Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Penang - Pearl of the Orient - 18 June 2011

Penang was Britain’s oldest colonial possession in Southeast Asia, the place where Raffles had started his overseas career with the East India Company. It was also breathtakingly beautiful. It was said that few places merited the title Pearl of the Orient as much as Penang, with its fringe of perfect beaches, its variegated interior of spice gardens and jungle covered granite hills where waterfalls cascaded into cool swimming holes.The first Englishman reached Penang in 1591, but it was Captain Francis Light in 1786 who took possession of the island for the East India Company and King George III, albeit in a slightly less than forthright deal with the Sultan of Kedah. Light encouraged immigration and established Penang as a free port to entice traders away from nearby Dutch trading posts. Malarial-ridden however, the island killed off most who emigrated there including eventually Light himself, earning the island a new name “the white man’s grave”.After Light’s demise the Duke of Wellington, then a lieutenant-colonel, was drafted in bolster the island’s defences. In the 1860s the island was racked by internal strife as Chinese secret societies, the Red Flag and their rivals the White Flag, battled it out on George Town’s streets, causing the British to send in the army to quell the riots.The Chinese nationalist Sun Yet Sun found a home away from home among the island’s large Chinese population where he plotted the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty. His portrait can be

Kuala Lumpur - City of Towers - 14 June 2011

In the 1850s Malaysia’s future capital, Kuala Lumpur, was a mining settlement fought over by rival Chinese gangs. The conflict often resulted in open warfare, prompting the British who then ruled the Federation of Malaya to step in, least the lucrative work at the mines ceased altogether.During its early times, Kuala Lumpur had many other

Melaka - Guns, God and Museums - 12 June 2011

One of the wonders of travel is that you go somewhere you’ve never been before anywhere in the world, know not a soul, arrive tired, hungry and with nowhere to sleep, and within a relatively short space of time be settled in like you’ve been there all your life.I can’t replicate the appreciation of that doing anything else.Early morning in

Singapore - Waiting To Exhale - 9 June 2011

Singapore is a sea-level blip barely north of the Equator. Once upon a time it was sparsely populated, disease-infested island ringed by mangrove swamps. Needless to say it had one of the unhealthiest climates in the world and was the kind of graveyard that killed off people in their droves.Until the early 1800s it was a backwater, a bit part

Asuncion - The Mother of Cities - 31 May 2011

Asuncion is the capital and largest city of landlocked Paraguay, a country rarely on the radar and for most, off the beaten track. Steamy tropical heat, tin-pot dictators, violence, tragedy and cultural melting pot, Paraguay seemed to fulfil stereotypical views for many of Latin America. True, during its history, Paraguay has suffered

Smoking TNT and Drinking Dynamite - 22 May 2011

It has been said that if the bones of all the slave labourers who died toiling in Potosi’s silver mines to make Spain rich were laid end-to-end, they’d stretch all the way from Bolivia to Madrid.Before Britain and its Commonwealth, there was another empire on which it could truly be said “the sun never sets”. The Kingdom of Castile dominated

Every Breath You Take - 16 May 2011

La Paz is one of the highest capital cities in the world. Life there is highly stratified, culturally, economically and geographically. Affluence is measured in altitude, with more of the former equating to less of the latter. The higher up you live, the poorer you are. By the time you get to the city airport, life is barely subsistent.La Paz

Living Between Water and Heaven - 30 April 2011

Lake Titicaca is the second largest lake in South America and at 3800 metres above sea level the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake is part Bolivian and part Peruvian, the border between the two snakes its way across the waters which are 80 kilometres wide at the broadest point and almost 200 kilometres from end to end. At over 8000

Stone Temple Pilots - 25 April 2011

Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca, sits high in an Andean valley. The modern name is a Spanish corruption from the Aymara and Quechua languages, which drew on mythical origins to name the city.The origin of civilisation in Peru can be traced back 20,000 years before the Incas, making the country one of the cradles of ancient cultures