Henri Mouhot (1826 – 1862)

 

Henri Mouhot was an intrepid explorer and one of the first French adventurers and naturalists to visit Laos. Aged only 31  he decided to travel to Indochina to discover, catalogue and illustrate hundreds of species of fauna and flora. He was sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society and the Zoological Society of London after failing to get support from the French government.

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Henri Mouhot’s statue just outside Luang Prabang

Tragically he died of malaria in Luang Prabang in 1861 aged only 35. His grave was then smothered by the jungle and was only rediscovered in 1989 just outside Luang Prabang on the banks of the Nam Khan River.

His tomb has now been moved to higher ground to protect it from floods, and his original tombstone plaque and a statue of him with wide brimmed hat, journal and cane now mark the spot.

Henri Mouhot’s grave location is near Ban Phanom, on the Southern bank of the Nam Khan river road only 11 kms East of town. Turn left into the track and drive down the hill to the picnic area beside the river, (If you’re in a car there is a small entrance fee).

 

 

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Henri Mouhot’s tomb just outside Luang Prabang on the banks of the Nam Khan river

Drive to the end of the picnic area, park and walk the final 50m on a track along the river bank.

You’ll see the path on your right that leads 15m up the ferny track into a small clearing. With the air resonating with cicadas you’ll find Henri Mouhot’s grave stone and a statue of this early Lao explorer.

It’s in heavy shade so during the rainy season make sure you are wearing mosquito repellent otherwise you might end up suffering the same fate as poor Henri.

Henri Mouhot was frequently accredited with discovering the Angkor Wat temple complex at Siem Reap in Cambodia. However, it was never lost and was occupied from when it was built in the 12th century. Henri Mouhot was the first western explorer to publicise the Angkor Wat temple and write about its incredible wonders for western audiences.

 

 

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Plaque commemorating Henri Mouhot beside his tomb

A commemorative tribute beside his grave reads:

 

Henri Mouhot 1826 – 1861

Henri Mouhot born May 15th 1826 in Monthbéliard. Naturalist, passionate explorer, with the support of the Royal Society of Geography of London, made four expeditions to Laos, Cambodia, Siam (Thailand). Is known as the discoverer of Angkor. Died the 10th of November 1861.

 

For the Curious:

Mouhot also wrote in his journal (Voyage dans les royaumes de Siam, de Cambodge, de Laos or Travel in the kingdoms of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos), which was published posthumously:

“At Ongcor, there are …..ruins of such grandeur….. that, at the first view, one is filled with profound admiration, and cannot but ask what has become of this powerful race, so civilized, so enlightened, the authors of these gigantic works?”

Go to Henri Mouhot on Wikipedia to read more.

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