Michael Batson

Travel Writer





The Spy in Shanghai - 18 November 2020

This piece follows on from Richard Sorge, Part One, ‘The Spy from Baku’. Richard Sorge was arguably the greatest spy of the 20th century. Ian Fleming, a spy who become a writer, called him the “most formidable spy in history”. John le Carré, a spy who wrote books and later a bestselling author of espionage once called Fleming’s chief creation James Bond, a “gangster” rather than a spy, said Sorge was “the spy to end spies”. Sorge was bad man who became a great spy. He was a heavy drinking womaniser (possibly also a bigamist) with a thrill-seeking bent who frequented bars, casinos and brothels where he gleaned much of the best information and cultivated networks. He carried out espionage while hiding in plain sight using his own name. Someone said of him if there was no wind, he’d want to create a hurricane. Sorge was never a sailor, rather a pirate who always thought of himself as a soldier, but who had yearned to be an academic. Back in Frankfurt in 1924, Sorge was chosen to provide security (logistical support) for a visiting Russian delegation of the Comintern headed by Osip Pyantinisky (or Pianitsky from Piatnitsa or “Friday”, a pseudonym for Osif Aronovich Tarshis; a man who later called Stalin a tyrant and a fraudster, for which he was executed). Founded by Lenin, the Comintern was the ‘General Staff of the World Revolution’ and considered Germany the key revolutionary prize in Europe. Pyantinisky was head of the Comintern’s International Department

Richard Sorge - The Spy from Baku - 7 October 2020

Richard Sorge had one of the greatest impacts on the outcome of World War Two of any individual, yet most people have never heard of him. He was not a politician or a diplomat, he didn’t command troops, fly planes, captain battleships or even fire a gun, and he never fought in any of the battles. What he had was access to key inside information

Milford Sound - 2 September 2020

Milford Sound lies in Southwest New Zealand in the Fiordland National Park, the largest and fourth oldest of the country’s 13 national parks, the fifth largest park of its kind in the world  and part of the Te Wāhipounamu (Greenstone) World Heritage Site. It has been judged the world's top travel destination in an international survey, and

Flying High with the Bolivian Air Force - 6 May 2020

Travelling in Bolivia is a challenge of world-renown, one of those destinations your mother warned you about. The roads are rough, few are paved. The terrain is intimidating with high mountains and deep gorges best described as lethal. Transport infrastructure is rudimentary or was when I went in 1991, especially air travel. Safety leaves much

Aeroflot Skies - 4 April 2020

Back in the day in the early 1990s, the cheapest way to fly from Europe to Asia was on Eastern bloc airlines. Polish Airlines (Polskie Linie Lotnicze-LOT)) was one option, while Aeroflot was another. After the Berlin Wall came down LOT, previously known as Aerolot and one of the oldest airlines in operation, began moving back to using Western

Poipet - In a Galaxy, Far, Far, Away - 25 February 2020

The border crossing between Aranyaprathet in Thailand and Poipet, or Krong Poi Pet, in Cambodia is marked by a dying waterway, the Nam Sai, choked and putrefied with the detritus of modern life. The Nam Sai (which ironically means “clear stock” as in soup, in Thai) roughly marks the border. In some places it is the border, while in others it

Borderlands - Aranyaprathet and Poipet - 27 January 2020

 In the early 2000s I made two trips into Cambodia by road from Thailand. These were my first ever visits to the country. The route I took was the same many visitors took back then, and many still do, from Aranyaprathet and Poipet, though much has changed in terms of infrastructure. I’ve heard it said peoples’ impressions of Cambodia are