Angkor Wat in 1931

Today’s travel post is a little different. It’s a travel through time; we are going back to 1931 to accompany a chap called Frederick Percival (known affectionately to all as FPM) on his trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

[First glimpse of Angkor Wat from Western Gateway]

FPM (1875-1944) was the ninth child of the rector of Filton in Bristol. He qualified as a doctor from Bristol University in 1897 and in 1902 won first place in the entrance exam for the Indian Medical Service. He worked in India for most of his career, but also had spells in Tibet, Uganda, Baghdad and Paris, with time spent serving in Baluchistan, Persia, Mesopotamia and France during the 1914-18 war. His primary areas of expertise were in tropical medicine, in particular plague and kala-azar, and was published numerous times in journals including the British Medical Journal and the New York Medical Journal. He held positions such as Representative of the Government of India at the League of Nations and honorary surgeon to HM King George V, and was awarded the OBE.


FPM led a varied and well-travelled career, and he made the most of his various positions abroad by travelling as extensively as possible, seeing as many sights as he could. One such trip (while he happened to be Officiating Director of the Pasteur Institute and Research Laboratory in Shillong, Assam) took him to Angkor Wat in 1931. He took quite a few photos with his trusty camera, as well as some glass slides using his Verascope. He stuck the prints into a photo album and annotated each, carefully.

[FPM’s travel albums]

FPM was my great-grandfather, and his travel albums now live in my parents house. I absolutely love looking through his old snaps, so I thought I’d share some of them with you here today, along with the captions he wrote beneath them. I haven’t edited any of them, and the photo corner ‘effects’ you see are the actual real photo corners that got scanned in along with the pictures. I hope you find them as interesting as I do.

[View of Angkor Wat from present Buddhist monastery] 

 [A porch of one of the temples of Angkor Wat]
[Another  view of the same (human figures for comparison)]
[The Hindu temple – Angkor perched on an eminence]
[Corner of Angkor Wat from south aspect]
[View from top of Angkor Wat looking westward]
[Giants holding body of sacred snake (Nag)]

[Close up of avenue of giants]
[Shiva temple of Bayon]

[Shiva image on Bayon]
[Ruined temple and monastery of Ta Prohm]
[Temple of Ta Keo, Angkor]
[Temple and bathing ghat, Neak Pean]
[Eastern staircase to temple of Bakheng, Royal Palace]
I love that there’s basically nobody around in all of these pictures. It must have been an incredible experience.
I’m hoping to recreate some of these shots when I travel to Angkor Wat myself in just over a month. It’s also on my 30 before 30 list, so you’ll be hearing about it here when I do!

FPM had a few other exciting travels besides this, including Thailand, Hong Kong and China. I know other people’s family histories aren’t half as exciting as your own so let me know if I’ve gone totally out on a limb here, or if you’d like me to upload some of those, as well.


Update: if you’d like to see the before and after shots, see my post here.

Linking up with CaityMarcellaMichelleAmanda Bonnie for Travel Tuesday, with Kels for the Secret Blogger Club and with SJ for #SundayTraveler.


  1. 21st April 2015 / 18:31

    wow – what wonderful pictures. I agree, it’s amazing that there is basically no one around!

    • 22nd April 2015 / 13:49

      What an amazing time it must have been to see the world. I’m quite jealous of all his travels! But I do feel lucky to at least be able to see his photos.

  2. 21st April 2015 / 19:22

    So cool! Those pictures are the definition of a blast from the past! It’s going to be so cool to go there and see how much everything has changed! I’m so jealous!!

    • 22nd April 2015 / 13:47

      I know right!? I’m so ridiculously excited. I’m curious to see whether there will have been any significant erosion to the carvings since the 30’s and what effect all the tourists will have on the place. Should be interesting, I think…

  3. 21st April 2015 / 20:59

    Oh wow, what a great idea for a post – I really enjoyed reading this 🙂 I went to Angkor Wat almost two years ago and so it was fun to see how it has changed, there are definitely a lot more people there now!

    • 22nd April 2015 / 13:46

      I’m glad you liked it! I absolutely can’t wait to go. I’ve always wanted to – and this just gives an extra slant on it. I’ll go prepared for crowds…!

  4. 22nd April 2015 / 15:26

    This is an awesome idea for a post – I know I’d love to see FPM’s other trip photos, too! Wouldn’t we all feel so amazing if we knew that 75 years after we’ve died that someone will be appreciating and sharing our photos?! Incredible, really. And I absolutely love seeing how “tourist attractions” looked a long time ago. Great idea, keep it up!

    • 30th April 2015 / 10:58

      I love thinking about it that way! I can’t imagine anyone being interested in my snaps in 75 years…. Maybe I should start taking better photos! Thanks for your kind words, I will dig out some more of FPM’s stuff. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds it fascinating!

  5. 23rd April 2015 / 01:11

    I enjoyed this very much! It is awesome seeing not many people in these photos and seeing the beauty of this place way before all the tourism booms. This place has always been on my list of places to see, so I’m hoping to make the trip one day soon!

    • 30th April 2015 / 10:59

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I hope you can get there soon, too. I can’t wait to go but am a little nervous about the hordes of tourists…

  6. 23rd April 2015 / 05:43

    I’ve been to Angkor Wat and so enjoyed these photos! How cool to see it back in the day, although in many ways it looks the exact same just more tourists. Like you said it would have been neat to have gone when it was quiet

    • 30th April 2015 / 11:00

      I’m glad it looks the same now, I am generally worried about the effects of tourism on ancient sites. Did you enjoy your trip? Any recommendations?

  7. 24th April 2015 / 17:32

    How cool to get to see those pictures! Love them, I hope you get to go and visit some of the same places!

    • 30th April 2015 / 11:01

      I really hope so too! I’m glad you liked the pictures.

  8. 24th April 2015 / 17:45

    Cool that you have this and get to look back at your great grandfathers travels, and even better share them with us!

    • 30th April 2015 / 11:01

      I know, I feel very lucky indeed. I’m glad you enjoyed me sharing, and I’ve found some more travel tales and photos that I can post up here. So look out for those in the near future…!

  9. 3rd June 2015 / 22:48

    Wow, this is so cool! I can’t image visiting Ankor Wat in 1931. I went in 2005 when tourism was just starting to pick up in the country and going to Cambodia was exotic enough. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like in 1931 when there was even less information available on far off destinations (and especially since it’s pre Pol Pot days it would have been a much different country).

    • 8th June 2015 / 23:04

      I know, I really wish I could travel back in time and go on the trip with him! I’m glad to have the photos as the next best option, though. I imagine things would have been significantly different in 2005 to now, as well. It was packed with tourists when we went, even in the low season. Crazy!

Leave a Reply

Just so you know, I reply to comments via email so we can continue the conversation. Catch you in your inbox!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *