Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Smoking Can Sometimes Save Lives – A Khmer Rouge Survivor - 28 December 2017

Hou Som An has a strength that belies her age. Her eyes are gentle yet determined. She’s still fit and active as she nears eight decades old. Sitting on a terrace of a restored colonial villa in Phnom Penh near her home, down an alley off one of the city’s main boulevards, she spoke of her life through an interpreter, her youngest daughter. Her life is testament to family, determination, survival, strength, and the human spirit. The fact she is alive is all the more remarkable given she survived the twentieth-century’s worst genocide as measured per head of population in any country; civil war when the Khmer Rouge triumphed and set about waging a different kind of war; famine; carpet-bombing and a host of other horrors most people can only imagine, and in many cases wouldn’t want to. She’s the woman who said “no” to the Khmer Rouge and lived to talk about it. Her life during that time was saved in no small way by her occupation, factory worker, in a cigarette factory in a time when smoking was still fashionable, and during a period of horror in her country, when the people perpetrating the horror, still required the factory turn out its popular product, tailor-made cigarettes. Her family later even sold packets of cigarettes outside the family home to make ends meet; the brands found everywhere like 555; and that unique to Cambodia; Alain Delon, maybe the only brand named for a foreign film star. In fact, you could say that is some twists of

Kampong Chhnang - Port of Pots - 4 December 2017

Kampong Chhnang is world famous in Cambodia for its earthenware pots, sold from one end of the country to the other in every market, and used for all kinds of things by all kinds of Cambodians, rich, the few; and the poor, the many. National Route Five runs right through the town and the eponymous province, which is landlocked, fertile, and

Pailin, Way Out West - 12 October 2017

Cambodia for years has had a Wild West reputation. Though changing rapidly like much of Asia, Cambodia is still a bit rougher around the edges than many of its neighbours. This reputation still runs true for the tiny border province of Pailin (pronounced “Bye Lin”) and its eponymous capital. My first attempt to get to Pailin, the dusty gem

Ratanakiri - Mountain of Jewels - 2 September 2017

Ratanakiri (or Ratanak Kiri) known as the “Mountain of Jewels” for all the gemstones dug out of the ground, is arguably Cambodia's most isolated and lawless province, tucked away on the borders with Laos and Vietnam. Sure there are other places that fit one or other of those descriptors like; Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey to the north on the

Mondulkiri - Cambodia's Eastern Borderlands - 30 July 2017

Mondulkiri is one of the more remote parts of Cambodia, only bettered by its northern near neighbour, Ratanakiri (or Ratanak Kiri). It’s rural, the country’s largest province and the most sparsely populated having just one town, which has barely 7,000 people. Politically, it’s a fairly new entity having been carved off neighbouring Kratie

Pham Ngu Lao, Saigon - The Place To Stay - 2 June 2017

Pham Ngu Lao sits in Quan (District) 1 not far from the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City. There are a number of streets with the name Pham Ngu Lao along the southern boundary of the Central Park of Saigon and the “Love Lake”. The main street, Bui Vien, has been referred to as a seething sea of humanity, but that’s true of Saigon generally. 

Vung Tau, Viet Nam - Waiting for the Weekend - 7 May 2017

The main road from Saigon into the coastal city of Vung Tau is named for Võ Nguyên Giáp, Vietnam’s greatest military figure of the 20th century, maybe ever, and it’s first ever four-star general. The road is broad, an 8-lane dual carriageway with lanes for motorcycles of which Vietnam has many, and is lined with manicured trees and rows of

Sihanoukville: Super Tuk-Tuks and Keystone Kops - 21 April 2017

Sihanoukville on the gulf of Thailand is fast becoming a destination on Cambodia's tourist trail, and has always been popular with locals. The trip from Phnom Penh takes about five hours by road and can be a little hair-raising. As a tip I’d avoid using minivan services. While they promise to get you there faster than larger buses, and usually