Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Nong Khai - Naga City - 21 October 2016

Nong Khai sits at the very northeast of Thailand on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. Locally, it’s known as Naga City, after the mythical serpents said to inhabit the Mekong – the city is filled with literally hundreds of serpent images. Nong Khai is also known for its temples, rocket festivals and great balls of fire – the latter a natural phenomenon seemingly without any scientific explanation. This city of 200,000 is the very essence of Isaan (pronounced “Esarn”). Isaan, or Isan, is the largest region of Thailand; a combination of 20 provinces half the size of Germany, heavily influenced by the ethnic Lao people. It shares a 1,800km border with Laos, marked with few exceptions by the Mekong. Here the river is more a conduit rather than a demarcation and merely facilitates the flow of people, goods, and various other goings on. Isaan and Nong Khai is Thailand and then it’s not really; with a character all its own. Linguistically, ethnically and culturally it’s distinct from the rest of Thailand, much of which it can be said, look down on the people from this part of the country. The term "Isan" was derived from Isanapura, the capital of the Chenla Kingdom, which preceded the great Khmer Empire based at Angkor. The majority Lao speaking population of the region distinguish themselves not only from the Lao of Laos (the French added the “s”) but also from the central Thai by calling themselves khon Isaan or Thai Isaan. The locals even speak Lao albeit

Cambodia's Kem Ley - Every Country Needs One - 18 August 2016

It’s over a month and a week since Dr. Kem Ley, perhaps Cambodia’s most prominent independent political commentator, was gunned down in broad daylight in a Phnom Penh cafe. On the surface of it, Ley’s killer was a loner with a personal grudge, however, it’s widely assumed his death was all about cold, hard calculation and orchestrated high up

Panmunjom on the DMZ - 26 June 2016

To get to the village of Panmunjom, at the point where North and South Korea meet on the DMZ, you cross the Tong-il Bridge on Highway One from Seoul. Seoul, South Korea’s bustling capital of over 10 million, is referred to as the “Han River Miracle” a statement on the unprecedented rise of one of the great post-WWII economic achievements

Korea's DMZ - The Cold War's Last Hot Spot - 25 May 2016

The 4km wide Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas is the most fortified stretch of territory on the planet. The last hot spot of the Cold War. It’s heavily laced with land mines. Reportedly 6,000 artillery pieces are lined up facing each other on both sides. Tens of thousands of highly-trained soldiers armed to the teeth patrol along its

Gyeongju - Ancient Korea - 21 April 2016

Looking at the urban industrialised landscape of present-day Korea, it’s hard to see any traces of history.  South Korea has modernized at an astonishing rate, perhaps faster than any other nation in the last half-century. In that time they've gone from exporting wigs to the world's eighth-largest economy. Korea’s answer to development has been

Monument to Democracy, Thai-style - 28 March 2016

Near the main backpacker centre of Khao San Road in Bangkok is the Democracy Monument. Most backpackers wouldn’t know it’s there or if they scan the guidebooks thoroughly enough may give it the quick once over. Largely, it’s ignored or given scant regard. The social life of the bars and restaurants having more appeal, and the guided tours are