Voyage dans les Royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge et de Laos
by Henri Alexandre Mouhot
Publisher: Librairie Hachette Paris. Edited and annoted by Ferdinand de Lanoye.
Language : French
Henri Mouhot's description of Angkor in the year 1860 -- Chapters XVIII, XIX and XX (pp 186-221) of this book -- is concise, informative and a pleasure to read. His further speculations about the origins of the Khmer people seem certainly outdated, yet some of his notations, such as the fact that the natives in Angkor area viewed the Eastern ethnic populations (Stieng, Moi, Tampuan, Khmer Leu, etc...) as "eldest brothers", are definitely important.
A self-taught botanist and photographer, Henri Mouhot traveled four times from Bangkok across the Kingdoms of Siam, Cambodia and Lao. Not being a trader, nor a military man, and without any other support than some backing from two scientific Societies in London, he was indeed a "free agent", and the precursor of the modern wanderlust traveler.
This status led to long-lasting polemics around his writings, some critics arguing that he was promoting colonialist expansionism (he was not) or tried to steal from others the title of "Angkor rediscoverer" (he did not).
It must be noted that the French edition is less exhaustive than the English one, established and published 4 years earlier by Henri Mouhot´s brother, Charles Mouhot, and does not include the many illustrations produced from Henri Mouhot´s sketches and photographs.
- As it often occured often in Mouhot's times, Angkor can be spelled "Ongkor", "Nokhor" or "Angcor".
- Editions in English: Mouhot, Henri, Travels in Siam, Cambodia and Laos 1858-1860, London, John Murray, 1864, 2 vols, edited and translated by Charles Mouhot. Reprinted Bangkok, White Lotus, 1986; reprinted Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1989 and 1992.
- Read a documented biography of Henri Mouhot by Dawn F. Rooney here.
- A map of the Mekong River Basin by Mouhot was added to the first French edition:
Henri Mouhot's grave near Luang Prabang as seen by L. Delaporte
About the Author
Henri Alexandre Mouhot
Philologist, self-taught photographer and naturalist Henri Mouhot (15 May 1826, Montbeliard, France -10 Nov. 1861, Naphan, Laos) started exploring South East Asia in 1857 with the support of the Royal Geographical Society and the Zoological Society of London. French authorities never supported his journeys aimed at natural sciences research.
Mouhot´s connection with Great Britain was also personal since he married in 1856 the granddaughter (or niece?) of famous Scottish explorer Mungo Park (1771-1806), Annette Park (18??, Berwick-on-Tweed - 1894), and lived with her in Jersey. His brother Charles, who traveled with him across Europe and Russia, married another of Park´s relative, Jane Elizabeth Mary Park.
Also, it has been said that John Bowring´s book published in 1857, The Kingdom and People of Siam, gave him the idea of visiting South East India. Last but not least, his travelogue around South East Asia was first published in London in an edition collated by Charles Mouhot in 1862.
His Journal and letters, later collated in the book Voyage dans les Royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge et de Laos (1868) for the French public, became a sensation for his description of Angkor, which he reached from the South in January 1860 (chapters 18, 19, 20). If he was not the first Westerner to access the Angkorian site, his relation was so vivid, detailed and well-written that ït gave him (posthumously) the reputation of being the first "Angkor rediscoverer".
Henri Mouhot, was had studied Greek and Latin and taught Greek at a Saint-Petersburg gymnasium during the twelve years he stayed in Russia, took some epigraphic notes on Khmer and Lao languages that are kept at the British Library and can be viewed here.
Henri Mouhot died of malaria fever (called "fievre des bois" among the French explorers of Indochina) on Nov 10, 1861, in the vicinity of Luang Prabang, the southernmost Royal city of Laos. His grave, erected in 1867, has been rediscovered in 1989.
According to American Protestant missionary Daniel McGilvary, who visited the area in 1876-1877 (in A Half Century Among the Siamese and The Lao, An Autobiography, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1912), "no doubt the real spirits are the malarial germs or the poisonous gas which later we found to be the chief danger of the Chieng Dāo cave. It was in this cave that M. Mouhot, a noted French scientist, contracted the fever from which he died. The natives believed that his death was caused by his rashness in trespassing upon the domain of the spirits who preside over the cave."
Angkor Wat 'Central Pavilion' sketched by H. Mouhot; A map of Ongkor (Angkor) by the author.