A dramatic journey that both retraces the historic voyage of France's greatest 19th-century explorer up the mysterious Mekong river and paints a portrait of the river and its peoples today. Any notion of sailing up the Mekong in homage to Francis Garnier has been unthinkable till now. From its delta in Vietnam up through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma and on into China, the Mekong has been a no-go river, its turbulent waters fouled by ideological barriers as formidable as its natural obstacles. But recently the political obstacles have begun to be dismantled: river traffic is reviving. John Keay describes the world of the Mekong as it is today, rehabilitating a traumatised geography while recreating the thrilling and historic voyage of Garnier in 1866. The French expedition was intended to investigate the 'back door' into China by outflanking the British and American conduits of commerce at Hong Kong and Shanghai. Two naval gunboats headed upriver into the green unknown, bearing crack troops, naturalists, geologists and artists. The two-year expedition's failures and successes, and the tragedy and acrimony that marked it, make riveting reading.
John Keay is the author of four acclaimed histories: The Honourable Company, about the East India Company; Last Post, about imperial disengagement in the Far East; Explorers of the Western Himalayas; and India: A History. His other books include India Discovered, Into India and The Great Arc, the story of how India came to be mapped, and Everest named. John Keay is married with four children, lives in Scotland and is co-editor with Julia Keay of the Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland.