Siam in 1858: The Menam river impressions

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The Menam deserves its beautiful name — Mother of Waters – for its depth permits the largest vessels to coast along its banks without danger: so closely, indeed, that the birds may be heard singing gaily in the overhanging branches, and the hum of numberless insects enlivens the deck by night and day.

The whole effect is picturesque and beautiful. Here and there houses are dotted about on either bank, and numerous villages give variety to the distant landscape.

We met a great number of canoes managed with incredible dexterity by men and women, and often even by children, who are here early familiarised with the water. I saw the Governor’s children, almost infants, throw themselves into the river, and swim and dive like water-fowl.

It was a curious and interesting sight, particularly from the strong contrast between the little ones and the adults. Here, as in the whole plain of Siam, which I afterwards visited, I met most attractive children, tempting one to stop and caress them; but as they grow older they rapidly lose all beauty, the habit of chewing the betel-nut producing an unsightly blackening of the teeth and swelling of the lips.

It is impossible to state the exact population of Bangkok, the census of all Eastern countries being extremely imperfect. It is estimated, however, at from three to four hundred thousand inhabitants. Owing to its semi-aquatic site, we had reached the centre of the city while I believed myself still in the country; I was only undeceived by the sight of various European buildings, and the steamers which plough this majestic river, whose margins are studded with floating houses and shops.

Bangkok is the Venice of the East, and whether bent on business or pleasure you must go by water. In place of the noise of carriages and horses, nothing is heard but the dip of oars, the songs of sailors, or the cries of the Cipayes (Siamese rowers). The river is the high street and the boulevard, while the canals are the cross streets, along which you glide, lying luxuriously at the bottom of your canoe.

Text: Henri Mouhot
Photo: internet / Drawn by M. Bocourt, from a Sketch by M. Mouhot.
Abstract from the book TRAVELS IN THE CENTRAL PARTS OF INDO-CHINA (SIAM),
CAMBODIA, AND LAOS, DURING THE YEARS 1858, 1859, AND 1860.
BY THE LATE M. HENRI MOUHOT, FRENCH NATURALIST.
IN TWO VOLUMES.—Vol. I. WITH ILLUSTRATIONS.
LONDON:JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET,1864.

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