Gerrit Wuijsthoff’s Journey to
the Lao Court at Vientiane, 1641-1642
Wouter Feldberg, MA
International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden and Amsterdam, the Netherlands
In July 1641 the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) merchant Gerrit Wuijsthoff set out from Loveck, the capital of Cambodia, for a journey up the Mekong River. His destiny was the Lao court at Vientiane. Wuijsthoff was sent to the Lao King Souligna Vongsa by VOC Governor General Antonio van Diemen of Batavia, who was in search of new trading opportunities. While making his way up and down the Mekong River Wuijsthoff made valuable notes of his experiences with the Lao, their country, and king. In doing so he was the first European to write an elaborate report on Laos and this river route. Wuijsthoff and the Portuguese Jesuit missionary Giovanni-Maria Leria authored the only extensive European accounts of Laos until the French appeared in the region two centuries later.
The journal of Gerrit Wuijsthoff can still be read in the VOC section of the National Archives in The Hague, the Netherlands. It is a unique European source of information on seventeenth century Laos. By describing a number of Wuijsthoff’s experiences, this paper will address seventeenth century Lao customs, trade, the monarchy, politics, and attitude towards European traders.