Vientiane is the French-ification of Viang Chan, as the capital of Laos is called. However, before I vilify the French, the Dutch made it even worse, when they set out for Wincjan in 1641. The VOC, the Dutch East Indies Company, had established a trading post in Cambodia in 1632, which rapidly expanded over the following years, thanks to the Cambodian king being favourably disposed towards the Dutch. In 1641 the Dutch, always eager to get to the source of their trade ware – mostly forest products like dyes and resins, in this case – treated some of the Lao merchants who traded with them in Cambodia to an all expenses paid trip to Batavia, today’s Jakarta, then the overseas headquarters of the VOC. And sure enough, the trip paid off, and they were invited back, to come to the Royal court in Wincjan.
Under the leadership of one Geraerd Wusthof a convoy of four barges and nine prahus – not sure what this is, I suspect large canoes or so – packed with trading goods, and with generous presents for the king and his entourage, set off from Phnom Penh for Laos in July 1641. After what must have been an arduous trip up the Mekong (Meicon, in the journal), across multiple rapids that required frequent offloading of the boats, and sometimes carrying the boats over the waterfalls, and various unscheduled stops due to overindulgence and drunkenness of the local crew members – they must have discovered the Lao whisky! -, they arrived almost five months later as “the first representatives of a Christian nation” ever to visit Laos. They received a grand reception, with many elephants and thousands of soldiers as a guard of honour, and everybody was happy. But when the Dutch wanted to return to Cambodia, they were forced to leave one of them behind, because the King hadn’t yet collected sufficient presents to send back to the VOC Governor General in Batavia. Here already, you see the first traces of Please Don’t Rush! In the end, the last Dutchman left only in August 1642.
Long did the Dutch not benefit from this potentially profitable exercise, because the Cambodian king who liked them so much was killed somewhere in 1642, and his successor was somewhat less impressed with his Dutch guests, to the extent that he ordered the murder of all Dutch Phnom Penh in November 1643. And so it happened, and that was the end of our involvement in Cambodia, let alone Laos.
Well, not entirely, because in 1644 the VOC send a “punitive naval expedition”, but this one was slaughtered, as well. Of course, greed ultimately won from anger and indignation, and in 1654 a new trade mission was opened, but by then the competition had grown much stronger, not in the least by the Chinese, who decided to ransack the Phnom Penh, instead. What about unfair competition?
Anyhow, so much for history, tomorrow (or so) more about today’s Vientiane.
(if you believe that I did remember all this from primary school history lessons, check out a little book edited by one Carool Kerstens, called “Strange Events in the Kingdoms of Cambodia and Laos, 1635-1644”, a, introduction to and translation of an original Dutch text published in 1669 by Pieter Castelyn, called “Vremde Geschiedenissen in de Koninckrijcken van Cambodia en Louwen-Lant, in Oost Indien, zedert den Jare 1635-1644, aldaer voorgevallen”)