Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Le Royal in Phnom Penh - 29 August 2011

Hotel Le Royal is located hotel is located at 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, a wide boulevard near Sangkat Wat Phnom, from which the city derives its name. Formerly, the street was known as the Avenue Joffre, and sat in the heart of the French Quarter. It’s certainly one of the capital’s smartest addresses, adjacent the former National Library now closed, and opposite the imposing US Embassy, looking like a caramel wedding cake, almost garish by comparison and surrounded by the inevitable security. The hotel is a stunning piece of architecture and symbol of opulence, as impressive from the outside as it is on the inside. In late 1923 and early 1924, the construction of a 55-room hotel in Phnom Penh was proposed, with Ernest Hébrard as architect. As visionary planner, he was in part responsible for turning a small, Cambodian-French colonial city into a bustling well-planned metropolis with its wide boulevards, many of which were once canals. The proposal also contained plans for similar hotels in Siem Reap and the ancient city of Hue. Hotel Le Royal was opened in 1929 by the then King of Cambodia, Sisowath Monivong, complete with a lavish buffet and an orchestra shipped in from Saigon just for the occasion.  In its early heyday the hotel enjoyed an international clientele comprising globetrotters and adventurers, writers and journalists, royalty and dignitaries. One of the hotel’s distinctive features are the Personality Suites named after Jacqueline Kennedy

The Eeriest Place on Earth - 18 August 2011

The ruins of the French hill station at Bokor Mountain have been called “the eeriest place on Earth” by one travel writer. Semi-deserted, shrouded in mist, open to the wind from all directions, chilly, and ravaged by time and the residue of warfare with the walls pockmarked by bullet holes, and the landscape contaminated by unexploded ordnance –

Kampot - You Can Pay Later - 12 August 2011

The sleepy provincial capital of Kampot is located at the base of the Elephant Mountains and a few kilometres up the estuary on the banks of the Prek Kamping Bay River. With its smaller coastal neighbour, Kep, and the larger tourist town, Sihanoukville, this former haunt of the French colonial elite makes up what is sometimes referred to as the

A Trip To The Dentist - 31 July 2011

Please note that since this article was written the Chhuon Meng Thmey Dental Clinic, and the dentist referred to, Dr Sok Chenh Chhean, are no longer recommended by the writer.  I don’t much like going to the dentist, let’s face it who does? They cause you grief and cost you money, and if you need major work doing, then they can cost you a

Phnom Penh - The Empire Strikes Back - 19 July 2011

After several visits I can see Phnom Penh is changing; its buildings, attitudes, cars and infrastructure. Some things haven’t changed; transport, the people, politics, the disparities in wealth, and the poverty. Taxis from Phnom Penh International Airport charge out at a standard US$10 for the ride into the city. Cambodia still runs on its

The Plain of Bagan - 12 July 2011

Entry to the ancient site at Bagan for foreigners costs US$10, also payable as €10 or 9000 Burmese kyats, regardless of the length of your stay. If you’re travelling by bus you get hauled off on the outskirts of town to pay at a small booth on a dusty road.Better value then than Angkor in Cambodia which charges out at US$20 per day and the

The Road to Bagan - 5 July 2011

When the agent at Seven Diamonds travel booked my bus ticket I distinctly heard the English word “foreigner” mentioned. I paid 1000 kyat more than at my hotel for the ticket to Bagan but the hotel charged 2000 kyat to take you to the bus station whereas Seven Diamonds’ fee included the pick-up. The agent told me the bus took five hours, though

Mandalay - The City of Gems - 2 July 2011

Mandalay is home to one million people and is the second-largest city in Myanmar. The city is regarded as the commercial hub of the north of the country. It was Burma’s last royal capital, and has been immortalised in books, poetry and song.“The Road to Mandalay” coined by Rudyard Kipling, refers to the journey up the Ayeyarwaddy River from

Yangon - The End of Strife - 28 June 2011

A visitor once described swooping down to Rangoon and central Burma’s “flat green, soggy plains overwhelmed by angry monsoon clouds in unbearable heat.” Yangon formerly known as Rangoon, is barely more than an hour by plane from Bangkok and six-and-a-half hours ahead of GMT but in some ways is light years away from the rest of the world, a