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Prea Sat Ling Poun
Prea Sat Ling Poun
King of Siam
The late 1st King of Siam

Palace of the Leprous King

First travels

In April 1862, John Thomson left Edinburgh for Singapore, beginning a period of 10 years largely spent travelling around the Far East. He established a studio in Singapore, taking portraits of European merchants, but also travelled around the Straits Settlements, and began to take an interest in photographing native peoples and places.

In 1865, after reading Henri Mouhot's account of the discovery of the ancient city of Angkor, deep in the Cambodian jungle, John Thomson embarked on his first major photographic journey. He sailed to Bangkok, where he obtained permission from King Mongkut of Siam to travel into the interior of Cambodia, at the time under the Siamese control. Whilst in Bangkok he took a remarkable series of portraits of the King (played by Yul Brynner in ‘The King and I’), his State Barge, and senior figures in the Siamese court and government.

Thomson began his journey to Angkor in 1866 with H G Kennedy, a British Consular official in Bangkok, who saved Thomson’s life when he contracted jungle fever.

Thomson spent two weeks in Angkor, where he took the first photographs of this vast and beautiful site, now a World Monuments Fund site of major importance. After photographing the Cambodian Royal Family in Phnom Penh he returned to Britain, where he was able to publish his photographs of Siam and especially Angkor. He lectured widely, and became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.