Richard Halliburton was a young American Princeton graduate with a passion for adventure, danger and the beauty of magnificent and unreachable sights. He began his ‘globe trotting’ journey in England and France in his early twenties and continued traveling and seeking romance and adventure until his disappearance in 1939 on the Pacific Ocean. Some of the places he traveled to include Cairo, Iraq, Afghanistan (illegally) the Matterhorn, Mt. Everest, Nepal, Delhi, Memphis, Greece, France, Hong Kong, and the Taj Mahal, many of those being in the worse possible seasons for visiting. A few of his most daring exploits were his attempt to enter Mecca, the night he spent illegally in the Taj Mahal, and the one which ended his brilliant life: attempting to sail across the Pacific Ocean from Hong Kong to San Francisco in a Chinese junk. He also attempted the Matterhorn in the winter time and nearly fell over 10,000 feet down Mt. Everest when he tried to throw a rock over the edge when he was half-way up and find out when it would hit the bottom. He nearly became the guinea pig for his own experiment. He was imprisoned at least three times and was notorious from Egypt to India for not paying numerous train fares. Following is a short narration of one of his adventures in Thailand.
“It was rather a noisy railroad trip northward from Chumpon. We passed through Bangatore, Bangatang, Bang Peunom, Bang Bang and finally into the loudest of the Bangs, Bangkok.”
Thus I came into the capitol of Thailand. Upon discovering that I was an American and a Princeton graduate, I was invited to dine at the American Legation (embassy) and enjoyed all the comforts of civilized life for a short time. However, I detested long periods of civilized life and felt a calling back to the temples and ancient ruins in uncharted wastelands that still waited to be discovered. Mine would be the life of the nomad, the life of wandering in wildernesses till some unfortunate but well-deserved death took me to greater adventure. So on went the borrowed trousers’ and a new khaki shirt and I boarded a French coastal steamer bound up the Mekong River. I soon found out that I would be joining the dull tourists were I to travel this way, and finding out from a local that the 350 mile boat ride to Saigon could be reduced to 150, I decided upon cutting across country on an alternative route. I was carried overland by bus and was finally deposited at Phnom Penh in time to catch a steamer from Saigon bound for Angkor. At last the steamer entered the Great Lake, on the other side of which the city of Angkor stood in undisturbed silence and mystery inhabited only by bats and unknown wild creatures who haunted its long forgotten walls and hallways. We were not there yet, though, and at one moment it appeared as if we would have to trek our way back to Saigon empty handed, for the steamer could go no farther because of the low water and as soon as we stepped foot in the little vessel provided for us, we were drenched to the skin by a sudden and infernal deluge. Along with our silent guide and a screaming woman and her daughter who learned to gradually appreciate my presence which they had absolutely detested on board the ship, we stumbled our way through the jungle. On an on we went until finally we saw the dim lights of a Ford up ahead and practically crawled up to it. Expecting to be told that Angkor was just around the corner, we were disappointed immensely when we were told that it was another fifteen miles. On we went however, and at last we reached the city of Angkor.
Early the next morning I went down softly from the city to the ancient temple of Angkor Vat. It was said to have been built by some supernatural beings for the pillars and walls were of enormous dimensions and the walls were covered with chiseled figures. On one wall alone there were 15,000 little armed figures battling each other on a bloodstained field. The temple was said to have been occupied by the Khymers and that they lived there from 400 to 1300 when it fell to another invading army, but nobody knows for sure what really happened. How did it really fall? What mighty catastrophe, invasion or sickness was able to subdue all the inhabitants of this land from 1300 even up to the present age? For Angkor is still largely unpopulated and the only person I saw was a Brahman priest in a yellow robe wandering about the ruins of the Angkor Vat, the greatest of the temples. Over fifteen acres were covered by this city and one of the temples could boast of fifty towers! I stayed until twilight and was eager to go when the time came, for it was a wild place and left me with a strong feeling of loneliness and mystery.