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Title: Notes of a Journey on the Upper Mekong, Siam
Author: Smyth, H. Warington
Language: English
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                               NOTES OF
                 A JOURNEY ON THE UPPER MEKONG, SIAM.


                                  BY
                          H. WARINGTON SMYTH,
        OF THE ROYAL DEPARTMENT OF MINES AND GEOLOGY, BANGKOK.


                     WITH MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.


                             PUBLISHED FOR
                    THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY
                                  BY
              JOHN MURRAY, 50, ALBEMARLE STREET, LONDON.
                                 1895.



[Illustration: THE RAPIDS AT THE GATES OF CHIENG KONG, MEKONG RIVER.]



PREFACE.


I have put together the following account of a recent journey made for
the Siamese Government to the Mekong valley, chiefly for the reason
that at the present moment, when the French have "rectified" their
boundaries on the north and east of Siam to the extent of some 85,000
square miles, more interest than usual will probably be felt in the
character of the country and the people, of whom there are not too
many reliable accounts to be found. At the same time, I feel very
strongly that there are others whose descriptions will be far more
valuable than my own, owing to their longer residence in the country,
and the greater extent of their explorations. I refer especially to
Messrs. McCarthy, Archer, and Beckett, who have done difficult and
extensive work in all parts of Siam and the Laos states; and there is
certainly no European, and probably no Siamese, that knows so much of
the configuration of the north-east as does Mr. McCarthy, who, carried
on by an apparently deep love of jungle-life, has aroused the
admiration of the Siamese and Laos at Luang Prabang by his hardihood
and energy, and the results of whose work were a constant source of
admiration to me, as I went on and saw the wildness and difficulty of
the country.

The object of my journey was primarily the examination, for the
Siamese Government, of a supposed very rich deposit of gems (rubies
and sapphires), lately discovered on the left bank of the Mekong,
opposite Chieng Kong. My orders were to return by Luang Prabang,
Nongkhai, and Khorat, and to visit and report on all mineral deposits
of which I could get information, gathering all geological data which
were possible. The time allowed was six months, and I was not to leave
the general line of march prescribed by more than 60 miles. I need
hardly say--and every one who knows what jungle-travelling is will
understand--that my programme, to be thoroughly carried through over
the large extent of country marked out, might well occupy six years
instead of months; and that such a hurried exploration in a country
covered densely with forest--which, next perhaps to snow, is the
greatest enemy to the science of geology--could not but be
unsatisfactory to one's self.

                                    H. Warington Smyth.



GLOSSARY.

    Pak = mouth of a river; _e.g._ Pak Oo, mouth of river Oo.
    Nam = river; _e.g._ Nam Oo, river Oo (_a_ always long, as in
_barn_).
    Hoay = mountain torrent.
    Keng = rapid; _e.g._ Keng Fapa, Fapa rapid.
    Luang = great or chief; _e.g._ Keng Luang, the great rapid.
    Doi _or_ puh = Siam word Kao = hill.
    Ban _or_ Bang = house or village (used indiscriminately).
    Sala = rest-house.
    Muang = town or township, often district or province.
    Chow Muang = literally, chief of the township = governor.
    Klong = stream or canal.



CONTENTS.

  PART I.
  Bangkok to Muang Nan

  PART II.
  Muang Nan to Muang Chieng Kong

  PART III.
  Muang Chieng Kong to Muang Luang Prabang

  PART IV.
  Luang Prabang (March, 1893)

  PART V.
  Nongkhai to Khorat and Bangkok (April and May, 1893)

  Appendix



MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.

  The Rapids at the Gates of Chieng Kong, Mekong River
  The Meinam below Chainat
  Loaded Rice-Boats lying in Bangkok
  Rua Pet
  Rua Nua
  Rua Nua from Fore End
  Boat hollowed out of Trunk ready to be soaked in River
  Boat opened out over Fire, Ribs and Knees in
  Rice-Boats and Floating House, Paknam Pho
  A Rice-Boat, flying light
  Rice-Raft, Nam Oo
  Wat Chinareth (Central Tower from West)
  A Sala in the Nan Forests
  Khorat Plateau. Entrance to Forest Dong Phya Yen
  Gorge Nam Pgoi
  The Paddy-Fields, Hin Valley
  Wat Ben Yeun, M. Sa
  East Gate of Nan
  Laos Bag, of Striped Cloth
  Kao Neo Wicker Baskets
  Axe for hollowing Boats
  Dipper for Water
  A Hill Monastery, M. Le
  View from M. Le, looking north-west across the Nam Nan and Watershed
of Meinam Khong
  Map--Route from Muang Ngob on the Nam Nan to Muang Chieng Kong on
the Mekong River
  A Gem-Digger's Clearing, Chieng Kong
  Camp at the Fa Pa Rapids
  One of our Elephants, with Howdah on
  The Leading Mule
  A Head Man--Stern View
  A Head Man--Side View
  A Haw--Packs dismounted
  Laos Boat
  Illustration of Oar and Steering-Gear
  Double Boat
  Village above Paku, Mekong
  Forty-Five Feet Boat, Nam Oo
  Map--Part of the Mekong
  Khache Hill Clearings; Rapids above Pak Beng, Mekong
  Dhâp and Sheath
  Jungle Knives
  Mouth of Nam Suung, above Luang Prabang
  Approach to Luang Prabang from North
  Wat Chieng Tong
  Pa Chom Si, Luang Prabang
  Plan of Luang Prabang and River
  Stone Implements
  Government Offices, Luang Prabang
  Keng Kang, Nam Oo. The Plunge off the Left Bank
  Keng Luang
  Ascending Keng Luang, Nam Oo
  Fishing Stakes and Shelters, Nam Oo
  Rudder
  Boats Fishing
  Last of the Hills above Wieng Chan
  The Ruins of Wat Prakaon, Wieng Chan
  Niche and Statue
  South-West Angle, Wat Susaket, Wieng Chan
  Bell
  Bell-Clapper and Joint
  Bamboo Bell
  Four-Sok Kan (1 Inch to Feet)
  Two-Sok Kan
  Air-Chamber
  Kien
  The North Gate and Nam Nun, Khoraat
  Map--The Central Part of the Kingdom of Siam



NOTES OF A JOURNEY ON THE UPPER MEKONG, SIAM.



PART I.

BANGKOK TO MUANG NAN.


Early in December, 1892, we left Bangkok--myself, three Siamese
assistants, and a sergeant's guard as escort, and coolies. At Muang
Chainat, owing to the rapid fall of the river, I had to send back the
Navy launch, which was drawing 3 feet 6 inches; a month earlier she
might have got nearly up to M.[1] Pechai. At Paknam Pho, where the Nam
Pho and Meiping meet, after a good deal of bargaining I secured a _rua
nua_, or north-land boat, to take me on. Boat-travelling in Siam is
much the same everywhere; and in their boat-life, it may be said, the
Siamese have attained a high degree of civilization. Very often the
boat is the home of the family, and after the rains they moor
alongside the bank and cultivate tobacco, cotton, or melons on the
slope on which the rich loam of the floods has settled down; after the
rice harvest they will set out laden with paddy for Bangkok, returning
later on with salt or other luxuries from the south. The Chinese, who
are the most energetic people in the country, carry on extensive
trading in this way. They use a very large double-ended kind of boat,
known as "rice-boat," which has a long cylindrical roof of closely
plaited work impervious to rain, extending from just before the
helmsman to within 10 feet of the bows, where the two or three oarsmen
toil at the long oars. As in all the Siamese boats, the oar is slung
in a grommet, which is turned round the top of a small pole firmly let
into the gunwale at the lower end. This gives the end of the oar
sufficient height inboard, and the oarsman stands to his work facing
forward, the outer hand on a small handle turned at right angles to
the oar, as in the Chinese sampans one sees in the straits. With a big
heavy boat, the action, with a sharp jerk at the end of the stroke, is
not pretty; but in the small _rua chang_ (or sampan) of the city the
motion is exactly that of the gondolier, and with the swaying motion
of the inside leg, which is often quite free, is extremely pretty. It
must be confessed the grommet principle, which at least keeps the oar
in its place, makes the work much easier than the slippery crutch in
which the gondolier at Venice works his long oar, and which proves a
great source of difficulty to the beginner in the art. This method is
known by the Siamese as "chaw"- (or "chow"-)ing.

[Illustration: THE MEINAM BELOW CHAINAT.]

[Illustration: LOADED RICE-BOATS LYING IN BANGKOK.]

Next in size and usefulness to the "rice-boats" (which are generally
about 40 feet long, 10 feet 4 inches beam, with 6 feet 4 inches
extreme draught when loaded, and carry twenty koyans of rice) comes
the _rua pet_, which is a great favourite with the Siamese. It is
cleaner lined than the rice-boat, the cabin arrangement being the
same; that is, the long roof, the deck at the level of the gunwale
going fore and aft, and the storage-room all below, reached by taking
out the neatly fitting pieces of deck, which are made to fit into the
main cross-beams. The helmsman has a slightly raised attap roof over
his head, and he (or she, for the wife and the children down to six
years old can steer as well as the father) looks out from under this
and over the long low roof in front. The steering is done with a
rudder shipped in the usual way on the stern-post, while in the big
rice-boat it is generally on the quarter (if under sail, on the lee
quarter), kept in position by a rope grommet at the head, and another
lanyard put through an eye bored lower down. In both kinds of craft a
finely peaked calico lugsail is used with a fair wind--the matting, of
which the junks and local coast-luggers make their sails, being never
seen inland. The size of the _rua pet_ is generally 40 feet over all,
8 feet 4 inches beam, and 3 feet 4 inches draught loaded; a new one
will cost 300 to 320 ticals, say £26. Teak is largely used in the
construction, and when finished the whole is covered with a coating of
_chunam_, a mixture of oil from the Mai Yang (a magnificently
proportioned tree common in the forest), with dammar oil, which gives
a beautiful red varnish to the hull.

[Illustration: RUA PET.]

A third distinct type of boat is the _rua nua_ ("nua" meaning north,
and "rua" boat), which seems to be rather a Laos than a Siamese form.
It is hardly accurate to call them distinctively "Laos boats," as is
often done, as the real "Laos boat," used both on the Mekong and in
the Laos states proper on the Meinam, is simply a long dug-out canoe,
60 feet long, with an extreme beam of 4 feet. The _rua nua_ is a much
more highly developed type, and is in construction as elaborate as
those above mentioned. It is generally longer than the _rua pet_. My
boat was 56 feet 10 inches over all, with a beam of 10 feet, and
carried the owner and his crew of four men, with myself and twenty
Siamese. At night a few of us slept on shore, in the Salas or
rest-houses of the monasteries, or on the banks of sand. The stem and
stern posts are made of huge chocks of teak, the bottom flat of three
or four huge planks running the whole length of the boat if possible.
Right aft is a high-roofed and very comfortable house in which the
steersman lives; sitting on his high stool, and looking over the usual
plaited roof along the centre of the boat, he turns his long
steering-oar, which reaches far out astern over the port quarter. The
fore-deck of the boat is outrigged on each side to a considerable
distance, while a gangway runs round the centre roof outside for the
man to pole along. Up the Meiping these boats are generally ornamented
with a long high snout of timber out forward, and a high forked tail
astern.

[Illustration: RUA NUA.]

Of small craft the variety is endless--from the small canoes which
hawk _kanoms_, or cakes of rice, sugar, and coconut, to the small
roughly roofed boats which will just hold the owner and his wife and
child if they balance carefully, or the long snake-like boats which
are favourites with the monks at the monasteries. The people usually
build their own boats, and are very good hands at it; and one may see
them in all states of construction,--hollowed out with laborious
chipping ready for opening out over the fire, or already heated and
opened up, with knees and ribs being put in and pegged with wood (for,
like the Norwegians, they never use nails, and the result is great
durability); or ready with a six-inch "wash-streak" all round, and the
light deck at the gunwale level, which is the feature of the smallest,
if we except the _sampans_ and canoes of the capital.

The fittings of the large species of craft above described are often
elaborate and almost yacht-like. A brass trimming to the gunwale, and
bright red prayer-papers, are generally to be seen on board of John
Chinaman. There will be pretty balustrades round the quarters where
the helmsman is, partly for show, partly to keep the small fry from
falling overboard. Curtains of plaited bamboo are hinged to the attap
roof above the helmsman, and when shut down will keep out rain or sun.
At the fore end the deck will shine with the polish given it by the
constant sitting or reclining of the crew, and inside the long low
roof, if there were only sufficient head-room, the floor would be
declared perfect for a dance. All round are lockers, in which cotton
stuffs are stored to take up-country, or betel-box, teapot, and
crockery are stowed; the comfort and luxury of some of these boats
could not be surpassed.

[Illustration: RUA NUA FROM FORE END.]

[Illustration: BOAT HOLLOWED OUT OF TRUNK READY TO BE SOAKED IN
RIVER.]

[Illustration: BOAT OPENED OUT OVER FIRE, RIBS AND KNEES IN.]

And how they do all enjoy life! There is no hurry; if going down
stream, they take it easy enough; and if going up, why overwork? A
week earlier or a week later makes no difference; and so, why not stop
and have some tea and chat as they pass some friendly village, or a
boat with whom last year perhaps they travelled in company for a
month? If the sun gets hot, they will tie up to the bank, and all
hands bathe, the children diving overboard like the best of them. If
it rains, tie up again, light up the fire and cook the rice and mix
the curry for supper; then out cigarettes all hands, and from the
cloud, to which even the stout five-year-old boy, who is the pet of
the ship, contributes his share, gaze complacently out into the damp
evening, where all the myriad life of jungle is piping shrilly in the
swaying bamboo clumps. No wonder these people are happy and
hospitable, ever ready with a joke.

[Illustration: RICE-BOATS AND FLOATING HOUSE, PAKNAM PHO.]

The journey to Muang Pechai took our _rua nua_ 19 days, and owing to
the falling state of the river, our old skipper had to lighten his
ship by selling off a lot of his salt; and even then she drew 3 feet,
and all hands had frequently to go overboard and haul over shallows.

[Illustration: A RICE-BOAT, FLYING LIGHT.]

Above the junction of the Meinam Yome and the Pechai River, the
villages which had thronged the bank gave way to a wild uninhabited
country--the villages few and poor, the paddy-fields far apart and
small. The river winds tortuously between clay banks 30 feet high and
crowned with the prickly bamboo or long grasses, or in places with
deep forests of fine timber. Here and there on the inside of the bend
would be extensive sandbanks, and on these, as being safer from wild
animals or fever, often three or four boats' crews would be camping at
night. On the concave side of the bend would be evidences of huge
falls of stuff, the result of the recent floods, with large trees or
bamboo clumps sticking out of the water. Of animal life there was
plenty--the apparently sluggish crocodile, which at the crack of a
rifle would leap his own length into the water; the familiar and
friendly long-tailed monkeys; or the white-headed fish-eagle, and
another big dark-coloured eagle with peculiarly hoarse cry.

The order Herodiones is well represented, and I shot specimens of the
common heron (_Ardea cinerea_), and the great white heron or great
egret (_Ardea alba_); and in the low state of one's larder, which is
the normal condition in Siam, they were excellent eating. Of
kingfishers I saw two distinct forms--the smaller one (?), the pied
kingfisher of India; the larger with a stronger bill, black and white,
without the high colouring of the other. All these birds are very
common, and there are many smaller thin-legged birds running along the
sands.

[Illustration: RICE RAFT, NAM OO.]

As in all the rivers of Siam during and just after the rains, the
water is alive with fish, the most remarkable that I saw being the
"pla reum," a creature often over 3 feet long and the same in
depth--very broad-bodied, with a covering of large scales, the fins,
tail, and gills of a pinky red; head large and broad, with wide mouth
lined with fine rows of diminutive teeth, of which there are two lines
in the upper jaw. The tail is enormously powerful in the water, and,
until he is tired out, the drift-net used for catching him has a very
hard time of it.

After reaching Muang Pichit, the villages occur more frequently again,
and are often palisaded; this is necessary for the protection of the
cattle, which are the favourite prey of the dacoits who wander about
in the valley of the Meinam all too freely, often with fine boats,
which in the daytime are peaceful trading craft to the eye, but at
night suddenly bristle with men. At the present time this kind of
business is an actual danger to the traders as well as to the peaceful
villagers; and at the time I went up, though the Minister of the North
(Prince Damrong) had just been on a tour to Pechai, they were
extremely bold all over the country. Once north of lat. 17° 40', and
in the Laos country, property is safer than in Eaton Square.

One word as to the "wats," or monasteries, and the monks who inhabit
them. They are often misnamed "temples" and "priests;" but, as all who
know the customs of the Buddhist countries around will be aware, there
is no "priesthood" proper. These men are really retired from the world
for the purpose of such meditation as shall bring them as near to the
purity of their master and pattern Buddha as possible. Wherever there
are villages there are wats, supported by the contributions of the
inhabitants, who are bent on gaining merit by their good deeds to
these holy men. Like the monks of "merrie England" in years gone by,
there are good, bad, and indifferent; in many cases the prior is a
keen Pâli student and good musician, and a man of some ideas. The
yellow robe and the shaving of head and eyebrows is not exactly
fascinating at a close view, but among the monks I used to see many
very fine thoughtful faces; while I shall, I hope, always remember the
friendly evenings I spent after the day's voyage, sitting perched on
the bamboo flooring of the sala, high above the quiet stream,
listening to a duet played on their simple two-stringed fiddles. The
body is made of half a coconut-shell, over which the sounding-board is
placed. The string of the bow is between the two strings, and the
execution is wonderful. The airs, which are all handed down by ear,
are a very fast weird music, distinctly catchy, and one, "the trotting
pony," is a wonderfully sweet and descriptive air. Another instrument
is the _toka_, a hollow teak sounding-box with two strings stretched
over a number of bridges, on which the fingers of the left hand work
while the right twangs the strings: this joined in very well with the
fiddles. The intervals are not the same as ours, and the European ear
takes some time to get accustomed to the novelty; after a time,
however, one can sufficiently interpret the airs to get them on a
flute, whereon the proper intervals seem to enable one to get a
correct version of what before seemed rather a jargon. Another
favourite pursuit with the youthful monks is _tetakvoa_, a football of
open wicker-work, which is kept going by the dozen or so players
taking "full volleys" with knee or foot, and often "heading" the ball.
This, of course, is common in the villages too, but I did not see it
in the Laos states.

It is the custom to bring up for the night, whenever possible,
alongside one of these wats, both on account of the convenience of
finding a good sala, and the greater security against robbers. There
is always a wide clear space beneath the trees which shade the
buildings of the monastery, and some of these quiet spots, from which,
as one walks up and down in the evening, one sees the long reach of
river reflecting the last light in the west, or, in the chilly
morning, the first streaks of dawn, are almost ideal places for
retirement and meditation. They, and the life which goes on within,
have been admirably described by Shway Yoe, in his book 'The Burman,'
one of the completest pictures which has ever been drawn of any
people; and the monastery life of Siam is almost identical. As the
monotonous but almost weird chant of the monks floated out across the
stream at sunset, we used to tie up for the night beneath: often it
would go far on into the night; and then long before day the great
gong would begin its clanging, and once more the chant rise among the
mists, and for us another day's poling would commence.

In the Laos states there are many points of difference in the wats,
not only in the architecture (and the hill-wats become very simple,
with a few roughly baked bricks for the low walls, and a thatch roof
in place of the red or wood tiled roofs of Siam), but also in the
_régime_. Every boy, for instance, who goes to do his schooling at the
wat wears the yellow robe, which assumes thus almost the character of
the college gown at home, and until he has so worn it he has no title
to the name of "man." As in Siam, besides his letters, he learns the
elementary precepts taught by Buddha; but, as not in Siam, he often
goes out with his superiors into the jungle, with robe tucked up, to
hew wood or do other work for the support of the wat, which the
laymen, being too few or too poor, cannot do.

During this month of December the north-east monsoon was blowing, but
we had curiously cloudy cool days nearly all the time, with, at the
start, slight rain at times. The minimum reading of the thermometer
was 42° Fahr. on the 22nd, just before sunrise. The two following
mornings we had 45° Fahr.; the maxima in the shade of the steersman's
house being 73°, 77°, and 76° on those days. 50°, 52.5°, 49°, 51°,
54°, 57°, 50°, and 57° were the minima for the next eight days, and
the maximum recorded was 85° at 1 p.m. At 9 a.m. the thermometer was
never above 64°.

At Muang Phitsanulok, which stands along a very pretty sweep of water,
hid deep in its areca and banana palms, I spent a morning at wat
Chinareth. This was the nearest approach to a real piece of effective
architecture that I had seen since leaving, and I once more
experienced the feeling of exultation which one used to know at home,
when enjoying the lights and shadows of some old building where the
mind of man had worked with great result. An additional charm was the
colouring. The coloured tiles of the roofs of the wats are remarkable
in Bangkok; but far in the jungle, when the eye has become accustomed
to green for weeks, the wonderful yellow-red, picked off with green
borders, and the light-red lower buildings of the cloisters, were most
striking. The building was once very extensive, cruciform in shape, in
four distinct sections round the great central tower. The western
building is the only one in any sort of preservation, and south of it,
and at its south-western end, still stand the cloisters. Brick and
laterite blocks are the material used, the former in some cases, as in
the wall and the pillars of the cloister, being stuccoed. These little
pillars are only 6 feet high, and the roof is gabled, supported on
simple uprights, which rise from horizontal cross-beams resting on the
pillars; and so a very pretty and simple cloister walk is obtained.
The remains of such walks lie in every direction round the centre. As
for the western building itself, I was much delighted with the
interior. One enters a monk's doorway at the south-east corner from a
cloister, and is at first lost in gloom. At last the great black
columns, with their elaborate gilt ornamentation (the one decoration
they understand in Siam), grow out in the feeble light from the little
narrow windows in the low side walls. The lofty peaked roof, which
rises far into blackness, comes down gradually, sloping less steeply
to the columns, of which there are two rows, and so to the low walls,
thus as it were covering a nave and side aisles. At the eastern end
are placed the usual gilt statues of Buddha, of all shapes and
sizes--of which in one cloister alone I saw over thirty-six over 3
feet high. Until these force themselves upon one's notice with all the
tawdry wreckage with which they are ornamented, the air of retirement
about the place is quite captivating. The central tower is some 60
feet high, covered with niches, in which stand more "prahs," or
statues, and on the eastern side is a staircase up halfway to a
dome-shaped chamber. The entrance to this was in its day very prettily
panelled and gilded; now, alas! cobwebs and bats are legion. But the
whole effect, there almost lost in jungle, is memorable.

[Illustration: WAT CHINARETH (CENTRAL TOWER FROM WEST).]

At a smaller wat to the southward (wat Boria) there is a very fine
Buddha, on whose head and shoulders the light is thrown from a small
window in the roof. The effect is quite impressive, and does great
credit to the architect who designed it. This is by no means the only
place in Siam where the light is dexterously managed.

[Illustration: A SALA IN THE NAN FORESTS.]

[Illustration: KORAT PLATEAU. ENTRANCE TO FOREST DONG PHYA YEN.]

Throughout this country the rivers, streams, and canals (or klongs)
are the highways, and the villages are built on their edge; the banks,
owing to the accumulations, the houses, and the preservative effect of
the palms in which the villages nestle, are often the highest points
in the country round--which in the rains becomes a series of vast
lakes, with islands here and there, and the houses standing out of the
water gaunt upon their long stilt-like piles of teak. In many parts
the buffaloes and oxen have to be driven away for miles to higher
ground; and one may meet whole villages moving with as many as forty
ox-carts in a gang, with spare oxen trotting behind their masters'
carts.

We had met a good deal of teak being rafted down the lower part of the
river. The small rafts come through the innumerable klongs and creeks
from all directions, and then below Pichit and Paknam Pho the big
rafts are made up, and go off downwards with their crew of men, the
cock crowing merrily on the roof of the little bamboo shelter which is
their "deck-house." Passing sandbanks and shallows is often a very
difficult operation. Some three or four men go overboard astern with
long 8-feet stakes, to which the end of a long hawser is fast. The
sharpened ends they drive into the bottom, clinging on to the top end
as the strain comes on, till at last often it is too great, and the
stake is pulled over man and all. However, by degrees they will bring
the great floating mass to a standstill for the night, or, as the case
may be, they succeed in checking the after end sufficiently to keep it
to the current, while three or four more hands are working the long
transverse-set oars at the fore end in the direction required, and two
or three more will be using long poles to keep off the shallows; all
hands shout lustily the whole time. By this process, repeated hour by
hour, they travel slowly to Bangkok with the current.

[Illustration: GORGE NAM PGOI.]

Above Pichit we met but few rafts, and those only consisting of bamboo
and "mai kabao," which is much used for small work, such as tables,
and is brought down in small pieces, generally about 14 feet long.

Muang Pechai is the chief town of a very extensive and important
province, which to the north-east reaches to the Mekong at Chieng Kan.
The Governor, Phya Pechai, is a fine, tall young man, who is (and this
is not too often the case in Siam) extremely popular with the people.
His evident honesty of purpose was apparent the first moment he spoke.
We had to stay here a few days to get the elephants together and buy
rice. Twelve _kanan_ (a coconut-shell) were selling at a _tical_, and
on the average each man consumes one _kanan_ per day. We laid in a
stock of 35 _thang_ (of 20 _kanan_), and were shortly after glad to
get off on our journey towards the distant hills. I should add that
this place is the starting-point for Paklai, on the Mekong, the trail
between these two places being the route generally followed by the
officials going to Luang Prabang. Apart from this it is not of much
importance, and, situated in the uninteresting plain, is subject to
high floods in the rains, as the water-marks on the piles of the
post-office and the school and court houses attest.

Two days, passing through scrub jungle, brings the traveller to Ban
Nam Pi, where there are some iron "mines"--a series of shallow
diggings on an extensive deposit of limonite, which seems to be
"derivative" from surface decomposition. The quartz rock, which
generally underlies it, is probably a quartz sand which has been
metamorphosed under pressure into the hard material we now find. In,
or in close connection with the latter, the iron nodules are not to be
found, but near the surface, where the quartz has softened and looks
almost like a sandstone, the nodules occur in abundance.

The great difficulty was to get any one to do any work, even in
clearing away _débris_, such is the fear of the "Pi," or spirits, who
are said to guard the mineral. Without the offer of a white bullock,
who ought first to be slain for their benefit, it was asserted that
the spirits would certainly interfere with any one attempting to do
any work. I was also told that when the iron ore is removed it brings
bad luck to any house in which it is stored, and that, if hung up on a
tree (certainly an odd place for stowing ores), it invariably causes
the death of the tree. An iron-shod bamboo is the only tool used, but
no work has been done for ages, and the small furnace which once
existed at the village is quite dilapidated. It was quite vain setting
to work myself, and giving out that I had made a permanent arrangement
with all the "Pi," even the most vicious, before leaving Bangkok;
nothing less than a royal proclamation will ever give the people
confidence enough to make the opening up of these places possible.

On January 10 we were fairly under way for the north, high in hope and
spirits, as a party always is when the scenery begins to change, and
weary plains give way to lofty hill-ranges and distant peaks, with
cool clear streams splashing in the rocky watercourses. At Muang Fang
we came down to the Meinam once more, and camped in a very fine wat,
which none of us will ever forget; for we marched in, parched and
dusty, to find ourselves under orange trees loaded with fruit, and
then and there all hands almost bathed in the delicious cool juice. To
the south is a lovely semicircle of hills of schist, which turn the
river away to the west. To the north, the timber-clad heights rose
shoulder upon shoulder, far into the peaks of Kao Luet and Kao Taw,
dim with distance. We were at last fairly in the mountains and in the
Laos country.

I do not wish to give what would perhaps be a wearying account of our
marches day after day, full of pleasure, of changing beauties, and of
memorable incidents as they were, but as succinctly as possible to
speak of the configuration of the country we passed through.

We next day forded the river at Ban Taluat, and were in the province
of Nan. The trail on to Cherim (north-east) crosses a number of small
hills of clay slate, which form the outlying buttresses of the rougher
country to the north; the strike which I observed here and all the way
up on our northerly journey is pretty regularly north and south, the
dip westerly at about 25°, sometimes steeper. Water is scarce here,
and when we stopped for breakfast in the bed of a _hoay_ (or
mountain-stream) at 9, after about three hours' going, even the holes
in the sandy bed only gave us two or three pints of water; but, of
course, in January this is to be expected. To avoid the rough country
northward the trail crosses the Meinam once more, where its direction
is southerly, to Cherim, whence the march to M. Faek is a very long
and hilly one, over high ridges of clay slate, which carry one up over
1000 feet above the river. Some of the glimpses we got in the early
mornings, as we climbed upwards among the tall trunks, were quite
magnificent. These forests, in their winter clothing of reds and
yellows, with the tall grey trunks standing out clear against the deep
shadows behind, are, with the early morning or evening sun upon them,
perfectly gorgeous. As day dawns the rays climb down the heights above
you into the mists, which forthwith whirl and melt; and then, as you
rise above it all, there lies below on all sides a billowy sea of wild
forest, high on jagged ridges in the sunlight, or darkened in shadows
far down in the deep torrent valleys; in the blue distance eastward
the Nam Pat range lies dim, and north and west the eye loses itself
among endless cloud-capped ranges.

The sala at Muang Faek is on the west side of the river, and consists
of a number of separate bamboo shelters; here we had to rest our
elephants, all eighteen of which were tired out by the climb from
Cherim, and we had to engage two more to reduce the weights on our
tired beasts. Elephants in Siam are never idle, and the animals I got
from Pechai, which belonged to the Minister of the Mining Department,
had all been hard at work hauling teak and such things before our
arrival. At Muang Faek there are a good many, and the two which now
joined us were a male and female of magnificent proportions. They had
a swinging gait, with which they travelled much faster than the
others, evidently not being accustomed to dragging heavy timber, but
to light weights and hard climbing. At first they didn't like their
new surroundings at all, and it was most curious to see how, when the
one began to trumpet and back out of the crowd, the other rushed up,
caressing him with her trunk all over, and even pushing it into his
mouth, and stood by him till he was pacified; but if she left his side
for a moment, round he whirled in search of her, and the mahout could
do nothing to stop him. I never saw them separated by more than twenty
yards the whole time they were with us; they had always to be loaded
and unloaded together, as they stood side by side, entwining their
trunks lovingly, and in the evening, after the march, they bathed
together and squirted one another in huge enjoyment. The howdahs are
simply rough saddles like big baskets, and are generally fitted with a
close plaited roof with a long peak before and behind, like those
fitted on the _kiens_, or ox-carts, of the plains.

From M. Faek the trail, which is well trodden, passes along the steep
wooded banks of the Meinam, which, however, is here known as the Nam
Nan. The clay slate dips 65° W., and makes long black ridges in the
river-bed, which can be seen deep down in the clear water, or rising
in sharp crags above it, and forming the rapids, which make the river
a difficult highway at the best, and only navigable by the long narrow
dug-outs.

It is a short march to Hoay Li, where there is a sala kept, as they
all are in Nan, in excellent condition; but there is a stream close
by. The next day's march was a heavy one, over more lofty ridges
without water, and it is, therefore, a good stopping-place. Leaving at
sunrise, the Laos guide and myself reached the small shelter at Hoay
Nai at one o'clock, the rest of my Siamese straggling in well blown an
hour later, and the elephants climbing down the steep watercourse at
three. This is generally the extent of a day's march, and the average
rate of jungle-travelling, allowing for stoppages, is never over 2½
miles an hour, and a six hours' march is as much as the Siamese can
do; in these hills the elephants certainly do not do more than 2 miles
an hour. To the Laos trotting along on foot there is, however, no
limit that I ever discovered, even with the heavy loads which they
carry swung on a pole across the shoulder. With a couple of handfuls
of _kao nëo_, the hill-rice, which they steam over a pot into a
glutinous mass, very handy and portable for the day's march, and with
some dried fish and a banana, and a long pull at the fresh stream
water once in the day, they will go cheerily from morn till night,
swinging when necessary their long _dhâp_ (a sword of Burmese style,
which every man over sixteen carries if he be a man at all), to cut
and lop the branches and jungle which are for ever blocking the
tracks. This stopping-place was one of the wildest we were ever in;
nothing but jungle and mountains all around, the place itself a tiny
clearing in the bottom of a deep narrow ravine, where the monster
trunks climbed far above us, leaving only one little space of open
sky, from which at three o'clock the sun was shut out, and where at
half-past five night had fairly set in. A number of gangs going south
from Nan were camped here with us.

Another, easy, march brought us to Muang Hin, over 1200 feet above
sea-level. Imagine a number of lovely villages clustering among their
coconut and areca palms, in a beautiful wide valley surrounded by
forests and hills, the glistening yellow paddy-stalks bright in the
afternoon sun, with the black backs of the buffalo moving lazily
about; the homely red of the little oxen, and the moving islands the
elephants make whisking the paddy in their trunks; with the village
sounds drifting down the quiet air--the distant drum at the monastery,
whose grey roof stands above the other houses, or the far-off "poot,
poot" of the "nok poot" in the jungle (a black bird, by the way, with
a long pheasant-like tail and light red wings)--and you have an idea
of the lovely scene which spread before us that evening as we emerged
from the hills.

This valley runs parallel to the Nam Nan valley to the eastward, but
drains in exactly the opposite direction, the water running north and
turning into the Nam Nan considerably north of M. Sisaket. Three days
going down this lovely valley brought us through a rough piece of
limestone country to Muang Sa, where I stayed some days visiting
several places in the neighbourhood. This township is important, and
stands by the Nam Nan in a very fine paddy-growing plain, and is
better supplied with inhabitants than the country we had come through;
but even here the tigers are very bold, and often come right into the
villages. Small irrigation canals extend in all directions.

[Illustration: THE PADDY-FIELDS, HIN VALLEY.]

Like the quarrymen in North Wales, whenever there is a cry of "gold"
at Clogan, the Laos take every piece of yellow copper pyrites or iron
pyrites for gold, and we had several very hard days' travelling both
east and west after gold-mines of this description.

The minimum readings for the last five days were 62°, 49°, 46°,
43°, and 45° Fahr., and going on one day's march over the plain to
Muang Nan, the capital of this great province, we had 60° as minimum
for several days.

The salas stand outside the red-brick walls of Nan, and are only a few
hundred yards from the river, and here was every sign of prosperity;
every other family seems to own an elephant or two. The houses are
well built and enclosed in stout palisades; and besides the town
inside the walls, there is a very large number of houses between them
and the river. I saw numbers of dug-outs arriving with cotton, and
many too going away south. There are a few Burmese shopkeepers along
the east wall, their principal stock consisting of check-patterned
_panungs_ and _sarongs_ and small knickknacks, betel boxes, and a
little silver-work. A mule caravan of Haws from the north--as dirty
and ugly as the dirtiest Chinamen--were also anxious to sell Chinese
slippers, sheepskin coats, walnuts and sandals, and shortly after left
for the south, like others we had met at Muang Sa. From M. Sa I
gathered they were going to make westward toward M. Pray. Some of the
Burmese brought me some sapphires from Chieng Kong, and there were
some fine stones, but I was at the time surprised to find they had no
rubies. Coloured quartzes are also found in this neighbourhood, and
are cut for ornament. The rupee is the current coin, and the Burmese
shopkeepers and a Chinaman or two were the only people who would
exchange our money for us--at the rate of three salung to the rupee.

[Illustration: WAT BEN YEUN, M. SA.]

[Illustration: EAST GATE OF NAN.]

The sight of Nan is the early morning market, to which before sunrise
the women are seen coming from all directions, wrapped in their long
plaids--for such, indeed, the Lao cloak is, both in pattern and mode
of wearing. The market is held within the walls in the open space, in
which stands the _sanam_, or court-house; this is surrounded on three
sides by wats, and on the west by the palace, a large house with no
very striking features. The women crouch along the sides in rows with
their baskets in front of them, as at Luang Prabang and at all the
markets one sees in this part of the peninsula. Fruit, biscuits, and
cakes, ready rolled cigarettes and flowers, are for sale, but the
quantities are very small. There is a muffled sound of subdued chatter
and laughter, and the scene is a very pretty one--till at last the
mists are gone, the sun is well up in the heavens, and the crowd melts
away as silently as it came.

Once inside the walls the town may be described as countrified, the
houses standing in their own enclosures among their palms, where the
elephants twirl their trunks among the cocks and hens. Very fair roads
run at right angles to one another, but are always quiet and shady,
like country lanes. The chief business seems to be outside the town,
villages extending on all sides, and especially along the road to the
north, past the "old city," which is about one mile in that direction,
and where there are some very good substantial palisades still
standing, with the remains of a deep ditch and massive wall on the
north-west side, all of course very much grown over. The custom of
shaving the head all round, with the exception of the tuft at the top
which stands bristling straight on end, and gives a good grip to the
light-red or white turban which is often worn, is a cool and cleanly
one, and gives the men a smart appearance; the black tattooing, which
extends from the knee up to the middle of the body, is the other
distinctive feature throughout the province of Nan. They seldom wear
more than the panung and a short blue jacket, except in the early
mornings, when, with the thermometer at 50°, they shiver inside their
long plaids; as the day becomes warmer, the plaid is rolled up and
stowed in the bag, which is as indispensable as the _dhâp_, and goes
over one shoulder, carrying its owner's all--consisting of a small
basket of _kao neo_ for the day, some tobacco, and betel-nut, with
often a long-stemmed pipe and flint and steel.

[Illustration: LAOS BAG, OR STRIPED CLOTH.]

[Illustration: KAO NEO WICKER BASKETS.]

The women tie their long hair up on the top of their heads, and when I
first got among them I was reminded of the same fashion at home, as
also by other points of resemblance one had not seen among the
Siamese--a light springy step, a pleasant-sounding voice, a well-cut
figure, and a rosy cheek. In some of the districts in the hills the
women suffer severely from goitre, and up the Nam Wa, a wild torrent
which joins the Nam Nan from the east, just below Muang Sa, three out
of every four of the women I saw had it. Up that river, too, I noticed
a lack of expression in the faces of the men and lads when in repose;
but they are rare hands at a joke, and then their faces light up
wonderfully. These men all wore short jackets to the waist, of blue
cloth, leaving a strip of tattooing between it and the blue panung. I
was astonished at the number of children I saw there, too, every man
we met in the jungle having some four or five of his sons with him.
Ten or even fifteen children is a number not uncommon for one woman,
while in Siam, as a rule, the number three is not exceeded. I imagine
the population must be now recovering from the effects of the
continual warfare which existed before Siam made its rule felt in the
north, and which no doubt accounts for the meagre population
throughout the entire peninsula.

[Illustration: AXE FOR HOLLOWING BOATS.]

[Illustration: DIPPER FOR WATER.]

Of the joyful, kindly, and hospitable character of the Laos of Nan one
cannot say too much; I never saw a surly face or heard an angry word.
Their honesty is proverbial, and they are singularly temperate:
drinking _lao_ (which is distilled from rice to a large extent in Siam
itself), smoking opium, theft, and malice seem to have no attractions
for them. I believe every one who has travelled with and among them
will say the same, and will ever keep their memory stowed away in a
warm corner of the heart.

The Rachawong was the official I saw most of--an upstanding, refined,
and gentlemanly looking man, with a touch of iron grey in his hair, a
firm step, a strong mouth, and high clear forehead. He gave me the
story of some recent trouble with Chow Sa (the Prince of Sa) without
any of that repetition, detail, or tinge of animosity one expects from
an uneducated or inferior mind when speaking of an enemy.

Preparations were beginning for the cremation of the late "king" who
was just dead, but we left before the ceremony began.

The punishment of death, which was inflicted for opium-smoking,
elephant-killing, or theft, has been replaced during the last few
years by a milder form; but it is noteworthy that in two years only
one man has been put in the prison at Nan.

The music is a great contrast to that of the Siamese. At a dinner to
which I was invited at M. Sa, we had, to an accompaniment of three
bamboo flutes with very sweet low tones, a kind of duet sung by two
girls, each taking a verse in turn. The rather nasal notes would soar
up quite independently of the flutes, and then suddenly return to the
keynote, which was a lovely minor, and was sustained; then would come
a pause, with the delightful subdued refrain on the flutes again, ere
the other began. The subject was a war-song, on which they both
extemporized; but even my Siamese could not follow the words at all.
After a solo from one of the flutists, who, as usual, sang falsetto
(which is especially affected by the Siamese too in love-songs), he
and one of the damsels lighted tapers, and though in no dress but
their ordinary open dark blue jackets of panung, they performed
another kind of duet, accompanied by waving of hands and arms, and a
certain amount of not ungraceful attitudinizing. It seemed to be a
kind of sacred affair, with a slow dignified air, and they quite lost
themselves in it, though some of my Siamese were making running
comments in the usual style of the vulgar all over the world.

As far as music goes, it was far more expressive and peaceful than
anything I had heard in Siam, as the others owned. I had with me as
assistant-surveyor a very accomplished young Siamese, who is an
excellent specimen of the best that Siam produces; he is a capital
musician after the fashion of his country, and used continually to
warble languishing love-airs to our great amusement, and also good
marching airs. He had a good ear, and soon picked up some of the Laos
tunes, and so one had good opportunities of comparing them. It was
curious, too, how he and several of the others took to English airs
they heard from me, even copying the sounds of the English words. The
proficiency of the Siamese "service" bands in Bangkok shows, too, that
they can master and appreciate our music.

I have heard the Laos called "savages," which can only be said in
ignorance. They respect superiors, are devoted to their "chows," to
whom they are united by feudal ties, are obedient to their parents,
extremely hospitable, and perfectly honest. The stranger to them is no
enemy, but a creature that needs kindness, and invariably gets it.
Quarrelling is unknown. They respect their women, and, unlike the
Siamese, walk behind them and bear the heaviest load. They do the
jungle-work, and the women stay at home, weaving their silk panungs or
their horizontally striped petticoats at the loom beneath the house;
while the dogs, no longer vile pariahs, but cared for well, and of a
breed something like a sheepdog, sit by and watch the children play.

Surely there is something besides savagery here.


[Footnote 1: M.= Muang.]



PART II.


MUANG NAN TO MUANG CHIENG KONG.


From Muang Nan my orders were to find the best route I could over the
watershed to M. Chieng Kong in the Mekong valley. As usual, the
information obtainable was very meagre. One trail goes west from Nan
till the valley of the Nam Ing is reached, when that stream is
followed down north; a second follows the Nam Nan northward, and
crosses the range north-north-westerly up the stream flowing down from
M. Yao; the third, which I selected, as showing one more of the Nam
Nan valley, follows that river up as far north as M. Ngob (lat. 19°
29'), when the direction becomes north-westerly over the rough country
which brings one to M. Chieng Hon and M. Chieng Kob.

Leaving Nan on February 1, we followed a good tract among low but
precipitous and picturesque limestone hills, into a curiously
disforested country, where the only growth was bamboo, until we
dropped suddenly upon the river once more at Pak Ngao, where we camped
on the sandbank. We had by this time picked up, as one does in the
East, a considerable following. A Commissioner had been sent across
from Chieng Mai to accompany me up to Chieng Kong. What his actual
duties were I never discovered; he was very useful, however, in
helping me in various ways, but I would willingly have done without
him, for he was evidently one of that class of officials who grind the
people very tight when their superiors are out of sight. Another, the
brother of Chow Sa, by name Chow Benn Yenn, who was with me all the
time from Muang Sa until I reached Bangkok again, was the greatest
contrast to the former. He was a small, neatly made fellow of about
twenty-one, a splendid forest man, who, though a great swell in these
parts, travelled with only three or four lads with him, and could walk
the whole expedition off their legs. He knew and could imitate exactly
every forest sound, and as he trotted along the trail he gathered all
kinds of unlikely looking plants, which in the evening made excellent
additions to our curry. He was a born sportsman, and far more at his
ease sleeping out at night under his plaid, with his lads stretched
round him, than under any form of roof. The lads with him--for they
were mere boys--were like him, and treated him with the usual freedom
and familiarity peculiar to the Laos, but which if an order was given,
disappeared before complete obedience; and if the Chow wanted a drink
of water or half a handful of _kao neo_, they would go miles or give
their last crumbs to supply him, and many were the generous and
willing kindnesses I had to thank them for.

We had also an official with his sons and a few men to carry their
loads from Nan, who acted as guides and a kind of walking letter of
introduction everywhere. They were a remarkably handsome lot, but the
old fellow himself used to come in very done up after the day's march.
Yet, like all the rest, he was never put out by hunger or weariness,
and would take his bag off his shoulder, throw down his long dhâp,
and squat on his heels and laugh again to think that he should be
tired and the youngsters not.

From Pak Ngao, where we saw a few dug-outs shooting past down the
rapids, we next day passed over more of this disforested limestone
country, the dip of the rocks being westerly and very steep (50° to
60°), until we forded the river below M. Saipum. We passed through a
number of villages, with very pretty whitewashed monasteries, and high
palisades round them; the view to the north-east was a novel one, for
the usual foreground of yellow fields, with its dykes and ditches, and
its many watch-houses reared high on piles, was backed not by forest,
but by open expanses, with trees here and there, or low bamboo scrub,
and a dwarf range of bare hills behind. There is a red sandstone which
seems to underlie the limestone, and wherever that rock outcrops, the
soil is excessively thin and poor, and the denuding power of the rains
is very marked. That often accounts for low scrub jungle; but where
that is not present, as in the limestone country we had just crossed,
the absence of forest must, I fancy, be due to fires; and no doubt
when a fire is lit for the purpose of clearing ground for the hill
rice, it will, with a good breeze, clear square miles instead of
acres. I saw a great deal of this burning going on subsequently in the
Mekong valley, and I never saw results commensurate with the
destruction caused.

The sala at M. Lim, where we slept, is on the east bank, the town
being opposite, and the "Chow Muang" or Governor came wading over with
the water up to his neck, and his clothes in a bundle on his head.
There are numbers of very fine ducks here, but, as usual, we had great
difficulty in getting any in exchange for money. They have not great
use for money here, as they themselves say, and they prefer their
ducks. This happens constantly, especially when buying rice. Each
village has enough for its consumption for the year, and very often no
more; and naturally they prefer to keep the necessaries of life to
having comparatively useless silver buried under their house. As the
country is opened up, this will no doubt change, but at present it is
not worth their while to grow more than they can consume themselves.

Again, a few irresponsible travellers have been in the habit of
provisioning themselves at the expense of the villages without paying,
and the consequence is that when a European appears (or, indeed, often
a Siamese official), there is a general stampede into the jungle, and
everything is hidden away, for they expect nothing but robbery at his
hands. Until, after infinite pains, they are persuaded that they will
be dealt honestly by, and treated with the consideration which the
wildest from their own hills would never fail to show, you can get
nothing but negatives, and small blame to them. It is humiliating in
the extreme, after travelling with men for some weeks, to be asked one
night over the camp fire why the _nai farang_ (the foreign master)
doesn't kick and thrash the men on the march, or flog the Chow Muang
into handing over all the rice in the village, and do other not less
objectionable things. Yet such is the conduct expected of one, as a
matter of course, from the past repute of the _farang_ which travels
far, and no doubt also does suffer from exaggeration. Still, it shows
what our methods too often have been. With these people you get the
measure you mete to them; firmness is first of all necessary, but
brutality is lowering to all concerned, and never has done anything
but harm, and is more far-reaching than the contemptible authors of it
understand.

Another day's march through a good deal of evergreen brings one, after
crossing the Nam Pur, flowing in from the east, to M. Chieng Kan. An
hour further north is M. Chieng Klan; and the confusion of the two
names is endless. The latter is the better stopping-place, though the
former is very prettily situated, on the bank of the Nam Nan, among
very fine clumps of bamboo and a great many banana palms and
sugar-cane plantations. Of the latter every man slings a couple of
stalks over his shoulder for the day's journey, and most refreshing
they are. The cakes of brown sugar made from them, of which one
generally takes a piece or two to give a taste to the _kao neo_, are
not considered good for the digestion, and quite rightly, and so only,
just enough is taken at a time to give a taste. The sugar from the
sugar palm of the plains, however, never has any evil results, and as
it has a pleasant flavour, when we got back to it in the Khorat
plateau, we consumed large quantities.

[Illustration: A HILL MONASTERY, M. LE.]

The next day M. Le was reached over sandy, undulating jungle country.
On foot one could easily have reached M. Ngob, but the elephants could
not do it, being, as I mentioned before, in bad condition. I was not
loth to rest the night here, it being one of the most beautiful of the
hill-enclosed valleys we had been in. From the sala we looked out over
the terraced paddy fields, with the winding silver of the river below,
and abruptly beyond it shoulder upon shoulder of heavily timbered
ranges rising into the peaks which divided us from the Chieng Hon
plain to' the west and north-west. Eastward, and just over us, were
low steep hills, on a spur of which was a small hill monastery, whence
the bells on the gables sent down a gentle tinkling as they were
swayed by the strong south-westerly breeze which was sweeping a watery
rustling sound out of the bamboos and coconut palms.

The salas being small, the people of the village ran up in half an
hour one of their bamboo lean-to shelters for the men, but the Laos as
usual seemed to prefer lighting a fire and lying out in the open round
it m their cloaks, there being always one man sitting up on watch and
supplying fuel when necessary.

M. Ngob is in a narrow hollow, which I should not care to visit in hot
weather, for the wind hardly gets into the place. We had nearly a
whole day's rest here. A mule caravan of Haws came in from the north
and rendered the otherwise peaceful air hideous with their loud,
hoarse talking. But for them a Laos village is singularly quiet; no
sounds but the quack, quack of the fat ducks who share the pools in
the stream with a few laughing children, the grunts of a family of
pigs, the occasional trumpet of an elephant who has been up to some
playful game or other of which the master does not approve, and the
steady thump, thump of the small foot rice mills, which the women work
apparently from morn till night.

Before sunrise, as the sonorous chant rises from the wat, these mills
are at work too, and often the last thing at night one hears them
still. Mr. McCarthy has described them, but I may just mention that
they consist of a piece of tree-trunk hollowed into a funnel-shape,
into which the rice is put, and a long lever worked at the outer end
by the foot, the woman stepping on and off, fitted with a hammer-head
of wood, of which several of different sizes are used. And while the
mother works her loom close by, the two daughters will work the mill
and chat and chaff the passers-by.

Minimum readings for the last four days, 52°, 55°, 57°, 58° Fahr.
The maximum in one of these salas is generally about 82° for this
month at 2 to 3 p.m. The winds were now south-westerly, very strong,
with bright fierce sun, but cumuli lying on the higher peaks after 4
p.m., sometimes a slight shower falling from them.

One mile north-west from M. Ngob, the Nam Nan,[2] here known as the
Nam Ngob (and actually the people did not know that it was the same
river as the Nam Nan below), runs over shallow pebble beds, where we
forded to the west side. This day's march is a very good example of
the kind of travelling to be done. The tracks over the hills are
either in the bed of the "hoays," or streams, far down in a perpetual
night, where the coldness of the water chills the feet and legs
through and through; or, after a steep climb, high up on narrow spurs
leading to the central range, where the forest is thick enough to keep
off all the wind but not the rays of the sun after 10 a.m. Once on
these ridges no water is to be had for half a day, and the stick of
sugar-cane or water-bottle of cold tea, the best of all beverages, is
worth its weight in gold. However, drinking on the march is a ruinous
habit. The Laos sensibly rinse the mouth when they can, and only drink
at the end of the day.

[Illustration: VIEW FROM M. LE, LOOKING NORTH-WEST ACROSS THE NAM NAN
AND WATERSHED OF MEINAM KHONG.]

Following up Hoay Sakeng over red sandstone rocks, the track then
climbs on to a long ridge, leading, with many rises and falls, to a
small gap in the range, about 1100 feet above the river. We met on the
way four pack oxen coming, with their pretty deep-toned bell, down the
path, and on reaching the summit had a most glorious view of the thick
forests of the Chieng Hon valley, with the small clearings here and
there and surrounded on all sides, as far as one could see in the dim
haze which accompanies the south-west wind, by hill ranges. Twenty
minutes down a steep drop at a run brought us into a different climate
and the most perfect valley I was ever in. Far above, the sun
glistened here and there on the wide-spreading fronds of huge
tree-ferns; for the rest; we were almost in darkness, with orchids and
great twisted creepers climbing on the tree-trunks dim above us. The
stream is known as Hoay Tok, and down its bed we stumbled, cutting
ourselves about on the rough outcrops, the strike of which, with a
steep westerly dip, was at right angles to our course, and made most
unpleasant travelling. Two hours more across a partially cultivated
plain, and we passed another Haw caravan encamped, and reached the
sala. The elephants did not arrive until 5 p.m., it having taken them
twelve hours to reach M. Chieng Hon.

At M. Pechai I had bought some ponies. There are not many there, and
the choice was limited, while the price, forty to sixty ticals, was
heavy. These animals, as long as we were in flat country, were useful,
but they were not good mountaineers, and I found travelling on foot
much pleasanter, while, as a general rule, the more exercise men get
in these jungles, the healthier they are. On this day each one of my
Siamese assistants had a fall, for they, as a rule, stuck to their
ponies' backs, whatever the trail was like; this often means getting
one's face and hands tremendously knocked about, frequent
dismountings, slow progress, and endless bother, while it also stands
in the way of surveying or careful observation of the lie of the
ground.

There was a very heavy, damp mist when we pushed on next day through
the Dong Choi, a magnificent forest, which almost covers this plateau
with the scenery of Hoay Tok continued, only on a larger and more
imposing scale. The size of the ferns, and especially of the
hart's-tongues, which clung in masses, with clumps of orchids, far up
on the bare trunks of the trees which form the roofing of branch and
leaf above, was quite astonishing to me.

Camp was made by a small sala in a wild clearing at Sala Pangue, from
which the sun was early excluded by the hills and forest on the west,
which we were to cross on the morrow. The tired elephants had a
well-earned afternoon's rest. To give them time to get in before
sunset, next day we got under way at 3.30 a.m., every six or eight men
having a torch about eight feet long of split bamboo. These early
marches are a sort of scrambling dream, and should not be resorted to
except under compulsion, as, although the cool morning air is pleasant
for the first hour, every one soon gets very done up, and stumbles on
hazily. Sunrise puts new life into one, but the want of the early
morning sleep makes one feel the heat of the day far more. Moreover,
of course, nothing of the country is seen. We rose for an hour and a
half up over hills, and one or two of the ponies had some tremendous
falls, and were soon left struggling behind. At sunrise we were
descending once more among the wildest and most rugged scenes into the
valley of Nam Pote, and were now fairly in the Mekong drainage. This
was another of the wonderful valleys which are so common here; and the
temperature was just over 10° Fahr. below that of the hill ridges
when we left them at 6 a.m. About 8.30, after crossing and recrossing
the stream about thirty times, and being regularly chilled, I stopped
at a small sala, and was glad to bask in the sun. An hour and a half
later the others came up, and we breakfasted. Chow Benn Yenn's sharp
eyes had seen some deer and two tigers, but they were off in a moment.
Where the former is the latter follows, but neither will stay when he
detects the sound of man coming through the forest. The tiger takes
the greatest trouble to avoid a man, unless very famished. Often then
he is rendered bold enough to attack a solitary man, when squatting
down to eat his _kao neo_, and it is thus that accidents occur; but he
will seldom face two men, and that is why one always meets the Laos in
couples, if not in greater numbers.

At 10.30 we continued down the valley; rock apparently red sandstone,
but so decomposed at its outcrop as to give no clue of reliable
character. Passed numbers of wild banana trees, which do not bear
fruit. They are very aggravating to tired men, who hear the cry of a
jungle fowl, and coming round a corner see the broad leaves of the
bananas; naturally we jump forward, thinking to get a rest and a bunch
of bananas, and, perhaps, a fowl or some eggs for the evening's
supper, but find nothing and no sign of man or fowl.

The course is roughly north-west until the hills fall back, and the
valley opens on a flat piece of paddy land, bounded north and south by
lofty limestone rocks, with, to the west, a barrier caused by a steep
north and south ridge, over which lies M. Kob, but round which a long
_detour_ has to be made to the north-west, down the Nam Pote valley,
to where the Nam Kob meets it. Passing Ban Tam, Ban Prow, and Ban
Faek, prosperous-looking villages, we reached the junction at one
o'clock. After a brief rest in the shade, in another hour and a half,
after fording Nam Kob pretty frequently (making about the ninetieth
time we had been in the water that day), we reached the sala of M.
Kob. The others began to arrive about four o'clock, and the elephants
at 6.30, looking very sorry; and we had to give them a complete rest
next day.

[Illustration: Map--Route from Muang Ngob on the Nam Nan to Muang
Chieng Kong on the Mekong River From a Compass Survey by H. Warington
Smyth, F.G.S. 1893.]

From the character of the scenery here, and at the top of the Nam
Pote, where we struck it, I imagine the hills we came down among were
limestones overlying the sandstone again; all round the Muang are the
wildest and most fantastic peaks, and, with the steep heights hanging
immediately over it, it was more like a Norwegian valley than anything
I have seen.

The wats here are very simple, the houses neat, but small; bricks are
baked in the valley, and the rice-mills thump cheerily and echo off
the hills all day. There were some pack oxen, which came over from the
westward; but the Laos who drove them, whether from distrust of us or
not, I do not know, would not converse with any of us. The bells of
these caravans as they go trotting down the valleys are beautiful.
First goes a large, deep-toned bell, swinging between the packs of the
leader; the next is a third above it; and the rear is brought up by a
treble bell. The little oxen trot in their order without other
guidance than that of the bells and an occasional shout, one man
leading, another to every five animals, and one to bring up the rear.
The baskets are hung on each side of the hump, with often an
ornamental erection between them; there are fore and aft stays of
leather, and these prevent the packs coming off when the animals are
climbing. We had met some before--and met and used others afterwards;
however pretty they look as they trot along, their bells tinkling far
over land and forest, they are not pleasant to travel with, especially
in the rains, when streams are all in flood, for it is impossible to
keep anything they carry at all dry.

While we were resting here a fire occurred, and two houses were burnt
to the ground in about seven minutes. My Siamese, I must say, worked
very well and pluckily, the Laos seeming quite dazed by the
catastrophe. We cut down a row of banana palms, split up the trunks,
and threw them on the flames, by the water and moisture in them
beating down the fire, so that two neighbouring houses were saved,
with the outhouses, in which, in huge bins, the rice was stored. For
this last the poor fellows who only arrived home at night to find
their houses burned, were most grateful; they came to thank us, and I
was very much struck with the conduct of my people, who, beginning
with my boat-boy, a Mon, or Peguan (who at the fire and on every other
occasion had shown himself a very smart, handy, and good-hearted
fellow), selected what clothes they could spare, and sent the two Laos
men away loaded with raiment, and with tears of thankfulness in their
eyes. It gives an additional pleasure to work with men who can act
like that.

Thermometer readings on the march from Sala Pangue were--3 a.m., 42°
Fahr.; 5.30 a.m., on the hills, 60°; 6.30 a.m., in Nam Pote valley,
50°; 9 a.m., ditto, 59°; noon, in the shade. Ban Faek, 87° Fahr. My
aneroids had both been injured by my careless people, and I could get
no reliable heights.

From M. Kob the trail follows up the Nam Tan in a general
south-south-west direction, and crosses a low watershed into the bed
of the Hoay Chang Kong, another rocky stream disastrous to foot gear.
It then crosses low ridges and jungle, passing several small villages
to Ban Ton Kluay, 6½ hours' walk, though most of the people took 8,
and the elephants over 9.

Thermometer minimum--54° at sunrise in heavy damp mist; strong
south-westerly breeze at noon; thick haze all day.

Six hours from here, over flat country, past M. Chieng Len, and in a
general north-north-west direction from that place is M. Ngau, which
gives its name to the Nam Ngau flowing north-north-east to the Mekong,
and meeting it half a day's boat journey below Chieng Kong. We met a
number of traders from the north carrying their loads; they were
smoking long-stemmed pipes, and looked very Burmese in face. They wore
blue sailor-looking trousers, with red trimmings round the ankle,
where they were very loose, and small blue jackets with bead
trimmings, while some had marvellously wide straw hats; with their
uniformity of dress and its high colouring they made a very pretty
picture crossing the yellow paddy fields.

The Chet Muang at Chieng Len was in trouble with the Nan authorities
because he is, unfortunately, under the disaffected Chow Sa, and far
away from there as he is, and utterly ignorant, as he protested, of
his proceedings, it seemed likely that he would be involved in the
disgrace of his chief.

From M. Ngau the trail crosses the upper end of the long range which
forms the watershed of the Nam Ing and Nam Ngau, along the western
side of which for three days we travelled, sleeping at Muang Ing and
Ban Pakeng. From the latter place, leaving at a quarter to two in the
morning. Ban Lung was reached at a quarter to seven. Here we forded
Nam Ing, and crossed a burning plain almost entirely devoid of
vegetation for four hours more, and then in a huge and very
comfortable sala disposed of the contents of our haversacks with the
pleasant feeling of having reached our goal. Chow Benn Yenn meanwhile
had left us for a day or two's visiting at some other villages east of
Nam Ing which owed allegiance to Chow Sa. Consequently, when I got in,
there were only the Laos guide, my Mon boatman, and two lusty young
Siamese servants who had kept up; and, absurd as it may seem to
Western ideas, the Chieng Kong people took some hours to believe that
I was come on genuine Government business; for a man is measured in
these parts according to the number of his following, and until the
men and elephants turned up I was often looked at askance. This was
sometimes very amusing and sometimes not, especially when trying to
procure coconuts or bananas! The sense of hospitality was, however,
generally quick to prevail.

The three days from Muang Ngau were through forest, the villages lying
mostly on our west in the flat land nearer the river. We passed
several forest fires, which where they approached the trail made very
hot travelling.

The barrenness of the country between the Nam Ing at Ban Lung and
Chieng Kong seems to have been originally caused by fires. The only
cultivation was by a muddy stream at Ban Satan, a name which struck me
as particularly appropriate in such a wilderness. There is an absence
of water, I was afterwards told, which prevents cultivation of any
value, and owing to this the Burmese gem-diggers have given up trying
to follow indications of stones on this side.

The first view of the Mekong fairly took one's breath away, the water
here spreading out into a wide placid river of half a mile in width,
winding slowly away among a few sandbanks until lost in the hills to
the south-east. Across, on the north, lies a long low series of hills,
from which the gem-bearing Hoays seem all to take their rise.

Thermometer minimum last four days--59°, 64°, 60°, 58°; maximum in
sala, 90°, very thick haze all day, with strong breezes from south
towards noon.


[Footnote 2: The river evidently takes its rise from Doi Luang (a
large hill mass south of M. Hongsawadi), 19° 35' N., 101° 24' E.]



PART III.

MUANG CHIENG KONG TO MUANG LUANG PRABANG.


Muang Chieng Kong became our head-quarters for ten days, and from
there I made a boat expedition to the Chieng Sen boundary, north-west;
and also one north and east inland, the object being the examination
of the gem deposit, its extent, character, and, if possible, its
value.

From the Chieng Sen boundary at Hoay Nam Kung, extending for some
miles towards Chieng Kong, is a rapid piece of river tearing through a
series of gneissose and schistose rocks, which form high hills on
either bank. The gem-bearing gravel is not found until several basalt
sheets are encountered below Nam Ngau, a largish tributary flowing in
from the north. The hills on the left bank then become lower and more
distant, and these, consisting of a dark crystalline rock, the exact
mineralogical character of which has not yet been determined, seem to
be the source of all the stone-bearing gravels which are found
deposited in the streams flowing from them. The average thickness of
the gravel is 5 to 20 inches, and consists of quartz and fragments of
the crystalline rock above mentioned. The overburden is a reddish clay
soil of an average depth of 10 feet, through which the Burmese, who
are found wherever there are gems, sink large pits some 10 feet
square. A sharpened bamboo will be often first driven down to
ascertain if the gravel underlies the spot, it having been found very
capricious.

Explorations were made in the neighbourhood for many years
before--about two years ago--the first paying gravel was found; the
Burmese relying all the time on the presence of what is known as
_nin_, small black stones which have turned out to be black spinel,
and are always to be found in close proximity to the sapphire. When
washing gravel in a stream these little water-worn crystals are found;
it will only need industry and time to find the gem gravel, which will
be somewhere near, although in part perhaps denuded away. The _nin_
have been followed for years, and now there are over two hundred men
reaping the reward of their indefatigable patience. I found _nin_ and
struck gravel in all the streams flowing in on the left bank between
Nam Ngau and Hoay Pakham, which is the main scene of the operations at
present, and lies about 1 mile below Chieng Kong. On the right bank
there are apparently no signs whatever, except at Hoay Duk, a stream
exactly opposite Hoay Pakham; but only a few _nin_ are to be seen
here, and there is no water for washing purposes. East and north of
Hoay Pakham, again, are half a dozen more streams flowing, from that
side of the range I have spoken of as the source of the gravel, into
the Nam Hau, which eventually reaches the Mekong. Some of these have
been found to be rich, and on one the Burmese built their bamboo
villages and made their clearings; but after a fortnight's work the
places were abandoned as being terribly unhealthy, sunk deep in the
jungle valleys, and very difficult to get stores to.

[Illustration: A GEM-DIGGER'S CLEARING, CHIENG KONG.]

When the present large workings are exhausted, both those and the
streams towards Nam Ngau will get their fair share of attention, no
doubt. The distance between the extreme points where the gravel exists
and the limit of our present knowledge is over 10 miles, but within
that area it is not by any means continuous, and any attempt at
estimating the probable output and the extent of reserves could only
result in the most erroneous conclusions. Owing to the secrecy
observed by the Burmese in the matter among themselves, and the fact
that they usually travel long distances to find a market for their
better stones, the output up to the present of saleable stones is
merely a matter of conjecture, and is variously estimated by the
headmen as from 3 to 6 catties, say, over 22,000 carats perhaps. One
man showed me what he declared was the result of his year's
work--three good stones of rich colour and good water, for which he
expected to get 100, 60, and 50 Rs. respectively, and some forty small
ones (some of them of very poor colour), which after an hour's
bargaining one could certainly have got for 50 Rs. He had, besides, of
course, numberless fragments and scraps which were valueless. The
chances are, from what I saw, that this is a fair example of what the
average digger obtains; but it must be remembered that no information
voluntarily given by the Burmese on this head is ever reliable. They
invariably keep something in reserve, for they never feel quite
certain what the Englishman may be up to with his questioning; and
even among themselves the dodges resorted to to hide the exact truth
are very amusing. In buying stones one always has the worst produced
first, and after an exhaustive pick out of them all, presently,
slowly, out of infinite wraps of paper and cotton, come some better
ones, and after an hour or so the best are produced, and probably this
is the real extent of the man's stock; but if through impatience one
closes the bargains too early, the best are never produced, but will
be kept for the future, and will eventually be taken over to Rangoon,
or even Calcutta.

In a few years' time there will, no doubt, be more men at work, and
larger areas of pits in work. At the present moment the ground in Hoay
Pakham has only been dug out for a distance of half a mile from the
flood level of the Mekong, with a breadth averaging 80 yards. Work is
only carried on in the morning, when the pit will be bailed out dry;
at noon the digging and washing ceases, and the men return home, and
sit all the afternoon in their houses chaffing, talking, and picking
over and enjoying the sight of their stones, in which they find great
delight. The washing consists simply of cleaning the basket of muddy
gravel with water, and picking over the remains twice by hand. The
operation is very quick, and the eye never misses the faintest sign of
colour.

With regard to the rubies I had expected to find, from my own
observation, and subsequently from conversation with the diggers, I
soon saw that not only have none been ever found, but none of the
signs of the ruby as known at Chantabun or in Burma have been seen. A
Siamese official who had been sent here a year ago by the Government
to test and report on the place, seeing some small garnets, thought
they must be rubies, and thinking to advance himself at head-quarters,
bought a very fine Burmese ruby for 70 Rs., and sent it down with his
report as having been found in Chieng Kong! From this, of course, very
large hopes of the character of the find had been entertained: I fear
now he is somewhat in disgrace. Fever, due to the thick forest
standing high overhead all around, and the peculiar sickliness always
caused by the upturning of new soil, especially in the damp beds of
the streams, is very prevalent.

The Burmese houses are very different from the Siamese and Laos--mere
bamboo shanties only lifted some 2 feet off the ground, but with all
sorts of handy little shelves, window-shutters, doors and lockers,
which are generally absent from the others; and in these, as being
easily and quickly constructed, the men always live at their diggings.
I do not know the character of the Burmese in this respect at home,
but in this country they are always overflowing with friendliness and
hospitality to any Englishman; and the headmen at Chieng Kong,
especially one by name Monghu, who became a general favourite with my
people, and who accompanied us and worked with us everywhere, I can
never forget.

The Chow Muang here was lately dead, and just before we left the
cremation ceremonies began in the big square before the principal wat.
At night the place all round the funeral pyre was lighted with
candles; three or four of the head monks were reading in a kind of
chant from their Pali manuscripts from the tops of temporary bamboo
pulpits, and among the booths standing round; the people squatted in
their cloaks, listening to music or hearing descriptive songs and
stories, which now and then produced roars of laughter. In the day
sports were going on, and there was some very good boxing between the
champions of neighbouring villages, who at the end each got three
rupees, victor and vanquished alike. The men strip, and their names
and the places they hail from are given out. They then salute the
master of the ceremonies in the ordinary Laos fashion, touching the
ground with their forehead on bended knees, raising the clasped hands
to the head, and proceed to business. For some moments they warily
watch one another, stepping and dancing round with a good deal of
attitudinizing of an alarming description, by the extravagance of
which we can generally tell the best man. The blows are rather
round-armed, it is true, and kicking is allowed; but it is wonderfully
quiet and masterful, and when they warm to it, very hard rounds are
fought. The umpires squat round ready to separate the men, call time,
and generally see fair play, and at the end of each round the two men
squat down, and are offered water out of silver bowls, the bearer
respectfully on his knee handing them the ladle. The keenness of the
onlookers is tremendous, especially when the men are well matched; but
what produced most enthusiasm was a fight between boys of about ten
years old. The little fellows showed, I must say, a great deal of
pluck and more science than most of us did at that age at school; they
kept their tempers well, and at the end of each round their seconds,
stalwart fathers and uncles, were beside themselves with delight,
stroking their heads and dancing round them with tears of laughter
running from their eyes.

There were some sword and sword-and-spear dances by two men in slow
time to music, with silver-handled weapons, and accompanied by the
gestures in which all these nations take such pleasure.

During the time I was in Chieng Kong district the weather was getting
warmer. Up the river we had the minimum 54° three days running, just
after sunrise, at which time heavy mists shrouded the river valley,
and subsequently 56°, 58°, 60° were the minimum at the same time.
The maximum in the shade at the sala or under the coverings in the
boats was 91° at 1 p.m.--the average 89°. But in the jungle, where the
south-west winds could not reach, the heat was very great, and the sun
was very fierce, especially on the great banks of sand, which are so
characteristic of the river. The height I make 1250 feet from the sea.

These sands, over which we used to trudge for miles from stream to
stream, got so hot after 11 a.m. until about sunset, that the men
could not bear walking on them, and took to the water; the glare is
tremendous to the eyes. After sunset the rocks retained their heat so
that some long-haired Shan dogs we had with us would not lie or walk
upon them. There is a great deal of mica, iron pyrites, and magnetic
iron ore in these sands; and washing among the bushes, which in many
places fringe the higher parts, or some feet down, where a larger
gravel lies, one seldom fails to find a small speck or two of gold.
The water itself, at this season, rushes through a deep gorge between
the rocks and sandbanks, which form its flood-bed, a narrow but very
deep column of water, working out for itself, where a bluff rock sends
a huge eddy whirling inwards, broad bays often 50 yards across. While
the distance between the high-water level on the opposite sides of the
valley will be nearly half a mile, the stream itself will often work
through its deep channel only 200 yards, and even less in width. The
scale of things here is not so large as that below, where the volume
of water has increased; but the character of the river is much the
same.

[Illustration: CAMP AT THE FA PA RAPIDS.]

The camps we formed on the sand spits, lulled at night by the thunder
and roaring echoes from the rapids, were wild and beautiful in the
extreme. The jungle, too, was full of night sounds--the bark of the
deer or the "peep, peep" of the tiger, of which we often heard three
or four at a time; and in the morning their tracks were everywhere
upon the sands. It is curious and worth remarking that when one got 4
or 5 miles inland on the left bank no traces of tiger were to be
found; while, on the other hand, the elephant tracks became very
numerous, and were really useful in threading the jungle; the
destruction they work among the trees is wonderful. They seem,
however, to avoid the tiger zone near the river, as the tigers in turn
prefer the waterside, the latter probably finding greater facility for
hunting deer there. There is no doubt that any one who has the
inclination, and no work and plenty of time, might have excellent
sport by watching for tigers at the drinking-places, which are
generally well marked, and are in retired bays, among rocks and
bushes.

Bananas and coconuts are very scarce at Chieng Kong; and on the third
day after our arrival I had to send the elephants on their way home,
owing to want of wholesome young green food. This all points, with the
barrenness we noticed coming across the Nam Sug valley, to a bad soil.
They complain that in the hot months, May and April, it is terribly
hot and dry, and that "nothing grows;" meaning thereby, no doubt,
things do not grow well.

[Illustration: ONE OF OUR ELEPHANTS, WITH HOWDAH ON.]

The departure of our elephants was a day of mourning to all of us. The
mahouts, very rough Siamese, burnt as black as Hindus, with long locks
of hair hanging round their necks, had been very good fellows, and,
however long their days, had never complained. All those who have
travelled with elephants feel the fascination of the beasts, with
their quiet, patient, and sagacious way of treating life; the merry
twinkle which sparkles from the small, sharp eyes, and the endless
little pranks they are ever ready for; and after some weeks of
travelling many a tired and weary day together, this becomes quite an
affection; and be sure, if you are fond of an elephant he knows it,
and reciprocates it very soon. So we were all very sorry to see them
swing off for the south again.

The voyage from Chieng Kong down to Luang Prabang (or Muang Luang, the
"great town," as it is usually called) occupies five days if there are
no interruptions; the return journey takes from ten to fifteen days
against the current, there being a number of bad rapids. The scenery
is magnificent, and far surpasses anything I saw on the Mekong below.
The river has cut its way almost at right angles to the strike of the
rock, a series of schists which appear to have been considerably
distorted, until the neighbourhood of the Nam Oo is reached, when the
limestones which form the splendid scenery of that river come in. The
latter rocks are also seen on the right bank of the big river, where
it takes its southerly course south of Ban Soap Ta (one day from
Chieng Kong), and there seems to be on the top of a synclinal. They
are always characterized in this country by the peculiar dense
forests, like the Dong Phya Yen in Lower Siam, the Dong Choi round
Chieng Hon, and another one we touched in the valley of the Nam Ngau,
east of the Nam Ing, known as Pa Kung Ngau, where the sun never enters
owing to the dense foliage, and the elephant tracks form the only
paths. We took twelve days going down, making on the way some short
expeditions into the country. The inactivity in the boats soon made
itself felt, and after five days there were ten men sick out of the
twenty Siamese, six with fever and the others with sores, to which
they are very liable, any scratch or wound of the slightest
description, especially about the feet or legs, always giving rise to
them; in fact, I kept one knife on purpose for lancing these things.
Wherever we go sick people are brought, and the chief ailments among
the Laos were fever, affections of the eyes, and dysentery. The latter
is generally taken in hand too late, and ends fatally.

The first day from Chieng Kong we brought up on the south bank, at the
mouth of the Nam Ngau I have already mentioned; and I was two nights
away with only two or three men visiting some gold washings in the bed
of the river. The percentage is extremely small, and is the same in
character though not so rich as in the Mekong sands. The usual small
fee of two rupees a year is paid by each man. They work waist deep in
the cold rushing stream, and cannot go on for more than ten minutes at
a time. A basket is sunk under water with one foot upon it, and the
gravel from the bank prized out into it with the usual iron-shod
bamboo; it is then lifted out, carried ashore, and washed. This
operation, here and throughout the Mekong district, is done by a man
standing in the water, with a wooden tray in front of him, shaped like
a Chinaman's peaked hat, the diameter 30 inches, and depth at the
centre 5 inches. As it floats on the water, moored by a string to a
stone, the basket of gravel is emptied into it, and the larger stones
picked out. A rotary motion is given to the pan by the continual
shifting of the hands from right to left; at the same time the water
is expelled, or dipped up, and sent running round the edge by a
depression of the rim being sent round "against the sun," until all
the light material is gone. What remains is usually a little magnetic
iron ore, with a speck or two of very fine "float" gold for every four
baskets of 14 inches diameter and 3½ inches depth. It is then washed
carefully into a small oblong box, in which it is carried home and
handed over to the women who, I am told (for I never saw it done), use
mercury obtained from Chinese merchants for the subsequent freeing of
the gold. On the way to Nongkhai we met several gangs of men,
generally seven or eight in number, living in their boats and engaged
in washing in this way in the sands of the river, in which, according
to all I could gather, the gold seems to be redeposited in small
quantities by every year's flood season.

[Illustration of Chinese peaked hat]

What the gold prospects of the country are, there have been no
sufficient trials to show, but with the advent of the French on the
banks of the river we may soon know something more on this head. The
Laos consider they do very well if they get 2 hun per man in a day (5
hun = 1 fuang or 1/8 tical); but their work is very intermittent, and
the search for gold seems to have the proverbial effect upon them, for
in several cases I found their assertions were not over-truthful.

Up such rivers as the Nam Beng, Nam Ngau, Nam Oo, and Nam Suung, the
gold seems to be in old water deposits which extend beyond the present
stream beds, and will probably be found to cover considerable areas in
the valley bottoms.

Both calcite and quartz exist in great abundance in the mountain
ranges we came in contact with, and to the denudation of these two
minerals a great deal of the alluvial gold presumably owes its origin,
as well as perhaps from the crystalline limestones. I was, however,
unable ever to lay hands on an undoubted gold-bearing vein of either
character, nor could I get any information of occurrence of the metal,
except in alluvial sands and gravels. Some large nuggets have been
found up the Nam Beng and Nam Oo, and up the former river a Chinaman
from Luang Prabang had tried systematic working of a kind. After six
months' work he lost 200 ticals; and when a Chinaman loses money,
especially in a country where money will go so far, the chances are
that no one else will make their fortunes. I subsequently found at Pak
Beng that the Kache he had employed had swallowed all the decent-sized
gold obtained! This is another instance of the difficulties the miner
has to meet with in Siam; and with fevers, superstition, robbery, and
physical difficulties, the list is a rather alarming one.

This valley of the Nam Ngau is inhabited by people known as Lus. They
wear their heads shaved, except for the top tuft, like all the Nan
men, with enormously loose and wide blue trousers, often trimmed round
the ankle with red; short blue jackets with beads and touches of red;
and red, green, or white turbans. They are magnificently made men,
with very pleasant countenances, tattooed as usual from knee to waist,
but, when clothed, more like the stage-pirate; in fact, a gang of
them, with the long dhâps and an old flintlock or two among them,
standing chatting, laughing, and smoking their long-stemmed pipes,
would make an ideal buccaneer's crew.

At Ban Muang, where we slept each night, the people were the most
friendly I had met; some fifty of them came out to greet us on our
arrival, and we had an orchestra of four flutes in the evening to play
us to sleep. The children and women were extremely pretty. Some
distance south of this place the forest already mentioned as Pe Kung
Ngau begins. Men travelling in it, and even the people living on its
skirts, are subject to a very violent fever, which causes complete
prostration in a few hours, and is generally fatal. The face and
breast become quite yellow, presumably owing to the stoppage of the
bile-duct.

A big dyke has lately been cut from the Nam Ngau to take the water to
the eastern side of the valley for purposes of irrigation. Its depth
and width are about 10 feet, and it must be some miles long. All the
men from the villages turned out to work, and it proved a heavy
undertaking. This valley seems to be all under Muang Sa, and Chow Benn
Yenn found himself among his friends.

[Illustration: THE LEADING MULE.]

We met another gang of Haws, who made night hideous by discovering the
mules had strayed, and every man and boy among them shrieking,
howling, beating gongs, and firing guns by way of attracting them back
to the camp. It was a pleasant night, with one of my men raving and
shouting with fever till dawn.

[Illustration: A HEAD MAN--STERN VIEW.]

[Illustration: A HEAD MAN--SIDE VIEW.]

At Ban Soap Ta, or Pak Ta, we were in the Province of Luang Prabang.
The village is most beautifully situated on the left bank of the
river, just below where the wild torrent of the Nam Ta falls into it.
There is a regular street all down the village, with deep ditches on
each side, between the road and the scattered houses. We met numerous
Kache from inland--a perfectly wild people, wearing only the smallest
strip of cloth, with a long metal hairpin stuck through the hair
rolled up behind, and often a flower in the lobe of the ear. They are
short and fleshy, and, though not prepossessing, we subsequently found
some of them to be good hard workers, and quiet, simple creatures. The
inhabitants of the village were not so smart as our Southern Laos or
the Lus we had just left; some of them wore slight whiskers, and one
or two had thin beards, and there are a good many stout men among
them.

[Illustration: A HAW--PACKS DISMOUNTED.]

[Illustration: LAOS BOAT.]

We here changed boats, our other craft returning with their crews to
Chieng Kong. These boats are mere dug-out canoes, some 60 feet long as
a rule, with 4 feet beam. They are fitted all along amidships with a
light framework of split bamboos, standing up from the gunwale in a
barrel shape. On and tied to these are rectangular-shaped pieces of
bamboo plaiting, of a primitive character, stuffed with dead leaves,
about 8 feet by 6 feet, of which two form the sides, and a third the
roof, overlapping them. Two lots together give a good long cabin, and
sitting on the light bamboo decking fitted at the level of the
gunwale, one has 3 to 4 feet of head room. One's gear goes in
underneath, and the men's cooking and camping gear will be stored aft.
Two-thirds of the way aft an open space is left, and the decking is
discontinued, and here, going through a rapid, bailing is resorted to.

For going down river the most distressingly primitive oars are used,
two or three men pulling at them, working in a grommet. The steersman
stands aloft astern, with a rudder 6 or 9 feet in length, which he
places in a loop on one quarter or the other. To help the speedier
turning of the boat in rapids, a long oar is fitted to work
athwart-ship out over the stern, and the power of these two is very
great, but not too much for the places they are sometimes in. But the
most important and ingenious part is the fitting of bundles of long
bamboos round the gunwale outside. Three of these bundles will go to
the length of the boat, and they not only give the boat 1½ or 2 feet
more beam, and therefore great steadiness, but they act as breakwaters
outside her in the rapids, and as air-tight compartments when she is
swamped. They are turned up at the ends with the boat's run; but they
hide her very effectually, so that she looks more like a bamboo raft
than a boat.

[Illustration: ILLUSTRATION OF OAR AND STEERING-GEAR.]

In going up stream, these bamboo bundles are cut adrift, and long
bamboos are used for poling from the fore-deck; the boats winding in
and out among the rocks upon the edges, using the swift back currents
with such effect that, except on the very rapid parts of the river,
the upward journey averages a rate of 3 miles an hour. At the rapids,
the boats must be often unloaded and hauled over, this occupying a
whole day.

In the flood season, from June to October, the whole river valley is a
sea of swift turbid water, often 40 feet above the level of the dry
season, as is attested by the hulls of wrecked boats, gigantic tree
stems, and water marks, which one sees to that height upon the crags
among the sandbanks. Then the boats work their way up among the trees
and bushes on the jungle edge. Below Luang Prabang, a double boat is
used for going down river, and one gets a wide deck upon it of 10 feet
beam; in these, besides the crew of five men, seven men could live
comfortably, while in the single boats, with the crew of four men,
four more make rather close quarters.

[Illustration: DOUBLE BOAT.]

A great deal of rice goes clown the Mekong and Nam Oo for the supply
of Luang Prabang from the hills, that town not being able to supply
itself. This rice goes down in tremendously big bamboo rafts, which
look like floating villages; they are often some 120 feet long and 30
feet beam. They are allowed to go almost entirely with the current,
there being eight or ten long oars rigged out ahead and astern, worked
by as many men, for canting the craft in either direction to avoid
rocks or eddies. There is a drawing in Mr. Colquhoun's book (which, I
believe, is taken from Garnier's work) which gives a good idea of a
small one shooting a rapid. They are very unwieldy, bad to steer, and
not too easy to take down these places.

[Illustration: VILLAGE ABOVE PAKU, MEKONG.]

Small dug-outs of a pretty shape are used in great numbers for fishing
purposes; the boat drifts down broadside to the stream, one man being
at either end with a paddle gently working in one hand, the foot often
helping, and the other holding a line to the net. In these the famous
_pla bûk_ are caught. The weight of an average one is over 130 lbs.
The Laos say they are not common below Nong Khai, and that they
believe them to breed in the retired spots between there and Luang
Prabang. M. Pavie considers they come all the way from the sea, but I
do not at present know his data; they are certainly known at Bassac.
The _pla reum_ is another large fish, often over 120 lbs. in weight,
which is also known on the Meinam. Both are caught extensively, and
are sold cut up in steaks in the markets.

[Illustration: FORTY-FIVE FEET BOAT, NAM OO.]

[Illustration: PART OF THE MEKONG.]

Leaving Pak Ta, the river turns south among a series of schists,
until, after passing the very fine lofty peak of Pa Mon, it resumes
its easterly direction among a lot of wild rapids. We reached for the
night a temporary village on the north bank, where a number of Laos,
engaged in buying rice from the Khache, were encamped. A very wild
night of thunderstorms and squalls of wind. The next day was the
grandest we had on the Mekong, for the hills close in and form a
magnificent gorge, the effect of which was heightened by the wild rain
mists which were whirling among the mountains, as the sun rose ahead
of us with almost indescribable greens, yellows, and reds. This
wonderful scene, and the presence here and there of the little wooden
houses, perched high up in their clearings by the Khache where the big
trees lay in all directions, or of small villages clustering in
apparently inaccessible places, again carried one back to the wilds of
Norway. We shot the big rapids of Keng La, and reached Ban Pak Beng
that evening. In another day, passing three difficult rapids, Ban
Tanun is reached; from which in three days, sleeping at Bans Kokare
and Lataen, Muang Luang was in sight ahead at sunset, with the
fantastic limestones of the Nam Oo over the stern, and wrapped in
thick mists. Our slow speed was due to the constant change of boats
and crews.

[Illustration: KHACHE HILL CLEARINGS; RAPIDS ABOVE PAK BENG, MEKONG.]

From Ban Tanun I made a three-days' tramp south-west over to the plain
of Muang Hongsawadi, to visit the volcanoes marked on Mr. McCarthy's
map. The track is very rough, up the bed of the Hoay Tap for some
hours, and then over the watershed, from the summit of which, owing to
fires having cleared away the jungle, a magnificent view was to be had
to the south-west over the valley. The contrast between the rugged
uncompromising character of the Mekong valley behind, and the peaceful
expanse of cultivation nestling below us was delightful. The villages
are all of substantially built houses; the people are a smart, tidy,
and pleasant race of Laos, and they are very rich in cattle and
elephants; rice is cheap, and oranges, pomaloes, and other fruit were
plentiful. The Governor, who was subject to Luang Prabang, is said to
be a hundred and twenty years of age, and as his house is some miles
from the sala, he sent a message asking me to excuse his calling.

[Illustration: DHÂP AND SHEATH.]

[Illustration: JUNGLE KNIVES.]

West-north-west about 5 miles is the Pak Fai Mai, as the Laos call the
two volcanic vents which, elevated at not more than 200 feet above the
plain, are situated in a thin bamboo jungle. Each of the vents is
about 200 yards long, sloping slightly in a direction 20° east of
south, and 70 to 80 yards wide; the southerly one is the least
inactive of the two. Slight smoke rises in several places, but for the
most part one can walk about on the bottom anywhere, except at the
south-eastern end, where there is a series of largish cracks, whence
smoke and free sulphurous acid rise in small quantities; here the
ground is very hot, and 2 feet in the cracks are red hot, and one can
light a bamboo at them. There were traces of the action of
sulphuretted hydrogen or of carbonic acid, and the crust of sulphur at
the openings may be due to the decomposition of the former gas. I
could neither hear nor see of there having been any great activity at
any time in the past, but the existence of a present dormant volcanic
action is evident. Why this vent has occurred in the position it has
is not obvious; there is no apparent line of dislocation, nor has it
chosen the valley proper.[3] In the rains there is, I was told, a good
deal of steam rising, as is natural, and more spluttering and activity
than we saw. At the northern end there were traces of elephants on the
slag (which is everywhere highly coloured from iron chloride); they
are proverbially afraid of fire, so it may be inferred that the
activity is not great. Southward the vent, which from the slag surface
to the top of its sides is not more than 30 feet, is advancing, and
the blackened stumps of newly fallen trees and bamboo clumps lie
about, with marks of recent falls in the bank.

[Illustration: MOUTH OF NAM SUUNG, ABOVE LUANG PRABANG.]

The weather was now getting hot, March being the worst month in this
district. Thermometer minimum (for three days south of Ban Tanun)
72°, maximum in the sala 94°. Distant thunder in the evenings
muttering continually. This weather continued, with thick haze air,
till we reached Luang Prabang. We had fresh south-westerly winds
blowing very hot, and at night rain squalls. Our first impression of
the town was not good; after a long day's pulling, helping the men,
who were very tired with the heat, we got in at dusk. The temperature
ashore, in the streets, or on the sand slope, was oppressive; but
when, after some supper, we went up to call on Phra Prasada, the
Commissioner appointed from Bangkok, and there enjoyed some real
coffee and the luxury of a punkah, in the fine new Government offices
he had just finished building, and heard the bugles ringing out all
round, and the weird march music of the kans, which are more played in
this province than almost any other, we forgot the heat in the
pleasures of the change of life.

[Illustration: APPROACH TO LUANG PRABANG FROM NORTH.]

Throughout my stay in this locality, the help we received from the
Commissioner, who is full of energy, was enormous. He has undoubtedly
done a great deal, practically, for the welfare of the people here,
and was most popular; and he has also made extensive collections of
the produce of the province, which will soon be in Bangkok. He is a
man of observation and ideas, absolutely straight, and without any
humbug in his disposition. I was surprised to find that he could read
English well, and talk it moderately, and still more to find this has
all been acquired since he came to the north as Commissioner seven
years ago. This of itself shows an unusual man, and I record it
because it is not often realized that there are such men among the
Siamese. His time was up, and Phya Pechai was appointed to the post
just before I left, and he came south before the trouble with France
reached its climax lately.


[Footnote 3: This valley drains into the Nam Ngum, and so into the
Mekong. The big mass of Doi Luang to the south is the division between
the Meinam and Mekong drainages here.]



PART IV.

Luang Prabang (March, 1893).


Making expeditions in various directions, Luang Prabang was our
head-quarters for about three weeks. Of all the country round, the
town itself seems to be the hottest place, and to be away in the
jungle was infinitely preferable to staying in the bungalow, where at
sunset the thermometer was generally still at 92°. Unlike Nan, Chieng
Mai, or Korat, there is no wall around the town, which is the usual
collection of substantial teak houses, and large roomy monasteries, of
which one-half are in ruins. The latter, however, show signs of some
fine gilding and decorative work, and a good deal of architectural
effort has been expended upon them. They have been allowed, after the
strange custom of the Buddhists, to fall to rack and ruin without an
attempt being made to save them; because, one would think, by some
strange mistake, the repairing of a monastery makes no merit, though
building a brand-new one, however third-rate in style or bad in
finish, is one of the highest of merit-making acts.

The chief points one notices in which these wats differ from those in
Nan are, the generally low effect, the roofs rising less strikingly
than that, for instance, at Muang Sa; the raising at the centre of the
roof of what at a distance looks not unlike the lantern of a college
hall, which is merely an exterior addition, and does not admit light
or air; the small-scale[4] buildings, of which there are often several
in the enclosure, which are best described as being like tiny chapels
with vaulted roof, in which, of course, innumerable "phras" stand at
the inner end, and which are usually about 14 feet in length, and
beautifully proportioned; the small pedestals, which are disposed
about on all sides, in a niche in which the small phra is always to be
seen; and, finally, the substantial character of the stone enclosure
which surrounds the monastery buildings, with often an effective porch
at the entrance. In the curves of roof and eaves they show a real
artistic sense. The materials used are brick, covered with stucco,
timber, and wood tiles; and, where an arch is attempted, it is always
supported by a horizontal beam in the Chinese fashion, with the space
above usually filled in, or else a perpendicular goes up from it. It
is curious that there are no signs of any knowledge of true arches in
these states.

[Illustration: WAT CHIENG TONG.]

The main feature of the Muang is the central hill known as Kao Chom Pu
Si, a bluff of limestone standing up out of the red sandstone plain on
which the town is built; its longer axis is parallel with the river,
from which it is less than a quarter of a mile distant. On the summit
is a small wat, with a lofty pagoda pinnacle visible for miles round;
a huge drum hung here is struck every hour by a monk, and its boom
rolls down all over the valley. What with it and the bugles and other
wats' gongs, one is never at a loss to know the time. The town is
clustered round the hill, and, except on the south, there is water in
almost each direction, the Nam Kan coming winding into the big river
from the east, just to the north.

[Illustration: PA CHOM SI, LUANG PRABANG.]

The people, among whom slavery was abolished a few years ago by Phya
Surasak, who went up as the Siamese general to quiet the Black Flags,
are a very independent race, and, possibly mindful of a powerful past,
think somewhat of themselves, and do very little manual labour. The
men, I regret to own, are very much addicted to opium; stealing is not
absolutely unknown, and generally the code of morals is not as severe
as in Nan. The women, instead of the timidity and shyness to which we
had been accustomed so far (so that, when they could, we always found
the women bolt into the jungle at the sight of strangers, or at least
retire), showed a very free and easy manner, and are much addicted to
giggling and chatter.

[Illustration: PLAN OF LUANG PRABANG AND RIVER.]

The industrious sounds of the foot rice-mills are hardly ever to be
heard in the town; and the market, instead of taking place in the
early dawn, that the day's work may not be interfered with, lasts
roughly from dawn to sunset, with the exception of an hour or two at
noon. All down the main street, which runs between the hill and the
river, the ladies sit behind their baskets, flirting with the men, who
cruise up and down with apparently not much else to do. This market is
a very big affair, and besides the usual endless fruit, cigarettes and
flowers, there are huge steaks of pla reum, ducks, ducks' and hens'
eggs, pigs dead and alive, opium lamps, Japanese matches, needles and
pins, cotton, coarse cotton cloth, tobacco, and a fair sprinkling of
Manchester goods. Among the people one sees besides the Laos of the
place, are Nan Laos, Lus, or Khache, and various hill tribes
remarkable for their scanty clothing,[5] Chinese, Shan traders from up
the Nam Oo, Haws, and Burmese. At the time of my visit, the French
consulate was across on the other side of the river, M. Ducant being
in charge there. There is also a French store with all sorts of French
goods, connected with the "Syndicat du Haut Laos." These goods I found
most unpopular with the people, and when I bought one or two things
for my men (päs, as they call them, for throwing over the shoulder
like a mantle, or for sarongs), they refused to have them, saying the
people had told them they were "no good,"--one reason being they would
not wash. The imports of this store, brought by boat down the Nam Nua
and Nam Oo from Tongking, amounted in February and March, 1893, to
19,841 francs' worth. The Commissioner, and my own observation in part
confirmed it, told me that the store has to be heavily subsidized, and
is not successful, the goods not being wanted by the Laos, who make
their own rough cotton stuffs for hard work, and their own silk
finery, and find these more lasting and efficient for the work for
which they are wanted. The Frenchmen told me they often lose valuable
cargoes in the rapids in the Nam Oo. While on this subject, I may say
that small tricolours and medals are freely given in all directions to
any native who will take them. I found at Nong Khai that the
Commissioner had some hundreds of these small flags which had been
brought him by the Laos there at different times as having been given
them by the Frenchmen, naively remarking that they could "find no use
for them," and so they would give them to the Commissioner, if any
good to him. These flags are also given largely to the monks, to
ornament their wats with, with "Vive la France!" inscribed across
them.

[Illustration: STONE IMPLEMENTS.]

Beyond these, I saw no signs of French commerce among the people. The
Nam Nua and Nam Oo route over from Jonking, though a rough one, no
doubt answers its purpose on the whole, and to M. Pavie, the Minister
at Bangkok, who has travelled the country extensively, and has left
kindly memories behind him, belongs the credit of it. Another
Frenchman who has done good work in the neighbourhood is Dr. Massé,
who lately died of fever going down the Mekong. For years he carefully
and enthusiastically studied the geology of the district, and he has
been able to determine the age of the Luang Prabang series; all his
specimens (including some coal and beautifully sharp stone implements)
and his papers are, I believe, in M. Pavie's hands, and will prove of
enormous interest.

The party at the French Consulate, whether owing to their mode of
life, or the climate, did not look well at all; and from the headaches
and fevers which laid hold of the people with me while at M. Luang I
am not surprised. In justice to the place, it must be owned, March is
the hottest month. I did not see any cases of the famous Luang Prabang
fever, which has carried off so many. Like that usual in Dong Choi,
the temperature rises very fast and very high, and, if fatal, is
generally so after two or three days.

[Illustration: GOVERNMENT OFFICES, LUANG PRABANG.]

There is, or was, a police force in the town recruited from the Laos,
but their duties are very light. Fights or quarrelling are unknown,
whatever other faults there may be, and the most important part of the
police duties is to keep a watch for fires. Only one occurred while we
were there, and the promptitude with which the buglers went sounding
out the alarm from all the guard-stations and the men turned out was
most creditable; luckily there was no wind, and it was got under very
quickly.

The head-quarters, as far as the Siamese Government was concerned,
were in a newly built set of offices, standing in a large
drill-ground; the whole thing was done by the soldiers and the people
of the place under Prah Prasadah's orders and watchful eye. It is
built of teak, with red-tiled roofing, and consists of a front hall,
long offices on both sides, and at the back sleeping-rooms and more
offices. Here, in the evenings, took place regular concerts, to
several of which we went for an hour or two. The people of Luang
Prabang are undoubted music-lovers to a high degree, and night after
night, after the major and lieutenants had messed, the musicians
arrived in the hall, squatted down, and began, sometimes the wailing
Laos music, sometimes the quick jig tunes of Siam. The instruments
consisted of two two-stringed violins, a high-pitched flageolet, and
one or sometimes two _kans_, a kind of reed-organ carried about by the
player, who is the bellows. Sometimes the bamboo reeds are over 6 feet
in length, but they are light; the mouth is applied at a mouthpiece
toward the lower end, where the fingers play on each side, there being
two sets of reeds side by side. The instrument is held upright in
front or slightly inclined over the shoulder, and the sweetness of the
tones is wonderful. This usually forms a bass, and smaller ones with
shorter reeds accompany the voice well. It would be no exaggeration to
say that nearly every household in Luang Prabang possesses one,
sometimes two. A most striking thing it is at night, far into the
early hours, to hear the distant kans from all sides playing in the
houses, now and then drowned by the nearer approach of one whose
master has been out calling late, and goes striding down the road with
perhaps three or four more friends in single file behind, playing a
march tune with all his lungs like any Highland piper. One of my
pleasant memories of life will ever be those evenings when turning in,
after the hot day in the verandah, one listened to the sound of the
_kans_ passing homeward, and rising and falling on the night-air. What
with the evening bugles, too, and the drum upon the hill, and the
cocks and _nok poots_, who never fail to announce the hours 9 p.m.,
midnight, 3 a.m., and 6 a.m., whether in the jungles or among the
dwellings of man, a light sleeper would complain bitterly.

In the concerts at the new offices there were often _kan_ solos; while
the orchestra, when in full swing, was accompanied by clapping of
hands and the tinkle of metal; the songs, albeit curious, were not to
me so enjoyable, though very much so to the Laos. A number of pretty
damsels, in their most gorgeous silks, sat round busily chewing
betel-nut; these would be asked to give a subject, and one with a good
deal of blushing would give in a loud tone her subject. The orchestra
struck up, and the singer had to make the best he could of it on the
spot; and judging by the laughter and general approbation after each
verse, he was generally successful. But we all failed signally to
understand the words--the language here differing very much from that
of Nan, of which we had begun to pick up some; while, when sung, it is
even more incomprehensible. What with the attractions of music, their
love and battle songs, and perhaps other things, the Laos of Luang
Prabang keep late hours, and are late to turn out.

The Chow Luang and Chow Huanar, with whom I exchanged visits, are
pleasant, open-countenanced men, and after a second visit became quite
jovial. The latter helped me a great deal in my work, and I was sorry
to say good-bye. Their houses were large teak buildings, but the Chow
Luang is building one of brick.

[Illustration: KENG KANG, NAM OO. THE PLUNGE OFF THE LEFT BANK.]

Our longest expedition from here was up the Nam Oo, which comes in
from the north-east. The scenery of this river is very fine, as all
the way from Muang Ngoi, to which we went, it winds through abrupt
limestone peaks and ranges, covered with dense forest, and often
overhanging the deep quiet river below. But the rapids scattered along
its course are furious, and, owing to the shallow water and
innumerable sunken rocks, are very dangerous, while quite a high sea
runs in them. They differ from most of the big Mekong rapids in that
they are caused by rough sloping bottoms of rock ridges, over which
the water tears its way. In the great river the majority of the rapids
are simply owing to the narrowing of the channel, with possible big
rock obstructions rising out of a depth which, with a 20-fathom line,
often gave no bottom (this in low-water season). In these the
acceleration of speed and commotion are caused by the enormous
pressures behind, and the frictions below, and the force of the back
eddies, which go tearing in toward any little or big opening in the
banks of rock, and come sweeping back again in wave-like rushes or in
whirlpools. "Rapid" is often a misnomer; for what with whirlpools, the
sudden capricious rushes of water boiling up in a mound of spray, and
flowing wildly in apparently any direction but the one by which it
will eventually get out, and the great back eddies and counter
currents below, the boat, alternately dragged to the right bank, spins
round on the edge of a whirlpool, hurries over on a mass of foam to
the left side, and there caught and hurried up the side again, or
swirled off downwards into another whirlpool, spends several minutes
in passing down a hundred yards, though every hand is straining at the
oars, and steersman and bow-oar are lugging for dear life to keep her
straight, and save her ends from being caught up on the rocks at which
she is hurled.

Such are many of the worst of the Mekong rapids, which will prove too
much for any number of steamers, extending often, as they do below
Chieng Kan, for miles. Even the great rushes of solid water, and
converging lines of breakers of the rapids, where, as in the Keng
Luang below Luang Prabang, the already compressed water has to fight
its way over a shelving bank of huge shingle, of which each stone is
often as big as an average Laos house, will prove easier to navigate.
But in the Nam Oo the shallowness of the water is the danger, and
there is often, as in Keng Luang two days up, a fall straight over a
dioritic ledge of 3 feet. This class of rock it is which forms the
rapids, and when the limestone hills retire from the river edge, and
low-lying, round-topped hills less densely jungled, come in, one may
look out for a rapid and change of formation.

[Illustration: KENG LUANG.]

The villages up this river are very poor, except in ducks, which are
seen swimming merrily about in all the quiet reaches, and not a few of
the rapids. As to buying them, it was almost impossible, though it was
the only form of fresh food obtainable. We could hardly get the people
to take money, and had to barter, though we were rather short of
things ourselves. It is odd how difficult it is to get tea, and as our
Bangkok tea had given out, hot water, with sometimes a few herbs[6]
picked by Chow Benn Yenn, had to take its place. He also produced a
dish of butterflies' bodies one evening with the curry, but they had,
to my mind, not much flavour. He also had a weakness for a species of
cricket, which he cooked by throwing on the fire, and then devoured.
Frogs, too, are eaten by the Laos, they going to the extent of eating
the body as well as legs of the _ongan_ when the rains begin. The
Siamese also eat the _kob_, a small frog, of which the legs are
certainly very good; and when the French gunboats were in Bangkok they
were not to be got in the markets for love or money.

Up and down this river a considerable trade in hill rice takes place
between the hill villages and Luang Prabang, and we met greater
numbers of boats than on the Mekong; they were most of them ascending
at the time, with three men, or in the longer craft four, poling. The
bamboo is placed against the outside shoulder; the man, facing aft and
leaning low, runs the boat up till he reaches the deck-house; he then
brings in the pole hand-over-hand until he has it about the middle,
and then with the arms straight up above his head, to keep the bamboo
over the head of his fellow, goes forward again. This business,
continued for hour on hour, is very hard work indeed, as any one who
tries it will discover; and the light narrow boat rolls a good deal,
making foothold at times very difficult, and no one wearing shoes
could stay on board for two minutes.

Going up the rapids is far more dangerous than descending, for the
boat has to be poled and often hauled round right angles of rock just
outside which a tall hollow sea is jumping in a roaring cataract. If
the bows be once caught, away she goes broadside, and nothing will
stop her, and all hands at the tow-line go too. It is in this way that
all the swampings, as a rule, take place; but, except in Keng Kang, it
is seldom that any one is drowned. It is really astonishing at what a
rate these fellows run their boats with their poles up the most
difficult places, and then, holding on for a moment under the lee of a
rock, all hands but the steersman go overboard with the rope, and
fight from rock to rock in any speed or depth of current, avoiding
always the big waves. One soon learns to have a respect for these
exploits, for they mean having one's breath knocked out of one pretty
frequently, and a few good bumps and cuts, which, sad to say, have a
way of leaving some discomfort behind. But Laos and Siamese alike are
never known to grumble, and after a bout of the kind they squat down
above the rapid, light cigarettes, and laugh with enjoyment.

Fishing on the Nam Oo is very largely practised, the best time being
at the end of the rains, when the fish swarm. Across the heads of the
rapids are rows of stakes, and every twenty yards will be a fishing
shelter, just above a gap in the stakes, through which the fish are
expected to find their way. These shelters are light constructions,
built on groups of stakes, ballasted with stones, and strongly
buttressed on the lower sides. Notwithstanding these precautions,
however, when the river rose after heavy rains, which had already (in
March) begun higher up, and which delayed us very seriously, we saw
several of these shelters carried away bodily down stream. On the
upper side is a platform, on which the inhabitants (for they often
live, a whole family of them, in these places) may take the air. A
single bamboo with a handrail forms a connection with the long line of
stakes, by which they may reach the other shelters or get on shore;
but a small dug-out always lies moored below as well. Step inside the
house and all is dark, the light being carefully excluded, except
where it enters through a large hole in the floor; the _yah kah_, a
long jungle grass, with which the houses are always roofed, is carried
on each side right down to the water level, and the light thus only
enters through the water. Thus every fish for twelve feet down is
clearly seen, and there two men will sit smoking silently and gazing
intently by the hour into the water, every now and then hoisting out a
broad dip-net, spread by bamboos, with their prey. A spear is also
sometimes used. It is curious to see these people, with wife and
family, living on the narrow strip of flooring which goes round the
hole--in fact, the latter occupies most of the house; but they seem
very comfortable, and smoke, and cook, and feed, and sleep on a strip
3 feet wide with great complacency. The women were very much like the
little shy Ka Kaws, and smoked their long pipes and dressed just as
elaborately in their dark blue, with the same ornamented head-dresses.
However, most of these houses at this time of year were not inhabited,
and I only saw one or two families at home.

[Illustration: ASCENDING KENG LUANG, NAM OO.]

[Illustration: FISHING STAKES AND SHELTERS, NAM OO.]

Muang Ngoi, at which there was a Siamese military station, is most
beautifully situated among precipitous hills; it is one of the
prettiest places we saw, well-built, tidy, with a street (as generally
in towns in the province of Luang Prabang) running parallel with the
river. Immediately over it almost hang the limestones, all round
except on the east, up which the people grow their rice in the narrow
valley. Up here goes the trade route toward the Black River, and down
the track I met coming staggering in under their heavy loads many Ka
Kaws--women, girls, and boys. I call them Ka Kaws[7] for want of a
more accurate name; the Siamese called them all Khache, or Khamus,
which they are not. No one can discriminate among the infinite numbers
of these tribes, nor can they do it themselves, except with neighbours
of the next valleys.

They wore the prevailing blue; the women's head-gear often a tall,
blue cloth, with a little red showing at top, beads and shells. Large
rings, of four and more inches in diameter, hang from the ears, of
which the lobes are made very big. The weights they carry are
enormous; from casually lifting them I should say they were 45 to 50
pounds. The basket is held by a band which passes over the forehead;
the result is a stooping gait, the arms being swung across the body,
as a sailor's, as they walk or almost jog along. Two or three men
usually accompany the carriers; and the latter, even boys and girls,
have a terribly worn appearance. Yet greet them with the usual
questions: "Where are you bound for?" or "Where are you come from?"
"How many days out?" "Are you tired?" etc., and they reply with the
merriest laugh and smile, which is almost touching. Their faces have
very little of the Laos in them, or of the Chinese or Haws, and are
round and kind in expression.

The Siamese troops, only some twenty-five in number, were of fine
physique; but it is a fact (not a political statement) that
"aggression" and "advance" are utterly contrary to the purposes of the
frontier stations kept up by the Siamese Government.

We obtained bananas at one or two places and sugar-cane, and on the
way down, as the latter does not grow at Luang Prabang, we loaded our
boats deep with the canes, which were, however, short and not very
juicy. However, we kept the larder going with cormorants, which were
in great numbers both here and down the Mekong.

This brings me to the birds I was able to identify[8] while in the
Mekong drainage. Commonest were these same _cormorants_, which the
Laos call "crow duck," owing to their black colour and love for the
water. The large cormorant was continually to be seen sitting on
isolated rocks, often with his wings hung up to dry, in which position
he would suffer us to come very close. The small cormorants were
common in flocks, seldom singly, and, on our approach, would dive away
out of sight, not one remaining. Not expecting to see them, it was a
great pleasure to come across the beautiful little _terns_ swooping
and rushing over the water. One was either the whiskered tern or the
white-winged black tern--I think probably the latter, as the greyish
colour predominated with the dull-red bill and legs. They were
generally in back waters and temporary lakes formed in the sandbanks
by the fall of the river, and were in flocks. I did not secure any.
The black-billed tern--larger than the former, with its easily
distinguished orange-yellow bill and red feet, I got a specimen of.
They were fairly common, but even in March and April I found no nests.

Of the kingfishers I only saw on the Mekong one or two specimens of
the pied bird. Crossing from the Meinam, however, there was a very
small one we frequently met in the mountain streams flowing down to
that river, which would suddenly fly off up stream with a low whistle.
I did not procure any, but from its size it was probably the little
three-toed kingfisher. Another we constantly saw perched on a bamboo
overhanging the water, or poising in the air, must have been, from its
high colouring, the little Indian kingfisher.

Of herons, I saw, and shot, the large white heron (as on the Meinam),
singly and in flocks, on the sand-banks; the common heron, generally
stalking singly on the sand-spits, and hard to get near; the purple,
of which I saw two couples in the lowlands: the little black-billed
white heron, in flocks on the flat by the paddy fields; the cattle
egret, walking about with the buffaloes, or perched on their backs;
and the pond heron, which one would almost stumble upon, so invisible
was he on the ground, till away he sped aloft, and then the white
wings were clear cut against the blue sky overhead.

Of eagles, there was the osprey, with his white head, hovering after
fish, and a larger bird in swamps near the jungle, with white and
darting broad tail, and the upper plumage and breast brown, presumably
the bar-tailed fishing eagle. I saw some small species too, but never
shot any, and, except the black eagle in the forest-covered hills
soaring above us on the wing, and a large, slow, sluggish bird, like
that we saw on the Meinam, with a hoarse cry (qu. steppe eagle), I
seldom got a good view of them.

Adjutants, which they call _nok karien_, I saw in flocks of four, six,
or eight in the paddy fields of the Chieng Kong, Nam Ngau, and Khorat
plains. They were fairly tame, but with the rifle I could not get
nearer than 200 yards; the whistle of a bullet sent them sluggishly
flopping their great wings 50 yards or so on, and to follow them was
an endless pursuit.

Pea-fowl are very common here and on the Nam Nan.

Often and often, far overhead above the jungle, would come the
measured sound which the great pied hornbill makes with each sweep of
the wings, an indescribable sound, half a "whirr" and half the
"whistle of a sword swept through the air." They were always in
couples, and flew high.

The white ibis, walking about in flocks in shallow water, and the
little cotton teal goose, also in flocks, in swampy back waters, who
would dive and disappear to a man, I saw several times.

Two specimens of the large grey-headed imperial pigeon, with chestnut
back and wing coverts, were shot by my Tuon boatman in the hills above
the Meinam. The common "wood pigeon" is seen and heard all through
Siam. In the open plains and jungles a dove, of which I shot many for
breakfast, was very common; this seems to be the Malay spotted dove.

There are other doves common in different parts of Siam, and wagtails
and sandpipers innumerable, but I cannot now name them.

As to the _nok poot_, with his slight crest, dull red-wing coverts and
long dark green tail feathers, and his habit of drinking where he
finds water, and of running swiftly off into the low jungle, he must,
I think, be a pheasant. This is absolutely the commonest bird in the
country, and that "poot, poot" sound is never silent for long; at
night I have often heard a chorus of this sound from out the jungle
all round, and always at the hours of cock crow, _i.e._ 9 p.m.,
midnight, 3, and 6 a.m., as mentioned above. The cock in this country
is used for a timepiece at night, as well as a fighting champion by
day, and not a boat or an ox-cart, caravan, or a cottage in the whole
country but has its cock. One result of this cockfighting mania is
very funny: the birds become pets, as dogs and cats do with us, and
the small boys go out walking with these things carried lovingly in
their arms; you may see them stroking them and looking longingly into
their ugly faces as if they found some expression therein. But their
end is generally in a curry, and very tough they make it. This form of
sport is on the whole most outrageously general in Siam proper.

The total population of Luang Prabang, including that portion of the
province on the right bank, was just over 98,500. In the town itself
there cannot be more than about 9000; this only includes the Laos
proper, and not Lus, La was, or Khache.[9] It is difficult to judge of
the town, which straggles along the three or four main roads that have
recently been made around the central hill, and far beyond them out
into the plain, both inland, up the Nam Kan, and down the Mekong.
North of the town are also numbers of fairly large and prosperous
villages. The broadening out of the river here, the absence of rapids,
and the retirement to the eastward of the hill range, which forms a
sort of amphitheatre around the little plain, seems to have attracted
settlers from an early time. Still, either owing to the laziness of
the inhabitants or, as I think more probably, to the poverty of the
soil (which is the same barren red sandstone mentioned above), there
is certainly not much cultivation done here or on the other side of
the big river, where there is low-lying land behind the small range
which immediately abuts on the river there. The jungle, too, is itself
very thin and dwarfed. I hardly think laziness will account for this,
for peaceful tending of rice crops would be far easier work than
poling and struggling up Nam Oo rapids, which is the way the people
get their rice at present, going right up into the hills for it. Some
really beautiful silver-work is done, but fishing and killing pigs
seem to be the chief industry. There is a breed of the finest-shaped
and fiercest goats I have ever seen, which wander about the streets
and hill, and give the pariah dogs a rough time; but I did not see
that any other use was made of them.

The day we left, a letter arrived from the king in Bangkok, and was
received in great state by the Chow Luang; it was carried in state
down the road with gorgeous umbrellas above and flutes playing before.
This was _re_ the appointment of Phya Pechai as Commissioner--the
last.

The minimum temperature for these three weeks[10] was 61° up the Nam
Oo; the average minimum for ten days up that river, 64°; the average
maximum in the deck-house of the boat, 85°. The lowest maximum for
any day was 71°, but it was a "saft" day, with a solid deluge for
thirty-six hours. (The Laos cannot work in the rain; they shiver to
such an extent that the whole boat vibrates, so we spent a day sitting
in the boats. In this case I had 3 feet 3 inches head-room, 2 feet 4
inches extreme elbow-room, the boat being only 45 feet long.)

The maximum in Luang Prabang I did not get, being there very little by
day; the temperature in the jungle is much lower. Strong, hot winds
from south-west and thick haze was the rule except before the storms,
when the air became sultry, and then it blew a gale of wind from
north-west to north. The rains were beginning. Aneroid, which was
unreliable, 28.60 inches to 28.45 before squalls.

The first day out, going south from Luang Prabang, one of our double
boats filled and sank, ruining maps, notes, and other things. We
awaited the arrival of another at Pak Si, from whence one of our Laos
boatmen had also to be sent back. He had apparently abscess in the
liver; I could do nothing for him, and he sank rapidly. The stream
Hoay Si, a few miles inland, comes tumbling over a fine fall, where a
number of beautiful travertine terraces have been formed below, in
which the pools are of intense blue. All the trees, branches, twigs,
and leaves within reach of the foam are being encrusted with carbonate
of lime, and the effect is very beautiful, with the luxuriant growth
around.

Five days brought us to Paklai, whence the trail goes over to M.
Pechai on the Meinam. The journey up takes a fortnight, for this long
north and south reach is full of serious rapids. Two days and three
days below Luang Prabang are the rapids of Keng Seng and Keng Luang.
In the former, which tears over a rough bottom, my boat was completely
swamped, but was kept afloat by her bamboos. The latter is a very fine
sight, and is a narrow contraction, with a rough, inclined bottom; the
water tumbles off the bluff domes of the east bank in cascades of
foam, and from the west it is driven off in three hollow ridge-like
waves. In the centre, at first quietly, and with accelerating pace
goes the main mass, getting narrower, until with three huge
undulations, which send a boat half her length out of water as she
jumps down them, it tears into the embrace of the two raging, broken
currents coming off the banks, and there it leaps and foams and
thunders, echoing off the big black crystalline rocks from age to age.
Many boats are lost here, and just below lay the battered remains of a
fine craft of 65 feet, smashed from stem to stern. The Laos show
considerable sense in always taking breakfast before they try one of
these rapids, however early in the morning.

South of Keng Luang the river bed is narrow, and flows very fast among
slate rocks, dipping very steeply (50°, 60°, and upwards), west for
many miles, limestone hills lying back some way from the river. These
long reaches are very wild, with no sign of man. Birds, crocodiles,
and tigers, with occasional pig, "sua pah" or leopard, and deer reign
and fight and feed along the jungled banks.

Above Paklai begin the first wooded islands, of which there are many
below, and the whole river widens out and hills fall back. Here I was
able to get soundings with a 20-fathom line, and above the fine
limestone mass which distinguishes Ban Liep, we had 19, 17, 8, 6, 5,
3, and 2 fathoms as the river spread out; below it it narrowed down a
bit, and we had over 10 fathoms most of the way to Paklai, with now
and then 6 and 8. Paklai is a pretty little place, and is the official
port of departure for the north. There are good salas and elephant
stables, and a clearing by the river, a good landing in a creek among
the rocks, and plenty of boats and people. But here for the first time
we had the abominable little "luep," small black flies, which are a
far more irritating torture than mosquitos, and attack one's hands and
face by thousands. They are worst just about sunset as a rule, and
smoke or a strong breeze are the only things to keep them away, and to
sleep in a curtain of linen is absolutely necessary. The rains bring
them and most other jungle plagues.

From here the river begins to turn away to the south-east, with quite
a new phase of Mekong scenery--placid reaches half a mile wide, with
gently sloping banks, the hills low and gentle in their curves, more
like some upper reaches in the Meinam, or a bit of Thames. The change
was delightful, as it always is, and continued for two days to Chieng
Kan, with only one break at Keng Mai, a rapid over a shallow, shelving
bank, where the water storms with a bar of white crests right across,
like sea breaking on a reef. Decks were cleared and the hands set
baling, and we all went through in style, but the cook's boat, which
got the least bit athwart the current, was caught in the rough water,
and swamped with our rice. The depths down to the town are 1, 2, up to
5 fathoms.

Chieng Kan is built along the southern bank (for here the river begins
an east-north-east course), with a fine paddy-growing plain behind it,
and is about a mile long, with an indifferent road passing along it.
The most remarkable things about the place are the immense numbers of
coconut palms, and the cheapness of the fruit;[11] the number of
Burmese British subjects (who out of the kindness of their hearts
supplied one with any amount of provisions); and the fact that the
Laos women cut their hair short like the Siamese. The people are a
friendly, pleasant race. A good deal of fishing is done here, and in
poling the small craft up stream, a small rudder is used over the
outside (in this case starboard) quarter to prevent the boat running
round, as also at Luang Prabang and Nongkhai. These rudders are fixed,
and do their work alone as a rule, but are sometimes in bigger boats
fitted with a yoke and long bamboo tiller (as used together in
Norwegian boats), the latter reaching to the fore deck. Sometimes in
the evening, as the people lie tending their fish-baskets, the boats
look, with their up-turned ends and small shelter (in which the man's
clothes or his net, with its weights and buoys, may be put) which
stands almost amidships, like a distant gondola.

[Illustration: RUDDER.]

[Illustration: BOATS FISHING.]

This province, which is under Pechai, is undoubtedly very rich in
mineral, but the distances and difficulties of transport are at
present against its development. There is a rich, alluvial gold
deposit northward, and a variety of ores occur south toward M. Loey,
including massive iron-ore beds.

After some stay, we set out with fresh boats and crews, and were five
days passing the wild rapids between here and Wieng Chan. The river
finds its way among low hills in a narrow, deep channel between
clay-slate rocks alternating with sandstones and conglomerates with a
general easterly dip. The rapids are of the whirlpool and eddy
character, and extend for miles on end; the water is in places
confined to a width of 150 feet, and the rushes, boilings, spinnings,
and general deafening pandemonium which results is astounding; not one
place is like another, nor one whirlpool like the next. Numbers of
boats never get through here, as they, in spinning round in a
whirlpool or sudden explosion of water, get their ends ashore and
smashed on the rocks. It was a most tiring time for the men, deep down
in the heat of this great rock ditch, with no wind to cool the air,
and above on either hand a good half-mile of rocks and vast spaces of
sand shimmering in the hot sun.

[Illustration: LAST OF THE HILLS ABOVE WIENG CHAN.]

Just above Wieng Chan the hills disappear. The last of them are a
flat-bedded red sandstone, passing into a conglomerate, the huge slabs
lying in rows beside the water. The river opens out between them into
a beautiful wide lake, known as the Hong Pla Buk, from the numbers of
those big fish caught here. The scene on a quiet evening was
beautiful, with the terns dipping and darting about us. Here in the
deep still water, we heard again, as we used to do in the Meinam, the
"talking" of the _Pla liu ma_ (dog's-tongue fish) beneath the boat; it
is a grunt similar to that of the gurnard, only very much louder and
more sonorous, and you may hear several at a time chattering away
under you.

Camped on some of these huge sandstone blocks, we had a good
opportunity of watching the polishing power of the wind-swept sand,
which, next to the rushing water, with its enormous burden of
sediment, is the agent by which all the rock surfaces of the Mekong
get the wonderful polish which makes them so peculiar. The exterior
appearances are often entirely deceptive, and the sun glistens off
them as off a looking-glass. Yet the points and pinnacles, especially
among the schists, are terribly sharp, often cutting the feet like
knives. The polish the red granite takes just west of this, and the
beauty of the veined limestone boulders further north, are a delight
to look at.

At Wieng Chan, on the north bank, hardly a hill is in sight; all round
plains, bamboos, and palms. The site of the old city, which was
destroyed in 1827 by the Siamese for rebellion, is a mass of
jungle-covered ruins. The remains of the old brick wall, and of the
great Wat Prakaon, are very fine; the latter rises from a series of
terraces, up which broad flights of steps lead, and is of large
proportions. The effect of height is increased by the perpendicular
lines of the tall columns, which support the great east and west
porticos, and which line the walls along the north and south; the
windows between the latter being small, and narrower at top than at
the bottom, also lead the eye up. A second outer row of columns once
existed, and the effect must have been very fine. Now the roof is
gone, and the whole structure crowned by a dense mass of foliage, as
is the case with all the remains of smaller buildings not yet
destroyed. One very beautiful little pagoda at the west end is now
encased in a magnificent peepul tree which has grown in and around it,
and has preserved it in its embrace. There are remains of several
deep-water tanks, and the grounds, which were surrounded by a brick
wall, must once have been beautiful. But the best thing at Wieng Chan,
or the old city, as they call it, is the gem of a monastery known as
Wat Susaket. It is a small building, the wat itself, of the usual
style, with the small lantern rising from, the central roof, as at
Luang Prabang. The walls are very massive, and, with the height
inside, the place was delightfully cool; all round the interior from
floor to roof the walls are honeycombed with small niches in rows, in
which stand the little gilt "prahs," looking out imperturbably,
generally about 8 inches in height.

[Illustration: THE RUINS OF WAT PRAKAON, WIENG CHAN.]

[Illustration: NICHE AND STATUE.]

Round this building outside runs a rectangular cloister, which faces
inwards, and here, at one time, the monks were living among the
statues which stand round the walls, many of these 3 and more feet
high, while the walls too are ornamented with niches similar to those
inside the main building. In the centre of each side there is a
gateway surmounted by a gable, there being also similar ornaments at
each corner. The beauty and the retired air of the court inside could
not be surpassed, and the effect of the green grass, the white walls,
the low-reaching red-tiled roofs, and the deep shadows is charming;
there is nothing flat, nothing vulgarly gaudy, and very little that is
out of repair. And here, as is most noticeable in the remains of the
other buildings about, the proportions are perfect. In this the ruined
remains of Wieng Chan surpass all the other buildings I have seen in
Siam, and bear witness to a true artistic sense in the builders.
Though the old city is not inhabited, and the site thereof seems under
a curse, the villages along the bank of the river, both above and
below, have a flourishing appearance, and the paths along the river,
with their cool shade, were full of people.

[Illustration: SOUTH-WEST ANGLE, WAT SUSAKET, WIENG CHAN.]

Leaving Wieng Chan, we had our last and most curious experience of the
Meinam Kong and its wanton ways. A vast mass of heavy thunderclouds
lay to the east, south-east, and south, and into this, as happens in
the rainy season, a strong draught of air, first from south-west, then
west, and then north-west, was blowing. This began to freshen, and
with two square sails I got rigged to my ship we made very good way,
until it began blowing really hard and a sea got up, the water being
here over half a mile in width, with 2, 3, and 5-fathom soundings; we
then had to strike sail, while astern a vast cloud of sand, twigs,
leaves, and even pebbles, came sweeping along with a roar. The other
three boats were, when we saw them last, just broaching to, all close
together. The Laos, who face rapids or elephants with composure, quite
lost their heads, and the only use to be made of them was to set them
to hang on to the deck-house, which was being carried out of the ship.
She tried very hard to swamp herself, for when the squall came up the
strength was terrific, and the seas hollow and breaking solidly.
However, by keeping her stern to it, we shot on through the thick
darkness, frequently belaboured with missiles, and after a great deal
of difficulty in weathering a lee shore we got round a point and
brought up, after two rattan ropes had been carried away. Meantime
many dug-outs passed us waterlogged and adrift, and when at last the
wind got to the north and fell not a boat was in sight. Except our
own, every other craft in the river had been swamped, including our
other three boats, which were carried broadside into the lee shore we
had got round, and had a handsome battering. Everything in them was
full of water, while the men escaped and sat on shore till it was all
over, and when they arrived at Ban Bar, where we lay for the night,
they did not seem to have enjoyed the fun at all.

This village is more Siamese than Laos in appearance; there are
numbers of Chinamen of unprepossessing appearance and manners, who
kept shops and pariahs. The latter was a nuisance we had been
comparatively free from; in fact, on the upper river, at Chieng Kong,
there were very decent breeds to be seen, and Chow Benn Yenn got from
one of his villages a beautiful black-and-tan collie, exactly like a
good specimen at home, with the exception that he had a short tail
like a manx cat. It was a beautiful dog and a capital sporting animal.
The long black-haired and black-tongued "Chow" dog we saw several
times, and also small, brown, long-haired animals with high, curled
tails. A peculiarity about these dogs was that, being accustomed to
the Laos _kao neo_, when we got back to Siam and _kao chow_ (the
ordinary rice), they would have none of it.

The next day we reached Nongkhai, and were very cordially welcomed by
Krom Prachak, a brother of the king, who is Commissioner. The town
owes its existence to the fall of Wieng Chan, and is scattered along
the south bank; there is a considerable number of Chinamen keeping
shops here, and to them and its character as the official centre, it
owes its importance. The houses extend all along the river-side for a
mile and a half, mostly well shaded by areca and coconut palms. Here
once more, on the great plain lying to the south, we saw the tall,
gaunt sugar palms standing against the sky, and again saw the _kiens_,
or ox-carts, with their long, black hoods, wending their slow way in
single file, the groaning, grunting, and shrieking, which accompanies
their every movement and jerk, coming slowly down the wind. Here once
more, sad to say, we came across a character most of us have known in
Siam--the _kamoë_, or thief--and we hadn't been an hour in the place
before he had begun work. Here, too, we again heard the horrid sound
of chains, dragged along the hot, dusty road by wretched, emaciated
creatures carrying water--hardly strong enough to lift the chains at
their ankles. And here, again, were, among the decent houses, dirty,
squalid cottages and drunkenness. The fact is, the cattle-driving
people of the plains become by their occupation different in character
to the mountaineers; it was very noticeable, striking right upon them
here, how much more stolid and less expressive their faces are, how
black and muddy--or dusty if the rain keeps off--they become in their
long, slow rides upon their carts, and, in general, how like their own
sleepy, blinking buffaloes they become--as, too, one may see in the
great plains of India. The circumstances and conditions of life are
all different; and drinking slow-running mud, which they
euphemistically call water, sloshing laboriously through seas of
reeking bog and swamp, and enduring the tormenting bites of
innumerable huge flies, which attack elephants, buffaloes, oxen,
horses, and men indiscriminately, but untiringly, must result in a
differently developed man from that built up by mountain marches, high
aloft on dry hillsides or deep down in cold stream beds, leaping from
rock to stone or plunging into the rushing water, where life is a
perfect fight. Not that the plains are always so disagreeable; given
the dry, cool months of December and January, travelling in them
becomes a luxury; but there is never the same exhilarating air or the
same pure water.

The Commissioner's house is at the western end of the town, surrounded
by the sheds of the military detachment. At the back a very pretty
garden is being made; and this and a new straight road, inland of the
present street and parallel with it, are the works of construction on
hand. The ground on each side of the new road--which, by its unlovely
straightness, carried one far away to similar ugliness in civilized
lands, and was the only unnatural thing we saw--is being eagerly
applied for by the Chinese; but a great drawback must for some time be
the absence of shade. The river is undoubtedly cutting into the soft
laterite bank here, and in a few years the old site will go down with
a run.

Prince Prachak is a reformer; he is very keen in "reforming the Laos,"
but is grieved to find they don't want to be reformed. He says--what
is very true--that their work is always desultory (one month they
plant rice, another they go fishing, another they wash gold in the
sands), and that they will not settle down into trades. They prefer,
too, to play music on their kans in the evenings to doing more useful
things, and are, in fact, lazy. But I fear it is not surprising, and
that it will be some time before the Laos take to trades.

The Chinese shopkeepers import their goods from Bangkok through
Khorat, and the journey, in the matter of shoes or felt hats from
London, increases the price about one _salung_ at the first place, and
two by the time they reach Nongkhai. They show for sale calico goods
of all colours and patterns (as one sees in Bangkok for "panungs,"
"pahs," etc.), shoes, sandals, belts, pots and pans, matches, Chinese
umbrellas, and teapots, the first mostly English, and as they sell
these well, they tell you with a grin they soon make their fortunes
and retire.

The wats are wretched little places, ill built and ill kept, the most
interesting thing being the bell of the principal wat, which is a huge
hollowed timber, some 3 feet in diameter and 7 feet high, hung to a
crossbar at the top. Struck end on with a stout pole, the sound is
deep and sonorous. This form, but usually smaller, is often used in
Siam, and for attaching to the necks of elephants or oxen (which
invariably have a bell), there are clappers hung on a string on each
side, which keep up a continual tinkle. Fixed on a bent bamboo, the
same form of bell is used by fishermen on the shore end of their set
lines to give warning of a big fish or other disturbance. There is
always a slit up, about a quarter of the way, slightly wider at the
top, on each side.

[Illustration: BELL.]

The weather from the time we left Luang Prabang to the time we reached
Nongkhai had the unsettled character of the beginning of the rains,
though it was only April month. South-westerly winds and haze by day,
low heavy clouds in the evenings, and thunderstorms of great violence,
with strong squalls of wind shifting round by west and north-west to
north at night, making sleep impossible while they lasted, and
generally driving into the boats everywhere. The lowest and highest
readings of the thermometer were, on the same day when we arrived at
Chieng Kan, after some heavy storms, 63° Fahr. at sunrise, 104° at 2
p.m. in the boats. For the rest of the time, the average minimum was
72°, generally half an hour before sunrise. The average maximum in
the shade, 92° (in the boats). In the shady sala, on the tree-covered
bank at Nongkhai, we never had over 89°, and, whether owing to the
advent of the rains or not I do not know, it was much cooler and
pleasanter than Luang Prabang had been, and all our sick men, with one
or two exceptions, mended entirely; while at the former place (as too
in the case of Mr. Archer's party) everyone had had turns of fever or
bad headaches.

[Illustration: BELL-CLAPPER AND JOINT.]

[Illustration: BAMBOO BELL.]

The coinage here was once more the tical, with only an occasional
rupee. At Luang Prabang the two, with their small silver subdivisions,
are both taken; but in Nan no Siamese money would pass, strings of
areca nut being used for small change, as cowries are at Luang
Prabang.

_Note on the "Kan."_

The Kan, the reed-organ used so much among the northern Lao tribes, is
remarkable for the sweetness of its tones, and the fact that the
intervals of the notes are correct according to our musical ideas, and
have a true key-note, the pitch of the instrument depending on its
length.

Thus the five-sok kan (9 feet 4 inches long) is in the key of G--one
sharp.

The four-sok kan (6 feet 8 inches) in the key of D--two sharps.

The two-sok kan (3 feet 4 inches) in the key of F--one flat.

These are the lengths most usual, but six soks is sometimes used; it
possesses very fine low tones, but requires powerful lungs, although
the notes are produced by inspiration and respiration.

The number of reeds never exceeds fourteen, and the arrangement of
notes is as follows, numbering the reeds in couples from the mouth of
the little air-chamber:--The two reeds, 1, are played with the thumb;
left 1 being the key-note; right 2 being the lower octave of the same.
The octave thus goes from right 2, to 3, 4, 5 and 6 left (or right 3,
which is the same) on to right 4, 5, and back to the thumb note on
left 1.

[Illustration: FOUR-SOK KAN (1 INCH TO 2 FEET).]

[Illustration: TWO-SOK KAN.]

Below the key-note right 2 come left 2 and right 1, and above the
upper key-note, right 6 and 7 and left 7; thus, in the D kan of four
soks, we get--

[Illustration: Notes on a musical stave, denoted as "LEFT." and
"RIGHT."]

There are no sharps or flats possible, and only half filling the
holes, as in a fife, will not produce them, the note being got by the
vibration of small tongues of metal fitted in the side of the reed.
Hence, possibly, the epithet "monotonous," which has been generally
given them; and hence the fact that a good player generally has more
than one. Their playing is very fast and effective, but is at first
hard to follow or properly understand. The mouth-piece is made of the
fruit of the _mai lamut_, and being very hard, takes a lot of work in
being hollowed out, and will receive a good polish outside; two
parallel slits are cut along the top and bottom, and the two rows of
bamboos fitted in, and the whole made airtight with beeswax. In case
of damage to one of the reeds, it is quite simple to undo the grass
bands which are put round at intervals, to remove the beeswax, and
take out the reed; often a gentle flick on the reed will set the metal
tongue vibrating again when momentarily out of order. The reeds, by
being put over the fire, are often very prettily marked.

[Illustration: AIR-CHAMBER.]

They can hardly be obtained in Siam, except where Laos are situated.

The Wieng Chan men, who are all over the country since the city was
destroyed and they were sent south, are the best makers and players,
and a few colonies of them are to be met with in the neighbourhood of
Bangkok. This fact of their love for this highest of Indo-Chinese
instruments, coupled with the fine remains of the old city, certainly
support the idea that at Wieng Chan there was civilization and taste
ahead of those of the surrounding places.

With regard to the music, it is impossible, without a long study of
it, to say more than that they are very fond of the minor, that they
use the octaves very much in playing, that the key-note may often be
heard down for a long time, and the time is generally a rapid horse's
trot, or quick march. At Nongkhai, I heard two men play a most
beautiful and stately march which made one's flesh creep; it was all
in the major, and in some parts irresistibly reminded one of the
famous march in _Saul_. One of these was a six-sok instrument, and the
effect surpassed anything I've heard in the country. They were on
their way to a marriage-festival when I met them in the road; they had
no fiddles or flutes with them, and were followed by a number of
people marching with them to their airs. They willingly stopped,
squatted down, and gave us half an hour's concert in the shade.


[Footnote 4: Called "weehan," or shrine.]

[Footnote 5: Such as the Ka Hoks.]

[Footnote 6: Termed, when so drunk, "yah," or medicine. It is slightly
pungent, and is said to be good in dysentery, and especially for
keeping off fever in malarious places.]

[Footnote 7: Probably they were Kuis.]

[Footnote 8: By the help of E. W. Oates' capital handbook to the
'Birds of British Burmah.']

[Footnote 9: The Khache, or Khamus, are very much confused with the
Lawas, and are much like them.]

[Footnote 10: To the end of March.]

[Footnote 11: Eight for a fuang = one-eighth of a tical, or 7½ cents
of a dollar. At Pechai we got one for a fuang.]



PART V.

NONGKHAI TO KHORAT AND BANGKOK (_April and May_, 1893).


From Nongkhai we left in regular rainy weather for Khorat, with 14
"kiens" or ox-carts, there being two oxen and a driver to each. Twelve
of these are about equal in carrying capacity to sixteen elephants as
loaded for hilly country--two extra we had for sick men, of whom we
still had two unable to walk; and these two, moreover, were the best
protected with charms of all the men with us. These charms were small
wooden _prahs_, very roughly cut, which they sew up in a bag of calico
and wear round the neck and arm. No amount of chaff will persuade them
that these things will not protect them from falling trees, and
_dhâp_ (or sword) cuts, as well as the _Pi_ of the forest or river.
Another danger from which they declared these things protected the
whole party, were the mermaids in the Mekong. Against these creatures
I was constantly warned when having a swim, especially above Luang
Prabang; they described them as the "women of the water," who would
drag a man down and drown him. Where could this notion have come from,
so singularly like our own stories?[12] South of Luang Prabang, one
heard very little of these damsels, and much more of the _pla bûk_.
On one occasion I pitched one of these charms overboard, and the
owner, who was sick, promptly got well next day, to his no small
astonishment.

Following the telegraph line, the great trail to Khorat is 211 miles
or so, but _detours_ have often to be made in search of villages which
are generally off the main track some little distance, and this is
necessary for commissariat purposes. For traders, the journey
generally occupies 16 to 21 days, according to the condition of the
oxen and state of the weather. When it rains, no advance is possible,
as, unlike the buffaloes, the oxen cannot work in rain, and hate it,
and seem to lose all their pluck; besides which, the yoke working on
the damp neck tends to produce bad sores.

The _kiens_, of which we frequently met long caravans, are the ships
of this desert--for such this plain is often for days at a time.
Nothing but wood is used in the construction, as the bumping and
straining is too great for any metal fastenings. The body of the
carriage proper is very light, like a cariole in shape; the pole to
which the yoke is attached spreading and passing along to the rear
underneath. The wheels, which are very broad, and the heaviest things
in the whole, turn on an axletree of hard wood (_Mai Kabao_, sometimes
_Mai Deng_), which is fitted in a socket of solid wood under the car,
at the inner end, and at the outer to an "outrigger," which is lashed
at its end to cross-pieces firmly placed at right angles at the front
and rear ends of the car. Thus the weight is distributed on many
points; a few ready-cut extra pieces of mai kabao are taken, and when
with a lurch and a dive one of the axletrees gives way, the
"outrigger" is unlashed at one end, and pulled outwards till the
axletree comes out of its socket; it is then pulled out of the wheel,
and a new one fitted in in a quarter of an hour. Similarly, lashings
may now and then give way, but a new one is put on in five minutes.
Over all a closely plaited cover is fitted, with a long peak forward,
reaching out over where the driver sits on the pole; and in this a man
may sleep protected from sun and rain. The length of the car is about
7 feet and 3 feet wide. Travelling in it is only possible to a person
who is accustomed to it, the jerking being so tremendous. If there
were roads it would be possible with some degree of comfort, and,
though dusty, they keep cool inside.

[Illustration: KIEN.]

The oxen are capital animals for their purpose, and when tired and
hungry can be turned loose with a certainty that in a quarter of an
hour they will have satisfied themselves; the moment they have had
enough, even of the rankest grass, they are ready to go on; their
patience and perseverance, even in the worst swamps, pestered with
flies and leeches, is wonderful. A frisky one, however, can do no end
of damage, and can kick and plunge and drag the _kien_, even when
loaded, at a gallop over any kind of country, and even the rein in his
nose will not hold him. On occasions of this sort, some damage is
often done to the cart, and delay occasioned. Their kick is very
quick, and pretty severe. They are always used by the Laos, though
seldom used by the Siamese of the south.

The buffalo, which wallows in the water all over Siam, is generally
kept for working the rice or sugar mills, and is only occasionally
used by the Laos in a larger cart of the same kind; but he is very
surly, wilful, and erratic. Large droves of them are taken south from
the Nongkhai neighbourhood, where their price is 12 to 15 ticals, to
Khorat, where their price is double; the demand for them and oxen
being very great in that neighbourhood. The best ponies come from the
neighbourhood of M. Chulabut, but they are also very cheap round
Khorat. At the former place, I saw some capital beasts, and from that
neighbourhood and the south at Pachim the cheapest ponies are
obtainable. Prices for a good carrier range from 50 to 100 ticals,
though an average pony of three years old, which will carry one fairly
well in ordinary jungle work, may be obtained for 35 to 40 ticals.
They are very small, and have a peculiar fast trot, which makes rising
in the saddle impossible; the Siamese or Laos always sit tight in the
saddle, legs almost touching the ground. At Chulabut, I saw a small
creature of ten hands which was very wild, and the owner wanted to get
rid of him for 8 ticals; he was a wonderful little beast, and very
fiery. Another I was offered for 20, and another for 30; but they
would be useless for Europeans.

For two days we travelled fairly easily, leaving the slight
cultivation near Nongkhai, and travelling through low, shadeless
jungles, passing here and there salt-boiling pans, at which the most
work is done after the rainy season, there being at other times no
water. The salt covers the ground in an efflorescence, and that
produced by the villages is coarse and bitter. The soil in the jungles
is sandy, there being gentle undulations on the northern side, on
which the sand is deepest; on the southern the trail going over rough
laterite. In the depressions occur the _nongs_, or swamps, of which
the plateau is full, and which in the wet weather, with their mud and
deep water, make travelling almost (and in most places quite)
impossible. In the neighbourhood of the main streams, which all run
from west to east to the Mekong, villages are established, and the
scrub jungle gives place to the welcome bamboo clumps and the high
betel and coconut palms, which, like church spires at home, announce
to the traveller far away that he is approaching the habitations of
men.

The absence of good water, and the change in it, made several of the
men very ill, and on the third morning I found one of the original
invalids, who had had a lot of fever on the Mekong, had every sign of
abscess in the liver. I knew at Khorat there might be a doctor, so
took two men with me, with three _kiens_ and their drivers, pushed on,
and arrived in nine days. The man recovered there, and was well enough
to go on with us from Khorat afterwards.

I had heard so much of the goodness of the trail following the
telegraphic clearing all the way, and of the bridges and salas, that I
was very much surprised at the reality. It was the worst track we had
followed, and there were only two salas which had roofs on them the
whole way, one having been put up at his own expense by an officer at
Chulabut. The rest were blackened stumps, and solitary corner posts,
from which every bit of roofing and flooring had been removed; two of
these having just roof enough to keep out the dew, but no more.
Cheerless places enough to reach an hour after sunset, after having
marched all day in the scorching morning sun and the deluge of rain
which came every afternoon and continued most of the night.

However, though after the Hill Laos, their "white-bellied" brethren of
the plains were in some ways disappointing, I am bound to say that the
men who were driving our kiens behaved splendidly; one of them was
formerly a sergeant, and knew his drill and the English words of
command once used in the Siamese army well. He was the lightest and
warmest-hearted man I ever travelled with, besides being, what is not
too common in the East, a really smart man. He was the headman of our
caravan, and I had told him that I must get on as fast as was possible
to Khorat, and he must help; he jumped at it. I asked him how quick we
could do it from Soug Prue. "Ten days." I told him, in that case we
could also do it in nine, and he was delighted, and used to turn us
out at four o'clock with his loud _sawang lëo_ (daylight come), long
before there was a sign of light, and then laugh and say, "Nine days,
master." And so, whatever the weather, however long we stood waiting
in the rain for the oxen to rest their necks before goading them on
again, none of these men with me ever thought of growling; and the
Siamese were the same. The pony I had brought on soon got a sore back,
so there was not much riding, except when it came to swimming a
stream.

The bridges were three in number only; one was possible, the other two
were unfortunately not connected with the southern bank, so that in
one case at Meinam Chieng Kun, the waggons, after having the oxen
taken out, are hauled over the loose flooring of the bridge and
dropped at the end into five feet of mud and water; in the other every
one avoids the bridge altogether. Now, at very small expense, for the
labour can be obtained for the necessary time from the neighbourhood,
good bridges might be erected all along this route; as it is, the
journey, as soon as the waters begin to rise, is of the most difficult
and arduous kind for all these caravans.

Krom Prachak is very eager for a light railway from Khorat to
Nongkhai. At least years must elapse before it can be done, but in
three months a good cart-road might be made, pile bridges put up, and
salas repaired; then it would be possible to judge of the chances of
such a railway, and the groundwork for it would be already laid. At
the present moment this undulating country, which should be easy to
travel, is worse provided with communications than the greater part of
the hill villages in Nan, and infinitely worse provided with shelter
than in the most out-of-the-way mountain valleys north. Yet, wherever
we went, the same kindly Laos welcome was given us, except in places
where there were Siamese settlements near by, and friction had
probably occurred among the petty officials.

Some of the villages, to which we went slightly off the trail, such as
Ban Tum, between the Nam Puang and Meinam Si (both big streams, very
deep and swift when the water rises, flowing through extensive paddy
plains and swamps), Chulabut one day south of it, and Ban Bodibun just
north of Khorat, were perfect gem villages, rich in palms, rice, and
cattle, with kindly people, who did all in their power to overfeed us
before we started. At the former places, where there were Siamese
officials, everything was very neat, and the relations between them
and the Laos seemed to be most happy. This is, naturally, not always
the case; but I am bound to say that, wherever the official is one of
some standing, this state of things is the usual one. Cultivation goes
on round the villages; but as soon as one gets a couple of miles away,
the sandy jungle or the _nongs_ resume their sway. The latter are the
most peculiar feature of the region, and cover a vast area, which is
larger to the eastward. Some of them are merely small swamps, with
shallow water and long reeds, extending over a surface of one or two
square miles; others, again, are extensive areas, in which water and
reeds are the only object the eye meets for miles, with here and there
a little green island, where trees exist, and, in the distance, the
low, long, green line of the jungle along its edge; an ideal home for
the various herons, and other long-legged waders, but, alas! also
tenanted by leeches and by flies, who attacked us all. The poor little
oxen, at the end of a few miles, especially if the sun came out for a
little in the burning way it does between rains, were covered with
clouds of the latter, their necks and nose, humps and legs, smeared
with blood. No resting is possible, for every moment a stop is made
the deeper everything sinks into the mud; so it is plunging and
struggling to the next little island, where we would stop and cook
breakfast with a score of other weary mud-bespattered carts. Besides
these, we also met some pack-oxen going north to get salt; but as the
water was out everywhere, they would have to wait before returning
south. One may roughly say that the salt efflorescence occupies the
low grounds, between the slightly higher laterite jungle ridges, which
are yet just higher than the surface of the _nongs_. The villages in
the neighbourhood are generally wretchedly dirty and untidy in
appearance; the growth is only stunted bamboo, and the whole place
uninviting enough.

The cold weather, with its advantages of dryness and absence of
insects, has also the disadvantage that water is very scarce. When we
crossed, the whole low-lying area may be said to have been under
water, but water of such a description that it was only here and there
that it was fit for man to drink; while in the sandy forests the
water, all perforating through, drained off at once, and the lower
ends of the track, where it began to rise toward the ridges, were, on
the other hand, lakes of mud. Thus, between endless seas of bad water
and long miles of sand, the water question remains almost as serious
in the rains as in the dry weather. The villages, as a rule, have a
well, and the water from the wells is fair.

The method of travelling usually adopted with the _kiens_ is an early
start at dawn, and a journey of some 300 sen (7½ miles), when a stop
is made to feed man and beast; and, if going easily, a start will not
be made until 3 or 4 p.m., when another 300 sen will be done before
night--a speed of 15 miles a day, occupying about 6 hours, at about
100 sen (2½ miles) an hour. This is very fair work for ox-carts over
a well-worn track, which is, of course, much rougher and harder to
travel than the jungle itself, the ruts spreading wide for a breadth
of 30 yards or so, and being of any depth that a _kien_ wheel can dig
to. But this exceeds the average.

Being in a hurry, we did about 21 miles a day for nine days, but had
three relays of oxen. This involved--at about 8 to 10 hours'
travelling by day, with the delays necessary to get new oxen, two
half-day rests, and fording the streams (where the waggons had to be
often carried over on the men's shoulders)--a good deal of night
travelling, which in rain, and heavy trails full of pitfalls, does not
commend itself as a rule. It will be seen, therefore, that the rate of
travelling is slow, and would be sufficiently increased for all
present purposes by improvements in the trail, and at the crossing of
the rivers. Men who are walking have, of course, the advantage, and
sometimes do 24 or 25 miles a day with their packs. The latter are
usually carried on the two ends of a long bamboo, and are fitted with
legs below, so that, stooping down, the weight is at once taken off
the shoulder. When he wants to rest, out of one of his panniers the
man takes his mat to sit on, and lays it between the panniers, and
over the pole above he places the _bai larn_ (a covering of palm
leaves sewn together, some 6 feet by 5 feet) to keep off the sun or
rain, and this is his house while he is on his journey. _Dhâps_ are
rare here, and heavy knives are used for cutting down jungle to place
round at night, or leaves to place under the bed. From travellers of
this sort, going south, we often bought wild honey, in long bamboos--2
feet of a 3-inch diameter bamboo selling for a fuang. They sometimes
set traps, and are successful in catching rabbits.

There are a few deer to be heard, and tigers are rare, except round
Chulabut, where a man was killed after we had left, the day the main
body arrived there.

We picked up a rather curious fellow-traveller when about six days
from Khorat, and he accompanied us to within a day of the town. This
was a rather decent-looking pariah dog, of quite remarkable character.
Unasked he joined us, and trotting often with me in advance, or half a
mile ahead, or right behind us all, his short sharp bark might be
continually heard in the jungle to right or left as he hunted his
breakfast. Of what this consisted I never knew, but he kept himself in
fair condition, for he got very little from us, poor thing, as we did
not want to encourage him; he got more kicks than ha'pence. But he
stuck to us, and even when we overhauled other parties going south,
instead of stopping and going leisurely with them, he always came on
with us. He was evidently accustomed to travelling, and knew the
trail, for he was often absent half a day, but would turn up in the
evening, and lie near us for the night. When we halted, and placed the
waggons round us, and the men put their sleeping-mats underneath them,
he would come as near the fire as he dare to get dry and warm.
Sometimes in the heat at noon, when the sun had been blazing upon us
in the sandy jungle, we would come upon him lying in a _nong_, with
only his eyes nose, and mouth out of water; while in the rain he
plodded stolidly along, and would sit down and wag his dripping tail
when he saw we were going to camp.

[Illustration: THE NORTH GATE AND NAM NUN, KHORAT.]

At length we saw the high line of foliage topped by palms which marks
Khorat, and through seas of mud, arrived on the bank of the Nam Nun,
which flows along the northern wall of the city. Across the ford were
groups of waggons encamped to the number of about fifty, and by an old
wat under the shade a busy market was going on. The Commissioner here,
Phra Prasadit, is the same stamp of man as the Commissioner at Luang
Prabang: one of those energetic, warm-hearted, and cheerful men who
make such excellent governors. He was kindness itself to us, and all
the men under him reflected it. In Siam, where every man has in
proportion to his importance numbers of others attached to him by a
kind of feudal relationship, and where his office clerks and his
lieutenants all have a personal connection with him, and almost form
part of his family, the influence which can be exerted is unbounded,
and by the expressions of face of the inferiors the superior may be
judged. Moreover, the Commissioner in Khorat is a man of ideas, has
been in Europe, and has a good knowledge of English and a fair
knowledge of French, and in all political questions in these countries
he takes a great interest; and thus his company was very pleasant.

The centre of the town we found not yet recovered from an extensive
fire; all round the four sides run the lofty red-brick walls, with
gates in the centre of each side, protected by round towers at the
flanks, in which laterite blocks have been extensively used. The whole
is much dilapidated and overgrown, and the moat outside has become
nearly filled up. The Commissioner had then 3000 men at work clearing
it out again. This will probably enormously benefit the town, which at
present may be described as an accumulation of houses, mainly in
ruins, jungle patches, and swamps, on every side of which rises the
great mound on which the walls stand, and which effectually shuts in
every drop of water, and in the rains transforms the whole area into a
lake. With openings made under the walls to drain off the water into
the moat, and with a raising of the level inside, an enormous
improvement will be effected. As the town stands well on a slight rise
above the plain level, and is surrounded with similar ridges covered
only with beautiful turf going miles towards the south, south-west,
and south-east, it may become a healthy and attractive place. The
plain around is dotted with villages; for many miles the soil
certainly produces a fine clean rice and abundance of fruit. Going out
in the morning along any of the great trails to the west, north, or
east, one passes among crowds of camped _kiens_, and among villages
and markets, the latter always held along one side of the road. At the
time we were there mangoes were in full swing, and all the women's
baskets full of them, bananas, coconuts, ready-rolled cigarettes,
brown cakes of palm sugar of an excellent quality, and very often the
fruit of the sugar palm, which is very much enjoyed. To the south and
west the trails are really like beautiful roads, for they go through a
pretty red sand soil, leading to the flat-bedded sandstones of the
hills, which makes good walking, and, even when swamped with a foot of
water, never causes mud. On the north and east, however, on slightly
lower ground, these sandy ridges are less frequent; the villages, when
possible, are built on them for health and convenience, while the
paddy is grown below. The trails on these sides, passing chiefly
through this low land, are in the rains two or three feet deep in
thick, clinging mud.

If the houses of the Thai (in which for the moment we may include the
Siamese and Laos together) are in the city badly situated in swamp and
jungle, and badly kept in repair, the houses of the Chinese are very
different; they are the flourishing part of the community. There are
some thousands of them here and in the neighbourhood, nearly all
shopkeepers, and outside the west gate, and along the main trail on
each side, they have a regular village. The street is narrow between
the open shop-fronts, and the road paved with baulks of timber. They
drive a large trade among the people coming in from the distant parts,
in calico stuffs, coloured sarongs and panungs, brasswork for betel
boxes, trays, etc., umbrellas, sandals (the latter soles of leather
with a strap coming up inside the great toe, and dividing and passing
off on each side, which are used all over the north); hats of straw,
felt, or strips of palm leaf; bells for oxen, tins of Swiss milk,
matches, needles and threads, wire and nails, cheap chains, a few
tools of European type, coloured yarns, white jackets and singlets,
towels, and even soap: all are imported from Bangkok. Yet, with the
present difficulties of transport through the Dong Phya Yen, the
Chinamen are doing a flourishing business.

[Illustration: SANDAL]

The Chinese houses are peculiar; a rectangular building being first
built of large unbaked mud bricks, with pillars rising like chimneys
at each end. Outside, several feet higher, and resting on these
pillars, is constructed a _yah kah_, or grass roof. Big fires are
kindled inside to dry the place; and the result is a very cool
dwelling. The grass roofing is brought very often far out, overhanging
the front, and this makes a shop front with the house behind.

These houses are usually on the roadsides, the two principal ones
running north and south, and east and west, connecting the gates, and
meeting about the centre. The latter road is about a mile long, the
former less. The central market is carried on all day in a large
roofed building near the centre of the city, and all up the road sit
the yellow-faced Chinamen smoking their long-stemmed pipes in the shop
fronts, and with the aid of their wives (generally Siamese, and good
business women) bargaining with the long-haired, dark burned men from
the plains, to whom the beauties of the shops in Khorat are a great
delight. From these main roads one may have quite an extensive ride or
walk without going outside the walls, in lovely lanes, lying deep down
between high banks of shrubs and grasses (and sometimes 4 feet deep in
water). These lanes are quite a feature of the country outside, too,
and, with the long grassy slopes referred to above, would make Khorat
the centre of delightful excursions in the cool months.

The journey from Khorat to Saraburi on the Nam Sak, whence Bangkok can
be reached in two days, occupies as a rule six or seven days only. But
when, after the main body had come up and had a day's rest, we bade
good-bye to the unceasing kindness of the Commissioner, and at the end
of the first day's march, which had begun pleasantly through lanes and
villages, found ourselves up to our necks in water, it was evident we
should take longer. We had to trend to the southward to get upon the
high ground out of the water, and with constant delays, owing to the
impassable state of the rivers, it was fourteen days before we got to
Saraburi.

Leaving the beautiful villages outside Khorat, deep in their thick
clusters of areca palms, which in places form perfect forests of tall
stems supporting the arched roof of leaves far overhead, and making a
perpetual cool shade, we had two days alternately over flat sandstone
beds and flooded lowlands, where the water was for hours at a time up
to our thighs, and at one place for half a mile up to our necks. Our
nights were wretched, as the rain was perpetual, and the waggons could
not arrive at the monasteries, where we put up, till long after
midnight; the men lay sleeping round, hungry and damp, lots of them
too tired to eat their supper when we got it ready, about 2 a.m.

These monasteries, built, as they were in days of old in our own Fen
country, upon little islands, are often the only things above the vast
surrounding lakes of water. The houses in the villages, built high on
piles, keep dry. Raised above the ground some two or three feet, are
generally long timber walks, made of solid felled trees, the top side
being slightly shaved down, on which the monks may walk out dry and
clean in the morning rounds to get their food. These walks are
attached to the wats in all the plains of the country, and when the
traveller strikes one, he knows a wat, with its welcome sala or
resthouse, is near.

The trail follows the Khorat river to nearly its source in the
limestones of the "Dong Phya Yen" forest; it then strikes across the
forest, descending the spurs of the plateau to the elbow made by the
Nam Sak, which turns away at Keng Koi in a west-south-westerly
direction to the Meinam. This trail in the forest is greatly worn by
the pack oxen, by which alone the thick forest can be penetrated, and
in the rains is a series of narrow tracks winding in and out between
the trees, consisting of frightfully slippery mud. The oxen have a way
of walking in each other's footsteps, and the result is a series of
ridges, like those on a sandbank at low water; but the ridges are
greasy mud, and the depressions deep pitfalls. Thus in the wet weather
the oxen constantly have heavy falls, and no one can get through
without finding himself often on his nose or on his back.

The forest proper begins at Chanteuk, a small village, in the
neighbourhood of which are some copper mines. These are open works,
and as no one has worked there lately, were, when we passed through,
brim full of water. On the Khorat side of this place are two fords, to
cross which huge tree-trunks lie over the water, the growth along the
bamboo being extraordinarily dense. Between them is a sala, which
fortunately was in moderate condition, as we were delayed there two
days in pouring rain, the river having risen ten feet in one night, as
I measured next morning. Our quinine was nearly at an end; one man was
quite prostrated with fever; and our eight days' store of rice was
nearly done, all our chickens gone, the horses useless with sore
backs, and the thirty-eight oxen carrying the packs suffering with
coughs and sores. To get out we built two rafts; one was carried away
on her first journey, the ropes going; and the other proved so slow
that, as the distance was some hundred yards in the then state of the
water, it would have taken us two days to get all over. But, to our
great satisfaction, the river fell.

At Chanteuk we got some rice and _platieng_, salt-fish, which the
Siamese eat with their rice, and can live on for any length of time.
Then, instead of going down the great trail, where a party of two men
and a woman we met had just left two of their number dead of fever in
the road, I took a drier, if longer route to the south. Our
resting-places were Ban Kanong Pra, Ban Tachang, Hoay Sai, and Muak
Lek Nua, whence we reached Keng Koi.

The scenery of this forest is most peculiar, and by no means inviting,
especially in the continuous heavy rain, when the traveller is
attacked by ticks and leeches, flies, and red ants seeking a dry
place. The villages are the wretchedest collections of huts, the
people mostly very poor; and one constantly wondered how any soul
could live in these tiny clearings in the midst of a vast area where,
for the most part, the sun never comes, when he might be in healthy,
open country. We could seldom get even a banana. Undulating in all
directions lies the forest, with now and then a sheet of limestone
precipice towering among the drifting rains; the paths,[13] just wide
enough for an ox, continually obstructed by lately fallen trees, round
which a _detour_ must be cut in the semi-darkness; and all the while
the dull roar of the rain upon the leaves, with the prospect of a
camp, wet through, in long six-feet grasses for the night. At Ban Mai
we emerged from the forest, and found a clean village with a lot of
cheerful, chatty Laos, who sent three men on with us to Keng Koi--the
smartest set of men we had seen since leaving the Mekong.

At Pak Prio, a morning's walk beyond, we found the embankment of the
railway to Khorat so far advanced as to have a mile of rails laid
above the place, and a locomotive standing almost finished in a shed,
to which my men as they came by fell upon their knees and offered the
customary Siamese "salaam," by raising the clasped hands to the
forehead. The oxen, which had reached a stream we crossed with ease a
few hours before above Keng Koi, found it impassable, and were delayed
two days there. My poor fellows, soaked through and through, and with
no chance of getting snug at night, had to sleep and live for two days
of pouring rain in the sala; but, being near home, were as jolly as
could be. The temperature was some 4° higher at night, and mosquitos,
which we had not seen for over five months, were most obnoxious; and
from the strong south-west winds blowing, it was evident we were once
more near the gulf.

One day's pulling and half a day's steaming, and Bangkok was in sight,
with the French _Lutin_ and H.M.S. _Swift_ lying off the Legations.
This was the first evidence we had had of there being political
troubles. From fording the swollen streams, from continual tumbles in
mud and water, and from constant rain, we found nearly everything on
the pack oxen had been ruined that could be--photographs and other
things. It is a most clumsy way of travelling, without doubt, and the
time and labour spent in loading up every morning is enormous. The
weights on the two sides must be adjusted accurately, the two men
lifting them on a bamboo, through the middle, to test the balance and
spending often ten minutes in getting one pair of panniers ready. Then
there are constant falls, and often these are not discovered until
miles have been traversed, and a careful search has to be made in
ditches, streams, and mud for hours at a time. Besides this, the pace
is wretchedly slow. This belt of the Dong Phya Yen, which can only be
passed by animals, thus equipped, is a practical barrier to
communication, leaving out of consideration the superstition with
which the forest is, with much reason owing to its fevers, regarded,
and the badness of the roads within it. The Khorat Railway becomes
thus a work of the greatest importance to the whole plateau. To
complete its usefulness, one or two passable cart-roads will do all
that is necessary for that piece of undoubtedly hopeful country.

The Nam Sak, which the railway leaves at Keng Koi, is also a valuable
river, inasmuch as, apart from the large tobacco crops towards its
source, the valley is one richer in minerals than any other piece of
country like it in Siam, and in the rainy season the question of
transport is a fairly easy one. What struck me very much on descending
the Nam Sak was the thickness of the population all along the banks,
as compared with anything we had seen in the north. The beauty of the
wats--always built on points of land round which the stream wound its
turbid way--was also striking, and quite impressive. In the manners of
the majority, and their loud talking, it was also clear that we were
no longer among the gentle Laos of Nan or the musicians of Luang
Prabang; but the comfort and luxury of the people were such as far
exceeded anything we had seen since we left the Meinam at Pechai.

The weather all the way from Nongkhai to Muak Lek Nua (end of April
and May) was south-westerly winds, moderate to fresh, falling at
night. Mornings fine, with heavy cumuli in the south-west and west,
which gradually spread, and became dark flashing thunder-clouds. Heavy
rain after 2 p.m., beginning with a heavy squall of wind shifting to
the west and north-west, and once or twice round to north-east, whence
it blew hard for an hour. Rain generally lasted most of the night.
Thermometer--average minimum reading, 70° Fahr.; maximum, 91° in the
shade.

From Muak Lek Nua we descended into the Meinam valley, and found in
the plains but slight showers, and fresh south-westerly wind lasting
long into the night. Thermometer--minimum reading while in Pak Prio,
74°.

The result of so much wading made itself rather severely felt in a few
days on most of us, and we had sores on our legs and feet for some
time afterwards, so that it was almost impossible to get shoes on.
This was no doubt partly owing to low diet, and partly to the cuts and
wounds to the bare feet which every one gets wading where he cannot
see his way, made worse by the blistering effect of the occasionally
fierce sun, to keep off which palm leaves wrapt round the foot are
excellent. With regard to the fevers, I would say, don't give quinine
every day, as then in emergency its effect is less powerful, and the
constitution is too accustomed to it; keep it until men feel a bit
down, or when in very bad places or bad weather. It will last longer,
and do more. In the high fevers of the dense forests, which prostrate
a man very suddenly, emetics are the most reliable cure.

In a country abounding in snakes, it is not a little remarkable that
our party only saw four the whole time. Again, though often in wild
elephant tracks, none of us ever either saw or heard one. Two tigers,
a few deer, and monkeys (which are not timid) were the only animals
which were seen in the forests--a very sufficient proof, where their
tracks are to be seen on every hand, and they can be heard around all
night, of the care with which they avoid meeting man. Of course the
great thickness of the vegetation, where the man in front of you is
often out of sight even in the path, in great measure also accounts
for it, and it is this which prevents Siam being such a field for the
sportsman as it would otherwise be.

There is one subject especially which it struck me often would make an
interesting inquiry for any one who understands the subject--the
comparison of the patterns and colours, both in the silk and
cotton-work of the Laos districts; such as the check patterns in the
panungs and cloaks in Nan, the former remarkable for a large use of a
bright yellow, which, to the unaccustomed eye is rather flaring, the
latter for its red shades; the horizontal and generally narrow stripes
of the Luang Prabang petticoats (in which, again, the best effect is
due to yellow); and the extremely taking panungs of Khorat, which are
thought very much of by the Siamese. They are of one colour, with a
border at the ends, blue, a delicate pink flesh colour, and a light
red being the commonest.

_Note on Gold and Silver at Luang Prabang._

All over the Laos states silver ornaments, as well as such articles as
betel-boxes, trays, etc., are very common among the chiefs, and at
Luang Prabang gold is likewise often seen used in place of silver for
such things. The question is often raised as to how and where these
metals have been obtained in such quantities in the past, that even
tribute has been paid in ornaments made of them from olden times.
Certainly the gold has always been found in alluvial sands, nor did I
ever hear of its being known in veins or veags, nor did I ever find
any traces of its so occurring. I believe its chief source must be the
series of crystalline schists, which is an extensive one, and I
incline to the idea, from the smallness of the quantities extracted
from the sands, that it is probably sparsely disseminated through
these rocks as well as through the quartz and possibly the calcareous
veins, and that it will never be found in them in sufficient
quantities to pay working. The patient streams have worked away for
ages denuding and carrying away these rocks, and separating and
depositing the gold, and all they have effected as far as the latter
goes is that they have deposited infinitesimal quantities of it only,
with larger quantities of the other minerals, such as magnetic iron
ore, iron pyrites, etc. Decomposition and disintegration of the latter
may be in places freeing more gold, and the yearly floods bring down
their small addition, but yet even the Lao worker hardly finds it
worth his while to work the sands, and the apathy displayed in the
matter everywhere is partly without doubt accounted for by the poverty
of the results obtained. And where the native worker gets such poor
results, will the European miner get better?

The gold in the Mekong is generally extremely fine and much
water-worn, and is usually found below a sharp turn in the river,
where the water runs strong. As regards the silver, it has been found
native, but in such very small quantities that it cannot have supplied
the whole country. The whole of Siam, however, is rich in galena,
often of a very argentiferous character, and it may possibly have been
found with other sulphides as well, but there can be little doubt that
most of it has been extracted from galena. In some parts of the
Northern Laos States this has been a regular industry. Small blast
furnaces of baked mud are used, and when reduced the metal is run off
in pigs and put in a reverberatory furnace with charcoal. This is
sometimes done (but clumsily enough) further south, but little
interest is manifested as a rule in these matters. Nowadays money is
often melted down for working into ornaments.


[Footnote 12: It no doubt primarily arises from the danger and
strength of the eddies.]

[Footnote 13: There are a few elephant tracks.]



APPENDIX.


At the Meeting of the Royal Geographical Society on February 24, 1894,
an account of Mr. Warington Smyth's journey by the President, Mr.
Clements R. Markham, C.B., was read by Mr. Probyn. Before the reading
of the paper, the President said--

The paper we are to hear this evening is on exploration on the Upper
Mekong, in Siam, by Mr. Herbert Warington Smyth, who is serving under
the Siamese Government. Siam is from many points of view a most
interesting country, more particularly for us at the present time, and
it is observable that until about nine years ago, when Mr. Holt
Hallett read his paper, we had scarcely in this Society heard anything
of Siam except as to the exploration of the Mekong by our gold
medallist, Lieut. Garnier. We had only had scattered notices in
previous years from Sir Robert Schomburgk and Sir Harry Parkes. But
latterly we have received most important communications from Lord
Lamington in 1891 and Mr. Curzon last year, and I think that not only
this Society, but the nation generally, owes a debt of gratitude to
Lord Lamington and Mr. Curzon for having so persistently, so
patriotically, and so ably kept a question of such importance to
England before the Government and the public. It was in 1887 that Mr.
McCarthy, after surveying Siam for several years, favoured us with a
most interesting communication. He was the first to describe to us the
geographical and the general features of the country; and I believe I
am right in saying it was through the advice and the persuasion of Mr.
McCarthy that this young and modest explorer, Mr. Warington Smyth, was
induced to send us his paper, which we shall listen to this evening.

Unfortunately, he will be unable to read it himself; he is still--I
won't say better employed, because I don't think any one can be better
employed than in reading a paper before this Society, but he is quite
as well employed in preparing in Siam for further exploration, and I
am glad to say that, as the paper is in manuscript, or the condensed
version which we are obliged to use, a friend of Mr. Warington Smyth
and an old schoolfellow, Mr. Probyn, has very kindly undertaken to
read it.

After the reading of the paper, the following discussion took place:--

Lord LAMINGTON: I think I may say that if Mr. Warington Smyth had been
here he would have considered it a great compliment to have had his
lecture listened to by so large an audience, and I may also say you
will not think your time wasted while listening to the paper. We owe a
debt of gratitude to Mr. Probyn for having undertaken to read a paper
so full of names to which he must be unaccustomed. With regard to the
paper, no description I have read has recalled to me so vividly the
scenes in that part of the world. Mr. Smyth has shown himself not only
a geologist, but a close observer of natural history and human customs
in every variety and form. He has represented to us most fully all the
scenery, and given us a vivid description of Siamese and Laos life. I
am glad that he corroborates what I myself would state, the gentleness
of the Laos tribes. I don't know who has called them barbarians, but I
cannot imagine a people less deserving of such a title. I am not quite
sure of the definition of civilization, and in their own way it may
not be Western, but in all kindness and honesty they are as worthy to
be called civilized as any that could be found in the human race. I
almost wish he had told us more about the mineralogical wealth of the
country. I am not certain how far we may gather that the sapphire
mines are of any great value, but from the mere fact of these Burmans
coming over and thinking it worth while to take long journeys to sell
their stones, and from their being of the first water, we may assume
that when these mines are worked in a more efficacious manner they
will prove to be of value. Another interesting part of his paper
refers to the navigation of the Mekong from north of Luang Prabang and
down south as far as Nong Khai. From Chieng Kong, where he first
touched it, to Chieng Kan, we may assess its value as a navigable
river, that is to say, for any boats of size to carry cargoes. His
estimate is borne out by the report of Mr. Archer, and so also his
statement on the commerce of Luang Prabang gives us a true idea of its
worth, which is practically _nil_. Of course, we know the French are
anxious to obtain possession of that place, as they consider it of
first-class importance. Both Mr. Archer and Prince Henri d'Orleans
think it, as a commercial centre, valueless for attracting any
European capital. That part of the Mekong which may be considered
navigable is from Chang Tang to Khong, further than Mr. Warington
Smyth went. The French have now carried some stern-wheel steamers
piecemeal up to these waters; the result of their enterprise only the
future can show. With regard to the fishing methods of the natives, I
may just say that these arrangements may be very well when you are
descending the river, but they are the greatest inconvenience when
ascending, as they form a formidable barrier if there is a strong
current, and when you have to face this rigid fence of bamboos, it
then becomes a matter of great difficulty to force the boat through.

Mr. Warington Smyth mentioned the difficulties made by the mud; this,
of course, in the wet season renders all travelling impossible. The
sliminess of the mud is almost inconceivable, and I can recollect,
when between Chieng Upeng and Mung Sai, I used when climbing to keep
on all fours, and probably slip down until arrested by a twist in the
path; and it was amusing to see the efforts made by boys and men to
mount the slimy slopes. This was in the dry season; in the wet season
travelling with loaded animals becomes impossible throughout the
greater part of the Indo-China peninsula. Mr. Archer came across from
Chieng Kong into the Nam Nan valley; now Mr. Warington Smyth describes
the country from Nong Khai to Khorat; and there is an account waiting
to be published by, Mr. Beckett, of the diplomatic service, of a
journey still further down the Mekong and along the Nam Mun river to
Khorat. We are thus in possession of descriptions of a country that,
owing to political exigencies, will play an important part in the
future, and all information we derive concerning it must be very
valuable to us.

I apologize for addressing you at such length, and thank you for your
kind remarks about my efforts to instruct public opinion about Siam. I
imagine I must be a lineal descendant of Cassandra, because I have
noticed that all I have said has been disregarded. I am glad to see
Mr. Curzon has torn himself away from the charms of the allotment
question. He has given much information, and has asked many searching
questions in Parliament with reference to Siam, and has been
successful in eliciting some valuable information.

Hon. George Curzon: Lord Lamington has indulged in some amiable chaff
at the expense of the House of Commons, to which we are accustomed on
the part of those noblemen who belong to the upper chamber. I may tell
him, in reply, that what concerns us much more than the question of
allotments for the parishes in England is the question of the future
political allotment of Siam. My interest in Siam is more than a purely
physical or geographical interest in the country; and all those who
belong to the country, or have a friendly concern in it, may rest
assured that neither Lord Lamington or I will abate any effort for its
fair treatment in the politics of the future. I don't know that I have
much right, perhaps none, to address you at all this evening, because,
in the first place, I have not been upon these upper parts of the
river Mekong which have been visited and so admirably described
successively by Lord Lamington and in the paper this evening. My own
acquaintance with the Mekong is limited to its lower portion, where it
flows through Cochin-China, Cambodia, and at Pnom Penh, the capital of
Cambodia, sends northwards a branch that disembogues into the lake
Tali Sap. Now, this Mekong river is one of the most remarkable rivers
in the world, whether contemplated in the lower parts, where it
spreads out in broad tranquil reaches from 200 yards to half a mile in
width; or whether you examine its middle sections, where, as we have
been told this evening, the French are finding furious and stormy
rapids; or whether you go northward beyond the exploration of Lord
Lamington and Mr. Warington Smyth, the river pursues its course
unknown and unexplored far away, amid the mountain masses of Western
China and Tibet. This river Mekong seems to me, during the last
twenty-five years, to illustrate a lesson, ever since 1865-6, when the
French expedition under Lagree, Garnier, and De la Porte went up the
river to explore it,--one of the most heroic of expeditions in its
conception and execution, and most pathetic in its result, undertaken
by pioneers. Ever since then it has had an extraordinary fascination
for Frenchmen--so much so, that they have claimed for themselves a
sole right of interest in the Mekong, no matter what reports may be
brought home by travellers, commercial agents, or explorers, as to the
unnavigability of the river. They have maintained these ideas to the
present day, and I cannot imagine a more interesting study than that
of the parts which the great rivers of Asia, the Euphrates, Oxus,
Ganges, and Mekong, have taken in history not merely by their
geographical features or commercial aspect, but by what I may call
their moral influences, exercised on the moulding of the peoples and
on the destinies of empires. We have heard a most interesting paper
from Mr. Smyth. He has given us a most faithful and vivid account of
boat life, raft life, camp life, village life, and jungle life in
Siam, and, as Lord Lamington said, has given us not only a faithful,
but a singularly attractive, picture of the various tribes who inhabit
that country. I was glad to hear what Lord Lamington said about these
Laos peoples, because there is too great a tendency in the world to
assume that, because the tribes of little-known and comparatively
unexplored districts have not all the abominable manners of
civilization, they must necessarily be described as barbarians. As he
remarked, no more amiable, docile population exists--a people
possessed of æsthetic and musical tastes, who are entitled to the
epithet, "the Greeks of the Indo-Chinese peninsula." There is another
strip south of Luang Prabang, right down between the mountains and the
Mekong, into which no Englishman has ever been; and, looking to the
fact that the French have taken possession of it, I don't suppose we
are likely to go there. Further down is a curious people called
Ladans, amongst whom an adventurer, either French or Italian,
established himself a short time ago, called himself king, and, I
believe, wanted to appear in the "Almanack de Gotha;" but, having
retired for a short time, on his return found his subjects unwilling
to receive him, and the kingdom has disappeared. The interest to us in
this room is not that of acquisition or conquest, but a friendly
sympathetic interest in the Oriental people who are playing their own
part in the world, in proportion as they come into the mesh of British
trade. I was interested to hear about Manchester goods at Luang
Prabang, seeing the advantages the French have for shipping by Hanoi
and up the Black river. You would never expect Manchester goods there,
and the fact that they are there means, not only that they ought to be
kept there, but ought to be seen all over the peninsula. I am pleased
to say that Mr. Smyth, in the latter part of his journey, travelled
over a line that is to be taken by the railway from Khorat to Bangkok,
of which I saw the embankments. It was largely the anticipation of the
results of that railway that induced the French to go on, for the flow
of trade has been for some time past from the Mekong river
south-westwards. They want to divest it towards their possessions.
Conceive how it will be emphasized if you have a railway instead of
the carts that take goods laboriously by the way Mr. Smyth described!
I am sorry that there is difficulty about this railway--that the
contractor has had a dispute with the Siamese Government; but I hope
that this will be settled, and, at all events, that Siam will make the
railway. A year ago I was in Siam, and the king told me he meant to
take the railway to Kong Khai. It will be the best thing for the
salvation of his country, and there is no Englishman present who does
not wish to see Siam strong, independent, and wealthy, and capable of
holding its own. For my own part, I shall never cease to feel the
greatest and warmest interest in that singularly attractive country,
and my own opinion is, that it is the duty of every British Government
to see that the integrity of that country is not wiped out, and that
its vitality is maintained.

Mr. F. Verney: I have the honour of being connected with Siam by being
a member of the Siamese legation. I have watched with intense interest
the advance of that country, and have been concerned in its connection
with Europe even more than with Siam itself. I can thoroughly confirm
everything that has been said by Lord Lamington on the one side and
Mr. Curzon on the other, from what I have heard, not from what I have
seen. I was in Siam for a very short time, and was treated there with
the greatest possible kindness and hospitality. To judge fairly the
civilization of that country, we should take, not our own standard of
civilization only, but a wider standard applicable to communities
differing entirely in their origin, their histories, and in their
development from our own, and it is very gratifying to hear a man in
Mr. Curzon's position in the House of Commons express his opinions in
the emphatic and eloquent language to which we have just listened. It
is true that only recently England has awakened to the extreme
importance of that distant country. It was not until the other day
that Englishmen had an idea that Siam produced anything much besides
twins, but this cynical ignorance is rapidly disappearing. You cannot
listen to travellers like Lord Lamington and Mr. Curzon (and when Mr.
Warington Smyth comes back we shall listen to him) without finding out
that there is a great deal both of material and what we may call moral
progress in that distant country. Let me say one word as regards his
Majesty the King of Siam, on whose character and personality so much
depends. For many years past the king has been known as a man of wide
interests, of a very high order of intelligence, and of an unusual
charm of manner. He comes of a family distinguished in the past both
for statesmanship and scientific culture. A member of his family was
one of the greatest astronomers in the East; another was described to
me by one of the greatest Oriental travellers, and perhaps the most
cultivated linguist in Germany, as being the master of more languages
than any other man he had met; and you may be assured that the royal
family of Siam will produce many more distinguished men. There are
members studying at Oxford, others at our public schools, growing up
surrounded by all the best English influences. Let us hope that Siam
and England will go hand-in-hand, and that other countries in Europe
will come round to see that this is not a country for invasion or
annexation, but worthy of support and sympathy, on account of its
people, its products, its achievements in the past, and its
possibilities for the future.

Mr. Louis: I am afraid I can add very little to what Mr. Warington
Smyth has said, because my explorations were in a diametrically
opposite direction. I had the pleasure of his company when exploring
some diamond and ruby mines in the south-east, and this was more
interesting to me as my knowledge of mineralogy was acquired under Mr.
Warington Smyth's father. On one point only I have to differ from Mr.
Warington Smyth--as to the Burmese way of washing rubies and
sapphires. It is not at all to my mind the crude, rough way he
mentions. Their baskets are the most beautifully finished work made of
bamboo in thin strips, and handled with all the deftness and practised
skill of an Australian or Californian gold-washer; they scarcely ever
miss a gem, so far as I could see, much bigger than a pin's head. As
regards the geology of these districts on the east of Chantabun, the
formation is simply gravel from 2 to 5 feet deep overlying the trap
rocks, and these gems have been worn out of the trap rocks by natural
agencies. Mr. Smyth describes the gems as coming from a black
crystalline rock very similar to that I have mentioned. This formation
seems to be quite different from the white limestone occurring in
Burma. I should like to mention one thing that must have struck very
few when hearing Mr. Smyth's paper; it not only gives a wonderfully
accurate description of the people, but is an accurate reflex of his
own plucky and cheery nature; very few can have any idea of the real
hardships and difficulties and dangers involved in such an expedition.
It takes an Englishman to go through such dangers and hardships, and
then write such a bright account of everything as Mr. Smyth has done.

The President: I am sure the meeting will agree with me that we have
never in this hall heard so graphic and so picturesque an account of
this little-known region as is contained in Mr. Warington Smyth's
paper. Mr. Smyth is evidently a keen observer of nature, and has the
gift of sympathy--of being able to place himself in the position of
the people with whom he travels and whom he comes across, as well as a
kindly feeling for the animals serving with him. These are very high
qualities. His narrative is so lively and cheery, that we can hardly
realize the amount of hardship and danger the journey entailed. These
are all admirable qualifications, which are due almost entirely, I
have no doubt, to his own individuality; but perhaps we may put
something down to his education. Mr. Warington Smyth was a Westminster
boy, like his father before him, who was a valued member of our
Council. I cannot help taking this opportunity of saying that there
are very few places of learning in this country that have done in
times past so much for geography as that glorious old school which
nestles round the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. Richard Hakluyt, the
father of English Geography, was a Westminster boy; Edmund Gunter, the
first introducers of the use of Napier's logarithms; Neville
Maskelyne, to whom we owe the Nautical Almanac; Dr. Vincent, one of
our greatest comparative geographers, were all Westminster boys; and
one of the seven founders of this Society, and two of your Presidents,
were also Westminster boys. Now we find a Westminster boy training
himself, hereafter to be a great explorer, and perhaps discoverer. Let
us wish him all success in his career, and I am sure the meeting will
desire me to convey to him a hearty and unanimous vote of thanks.

[Illustration: Map--THE CENTRAL PART OF THE KINGDOM OF SIAM. Showing
the route of MR. H. Warington Smyth.]





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