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W. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport) Adams.

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IN THE FAR EAST ***




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IN THE FAR EAST.




[Illustration: LAOTIAN BOAT DESCENDING A RAPID.

Page 77.
]




IN THE FAR EAST:

A Narrative of Exploration and Adventure

IN COCHIN-CHINA, CAMBODIA,
LAOS, AND SIAM.

_BY THE AUTHOR OF
“The Arctic World,” “The Mediterranean Illustrated,”
&c. &c._

WITH TWENTY-EIGHT FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS.

LONDON: THOMAS NELSON AND SONS.
EDINBURGH AND NEW YORK.
1879.




Contents.


I. THROUGH LAOS TO CHINA, 9
II. EXPERIENCES AMONG THE CHINESE, 106
III. RETURN TO SAIGON, 133
IV. DR. MORICE AND THE MEKONG, 140
V. M. MOUHOT IN CAMBODIA, 176




List of Illustrations.


LAOTIAN BOAT DESCENDING A RAPID, _Frontispiece_
SCENE ON THE MEKONG, 13
PEACOCK-HUNTING, 29
MOUNTAIN-PEAK NEAR BASSAC, 33
FUNERAL CEREMONY OF THE LAOTIANS, 37
CORONATION OF THE KING OF OUBON, 45
ANNAMITES AT LAKON, 51
NATURAL PILLAR IN THE MOUNTAINS OF LAKON, 55
TAPPING THE BORASSUS PALM, 59
BUDDHIST TAT AT NONG KAY, 63
MONASTERY OF WAT SISAKET, 67
PASSAGE OF A RAPID, 71
RICE-FIELD AND PAGODA AT MUONG MAI, 75
PAGODA AT PAK LAY, 79
BAMBOO BRIDGE AT XIENG KHONG, 83
FOREST ROAD NEAR MUONG LIM, 87
A NIGHT HALT NEAR SIEM-LAP, 91
TRAVELLING IN A RAVINE NEAR SOP YONG, 95
INTERVIEW WITH THE KING OF MUONG YOU, 99
MOUNTAIN VILLAGE AND RICE-FIELDS NEAR POU-EUL, 103
VALLEY OF KON-TCHANG, 109
CROSSING A RAVINE, 113
MERCHANT TRAIN IN YUNNAN, 137
ANNAMITE LADY AND HER SERVANT, 141
CHINESE HOUSE AT KHOLEN, 151
VINH-LONG, 163
SCENE AT TAYNINH, 167
CHINESE MERCHANTS OF SAIGON, 173




IN THE FAR EAST.




CHAPTER I.

THROUGH LAOS TO CHINA.


A considerable portion of the Indo-Chinese peninsula is occupied by
the extensive country of Cambodia, or Camboja, known to the natives
as _Kan-pou-chi_. It extends from lat. 8° 47′ to 15° N., along the
basin of the Mekong, Makiang, or Cambodia river; and is bounded on the
north by Laos; on the south, by the Gulf of Siam and the China Sea; on
the east, by Cochin-China; and on the west, by Siam. Formerly it was
independent; but since 1809 it has been included within the empire of
Annam, except the province of Battabang, which belongs to the kingdom
of Siam. But since the French established themselves at Saigon in
1858, and have gradually obtained a controlling power in Annam (or
Cochin-China), their influence has also extended to Cambodia.

~COURSE OF THE MEKONG.~

The largest river of Cambodia, and of the whole Indo-Chinese peninsula,
is the Mekong, Makiang, or Cambodia, which, rising in the mountains of
China, under the name of the Lan-tsan-kiang, flows in a south-easterly
direction across the province of Yunnan; thence, under the name of the
Kiou-long, traverses the territory of Laos; and afterwards, as the
Mekong, intersects Cambodia, dividing the Annam portion from that which
belongs to Siam; separates into several branches, and finally falls
into the China Sea, after a fertilizing course of about fifteen hundred
miles. Its two principal mouths are those of the Japanese and Oubequum
channels. There are several smaller mouths, however, the southernmost
of which is situated in lat. 9° 30′ N., and long. 106° 20′ E.

Very little was known of this great river until the French had made
themselves masters of Saigon. It has since been explored in parts of
its course by M. Mouhot, Lieutenant Garnier, and others. The country
which it waters possesses many features of interest; and the scenery
through which it flows is often of a romantic and beautiful character.
The manners and customs of the people dwelling on its banks are not
unworthy of consideration; and we propose, therefore, to carry the
reader with us on a voyage up this magnificent stream, - penetrating,
under the guidance of Lieutenant Garnier, into hitherto unexplored
parts of Cambodia, and even into China itself.

* * * * *

~A FRENCH EXPEDITION.~

In 1866 the French Government determined on despatching an expedition
to explore the upper valley of the great Cambodian river, and placed
it in charge of M. de Lagrée, a captain in the French navy. M. Thorel,
a surgeon, was attached to it as botanist; M. Delaporte, as artist;
Dr. Joubert, as physician and geologist; and among the other members
were Lieutenant Garnier, to whose record of the expedition we are
about to be indebted, and M. de Carné. After a visit to Ongcor, the
capital of the ancient kingdom of the Khmers, with those vast memorials
of antiquity described so graphically by M. Mouhot, the expedition
proceeded to ascend the great river, passing the busy villages of
Compong Luong and Pnom Penh - the latter the residence of the king of
Cambodia. Here they abandoned the gun-brigs which had brought them
from Saigon, and embarked themselves and their stores on board boats
better fitted for river navigation.

~BOATING ON THE MEKONG.~

These boats or canoes are manned, according to their size, by a crew
of six to ten men. Each is armed with a long bamboo, one end of which
terminates with an iron hook, the other with a small fork. The men take
up their station on a small platform in the fore part of the boat,
plant their bamboos against some projection on the river-bank, tree
or stone, and then march towards the stern; returning afterwards on
the opposite side to repeat the process. This strange kind of circular
motion suffices to impel the boat at the rate of a man walking at full
speed, when the boatmen are skilful at their work, and the river-bank
is straight and well defined. The master’s attention is wholly
occupied, meanwhile, in keeping the bow of the canoe in the direction
of the current, or rather slightly headed towards the shore. It is
obvious that such a mode of navigation is liable to many interruptions,
and cannot be commended on the score of swiftness or convenience.

[Illustration: SCENE ON THE MEKONG]

~FORMIDABLE RAPIDS.~

On the 13th of July the canoes took their departure from Cratieh, and
soon afterwards arrived at Sombor. They then effected the passage
of the rapids of Sombor-Sombor - no great difficulty being experienced,
owing to the rise of the waters. Beyond this point the broad bed of the
great river was encumbered with a multitude of islands, low and green,
while the banks were covered with magnificent forests. The voyagers
noticed here some trees of great value - the yao; the ban-courg, the
wood of which makes capital oars; and the lam-xe, which should be
highly prized by the European cabinet-makers.

~A WEARY VOYAGE.~

On the 16th of July the voyagers again fell in with a series of
formidable rapids. The sharp and clearly-defined shores of the islands
which had hitherto enclosed the arm of the river they were navigating
were suddenly effaced. The Cambodia was covered with innumerable clumps
of trees, half under water; its muddy torrent rolled impetuously
through a thousand canals, forming an inextricable labyrinth. Huge
blocks of sandstone rose at intervals along the left bank, and
indicated that strata of the same rock extended across the river-bed.
At a considerable distance from the shore the poles of the boatmen
found a depth of fully ten feet; and it was with extreme difficulty
the canoes made way against the strong, fierce current, which in some
confined channels attained a velocity of five miles an hour.

Storms of wind and rain contributed to render the voyage more
wearisome and the progress slower. It was no easy task at night to
find a secure haven for the boats; and the sudden floods of the little
streams at the mouth of which the voyagers sought shelter, several
times subjected them to the risk of being carried away during their
sleep, and cast all unexpectedly into the mid-current of the great
river. They slept on board their boats, because the roof was some
protection from the furious rains; but these soon soaked through the
mats and leaves of which it was composed. The weather was warm, and
thus these douche-baths were not wholly insupportable; and when the
voyagers could not sleep, they found some consolation in admiring the
fantastic illumination which the incessant lightnings kindled in the
gloomy arcades of the forest, and in listening to the peals of thunder,
repeated by a thousand echoes, and mingling with the hoarse continuous
growl of the angry waters.

Such are some of the features of the navigation of the lower part of
the Cambodia. But our limits compel us to pass over several chapters
of Lieutenant Garnier’s narrative, and to take it up after the voyagers
had crossed the boundaries of Siam and Cambodia and entered Laos.

~THE LAOTIANS DESCRIBED.~

~LAOTIAN COSTUME.~

Lieutenant Garnier describes the Laotians as generally well made and
robust. Their physiognomy, he says, is characterized by a singular
combination of cunning and apathy, benevolence and timorousness.
Their eyes are less regular, their cheeks less prominent, the nose
straighter, than is the case with other peoples of Mongolian origin;
and but for their much paler complexion, which closely approaches that
of the Chinese, we should be tempted to credit them with a considerable
admixture of Hindu blood. The male Laotian shaves his head, and, like
the Siamese, preserves only a small tuft of very short hair on the
summit. He dresses himself tastefully, and can wear the finest stuffs
with ease and dignity. He chooses always the liveliest colours; and
the effect of a group of Laotians, with the brilliant hues of their
costume set off by their copper-tinted skin, is very striking. The
common people wear an exceedingly simple garb - the langouti, a piece of
cotton stuff passed between the legs and around the waist. For those
of higher rank the langouti is of silk; and is frequently accompanied
by a small vest buttoned over the chest, with very narrow sleeves, and
another piece of silk folded round the waist as a girdle, or round the
neck as a scarf. Head-gear and foot-gear are things little used in
Laos; but the labourers and boatmen, when working or rowing under a
burning sun, protect the head with an immense straw hat, almost flat,
much like a parasol. Personages of high rank, when they are in “full
dress,” wear a kind of slipper, which appears to inconvenience them
greatly, and is thrown off at the earliest opportunity.

Most of the Laotians tattoo themselves on the stomach or legs, though
the practice is much more prevalent in the north than in the south. The
Laotian women do not wear much more clothing than their husbands. The
langouti, instead of being brought up between the legs, is fastened
round the waist, and allowed to hang down like a short tight petticoat
below the knees. Generally, a second piece of stuff is worn over the
bosom, and thrown back across either the right or left shoulder. The
hair, always of a splendid jetty blackness, is twisted up in a chignon
on the top of the head, and kept in its place by a small strip of
cotton or plaited straw, frequently embellished with a few flowers.
Every woman ornaments her neck, arms, and legs with rings of gold,
silver, or copper, sometimes heaped one upon another in considerable
quantity. The very poor are content with belts of cotton or silk; to
which, in the case of children, are suspended little amulets given by
the priests as talismans against witchcraft or remedies against disease.

* * * * *

Strictly speaking, polygamy does not exist in Laos. Only the well-to-do
indulge in the embarrassing luxury of more wives than one; and even
with these a favoured individual is recognized as the lawful spouse.

~SLAVERY IN LAOS.~

Unhappily, slavery prevails, as it does in Siam and Cambodia. A
debtor may be enslaved, by judicial confiscation; but the “peculiar
institution” is chiefly recruited from the wild tribes in the eastern
provinces. The slaves are employed in tilling the fields, and in
domestic labours; they are treated with great kindness. They often
live so intimately and so familiarly with their masters, that, but for
their long hair and characteristic physiognomy, it would be difficult
to distinguish them in the midst of a Laotian “interior.”

The Laotians are a slothful people, and, when not rich enough to own
slaves, leave the best part of the day’s work to be done by the women,
who not only perform the household labour, but pound the rice, till
the fields, paddle the canoes. Hunting and fishing are almost the only
occupations reserved for the stronger sex.

~FISH-CATCHING PROCESSES.~

We have not space to describe all the engines employed for catching
fish, which, next to rice, is the principal food of all the riverine
populations of the Mekong valley, and is furnished by the great river
in almost inexhaustible quantities. The most common are large tubes of
bamboo and ratan, having one or more funnel-shaped necks, the edges
of which prevent the fish from escaping after they have once entered.
These apparatus are firmly attached, with their openings towards the
current, to a tree on the river-bank, or, by means of some heavy
stones, are completely submerged. Every second or third day their owner
visits them, and empties them of their finny victims. The Laotians
also make use of an ingenious system of floats, which support a row of
hooks, and realize the European “fishing by line,” without the help of
the fisherman. There are various other methods adopted, such as the
net and the harpoon; and in the employment of all these the Laotians
display considerable activity and address.

* * * * *

Let us now accompany our French voyagers in their further ascent of the
river. As we have already hinted, its navigation is not without its
inconveniences, and even its dangers.

~A SUDDEN STORM.~

One evening, for example, they dropped anchor at the mouth of a
small stream which, in foam and spray, came tumbling down from the
mountains of Cambodia. After supper they lay down to rest on the mats
which covered the deck of their vessels. Black was the sky, hot and
oppressive the air; all around were visible the portents of a coming
storm. The distant roar of the hurricane failed, however, to disturb
the sleepers, who were spent and overcome with the fatigues of the day.
But at last they were wakened effectually by a “thunder-plump,” which
quickly flooded their canoes, and drove them upon deck.

~THE FLOOD SUBSIDES.~

In the midst of the elemental disorder, they became aware of a hoarse
growling sound; the waters were violently agitated, and a great crest
of foam rapidly advanced towards their feeble barks. In a few moments
it was upon them. It swept clean over the voyagers and their canoes,
and those of the latter which had been carelessly moored were borne
down the rushing tide. At first an indescribable disorder prevailed;
cries of distress rose in every direction; the canoes dashed violently
against one another, or came into collision with uprooted trunks
floating on the surface of the storm-tossed waters. Fortunately, the
danger was quickly over; and as every boat had contrived to grapple
some branch or rock, the voyagers discovered at daybreak that, whatever
injuries these had sustained, no lives had been lost. The furious gale
they had heard in the distance had raised the waters some twelve feet
during the night; but the inundation subsided as rapidly as it had
risen.

Under the shade of wide-branching trees, and closely hugging the shore,
the expedition continued its voyage. The neighbouring forests were
remarkable for their luxuriant vegetation; troops of apes and squirrels
of various species gambolled among the mighty trees, among which rose
conspicuous the superb yao, the king of these forests, the trunk of
which shoots up, free from knot or bough, to a height of eighty or one
hundred feet; and out of which the Laotians hollow their piraguas. In
the morning a wild beast now and then came down to the river to drink;
and night was rendered hideous by the cries and trumpetings of deer,
and tigers, and elephants.

* * * * *

~THE KHON CATARACT.~

At length the voyagers came within hearing of the tremendous roar of
the Khon cataract. Their boatmen, brisker than on ordinary occasions,
hauled or propelled their vessels through a very labyrinth of rocks,
submerged trees, and prostrate trunks still clinging to earth by their
many roots. They knew that their hard labour was nearly at an end, and
that at Khon the expedition would dismiss them, as fresh boats would
be required above the cataract. As for their homeward voyage, what was
it? To ascend the river had been the work of a week; the swift current
would bear them back in less than a day.

~A PLAGUE OF LEECHES.~

The cataract of Khon is really a series of magnificent falls, of
which one of the grandest is caused by the confluence of the Papheng.
There, in the midst of rocks and grassy islets, an enormous sheet of
water leaps headlong from a height of seventy feet, to fall back in
floods of foam, again to descend from crag to crag, and finally glide
away beneath the dense vegetation of the forest. As the river at this
point is about one thousand yards in width, the effect is singularly
striking. But still more imposing is the Salaphe fall, which extends
over a breadth of a mile and a half, at the very foot of the mountains.
In order to examine it at leisure, Lieutenant Garnier engaged a Laotian
to conduct him to an island lying just above it. Before starting, the
guide made certain preparations, of which Garnier could not understand
the necessity, in spite of the Laotian’s efforts to explain them.
Rolling up about his waist the light langouti, he plastered his feet
and legs with a composition of lime and areca juice. This precaution
proved to be far from useless; for, on landing on the island, they
found the soil covered with thousands of leeches, some no larger than
needles, but others two inches and a half to three inches in length. On
the approach of the strangers, they reared themselves erect upon each
dead leaf and blade of grass; they leaped, so to speak, upon them from
every side. The thick coating which the Laotian guide had so prudently
assumed preserved him from their bites; but Garnier, in a few moments,
was victimized by dozens of these blood-suckers, which crawled up his
legs and bled him in spite of all his efforts. He found it impossible
to get rid of his determined antagonists; for one leech which he tore
off, two fresh assailants seized upon him. Glad was he when he caught
sight of a tall tree. He made towards it, scaled its trunk, and, when
out of reach of his foes, set to work to deliver himself from the
creatures which were feasting at his expense. Throwing off his clothes,
he removed the leeches one by one, though it was not without difficulty
that he loosened their hold. Even his waistband had not arrested their
march, for he found that one audacious persecutor had actually reached
his chest.

~A VIEW OF THE CATARACT.~

He felt more than repaid, however, for all his sufferings, when he
arrived within sight of the cataract. With a breadth of two thousand
yards, a prodigious mass of water came down in blinding foam, roaring
like a furious sea when it breaks against an iron-bound coast. At
another point, the flood was divided into eight or ten different
cascades by as many projecting crags, richly clothed in leafage and
vegetation. Beyond, nothing could be seen but one immense rapid, - a
roaring, tumultuous deluge! The sandstone blocks and boulders which
encumbered the river-bed were completely hidden by the whirl and eddy
of the waves; and their position could be detected only by the foam on
the surface, or the vapour floating wreath-like in the air. Further
still, a few black points, a few ridges of rock, and a chain of small
islets, stretched across to the opposite bank, which it was impossible
to approach, and where, apparently, the cataract seemed to attain its
greatest fury. Such was the great fall of Salaphe, - a scene of sublime
grandeur, conveying the idea of everlasting strength and power.

* * * * *

~VISIT TO BASSAC.~

While preparing to continue their ascent of the river, Lieutenant
Garnier and his companions visited Bassac, one of the most important
towns in Laos. It is situated in the heart of the richest tropical
scenery; and the members of the expedition found it impossible to
ramble in any direction without coming upon some fresh and beautiful
landscape, or some object of the highest interest. The mountains which
surround Bassac are clothed to their very summits with vegetation; and
down the shadowy glens which furrow their rugged sides sparkle bright,
pure streams on their way to the all-absorbing Mekong. The people of
Bassac are a mild and peaceable race, and they received the strangers
with cordial hospitality. The time was spent most agreeably in paying
and receiving visits; in excursions among the beautiful scenery of the
neighbourhood, the choicest “bits” of which they transferred to their
sketch-books; in studying the manners and customs of the inhabitants;
and in essaying their skill as marksmen against the wild denizens of
the forest.

~IN PURSUIT OF GAME~

The larger game are generally caught by the hunters of Bassac in
nets or snares. The chase on a grand scale is almost unknown. In
the forests, however, the hunters sometimes call in the elephant to
their assistance; they are thus able to get close to the wished-for
prey, as the latter do not take alarm at the approach of an animal
so well known. Lieutenant Garnier tells us that he enjoyed his sport
in a modest fashion. Sometimes he spent whole days in traversing the
dried-up swamps, in the shade of dense masses of trees bound together
inextricably by every kind of liana and parasite. To such places resort
numerous companies of peacocks and wild fowl during the hot season; but
their pursuit is always difficult, and frequently dangerous. Indeed,
the Laotians cherish a belief that the tiger and the peacock are
always found in the same localities.

[Illustration: PEACOCK HUNTING.]

* * * * *

~A MOUNTAIN EXCURSION.~

One evening, seated at the foot of a tamarisk-tree, the fruit of which
a troop of squirrels was busily crunching among the branches overhead,
Garnier and his comrade, Dr. Thorel, took counsel together; with the
conclusion that, on the day following, they would undertake a mountain
excursion, and boldly attempt to scale one of the most elevated peaks.
Accordingly, at dawn they started, attended by their usual escort - a
native, christened Luiz.

With swift feet they crossed the rice-plantations and marshes that
separated them from the foot of the mountains; and by a narrow winding
track reached the bed of a dried-up torrent, where they halted for
a brief rest. Thence, plunging into the forest, they slowly climbed
the precipitous heights, occasionally confronted by a rugged steep,
or an immense mass of rock that seemed likely to baffle all their
aspirations, but was eventually conquered by combined skill and
resolution. The forest soon changed its character; the rarefaction of
the air forced itself upon their notice; the daring adventurers rose
above the clouds and vapours of the plain. On arriving at a narrow
ledge of table-land they halted for breakfast. The first requisite was
fresh water; rare enough at that season of the year, and at such a


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Online LibraryW. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport) AdamsIn the Far East : a narrative of exploration and adventure in Cochin-China, Cambodia, Laos, and Siam → online text (page 1 of 9)