as far north as Luang Prabang. Before his departure, Siamese in Bangkok told Mouhot that they knew of only one other foreigner in the past twenty-five years, a French priest, who had penetrated the heart of Laos and returned safely.

After following the Nam Kan for an hour since our departure from Ban Penom, we arrived at the foot of a rather high mountain, the Pou So-uan, close to big rapids which are called Keng Noun and we made a stopover in a small Laotian hut built close to the river. The owner told me he had helped Mouhot's men bury their master and he proposed to take me to his tomb.

The idea that seeing the world is going from place to place to look at obvious things is an illusion natural to dull minds.
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Re: In the footsteps of Henry Mouhot. (Long Read)

Post by siliconlife »

Highly recommended read. Like visiting another, strangely familiar world. Interesting to read alongside Zhou Daguan and the like.
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