Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Vientiane - Please Slow Down - 24 November 2016

Vientiane is probably the most laid back capital city in Southeast Asia. This is maybe because Vientiane is capital of Southeast Asia’s quietest country, the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao, or the Lao PDR. It’s so laid back there’s a standing joke that this should stand for “please slow down”. If Bangkok is a megalopolis, Saigon a big city, and Phnom Penh a town, then Vientiane is more like a village. Nothing here seems to happen in a hurry, which is a nice change if you’ve spent time in places like Jakarta, not somewhere that has the best to offer the visitor to Southeast Asia – unless you like big, crowded and polluted cities that are stinking hot. The name of the country is as mispronounced as the capital is misspelled; “Lay-os” or “Louse” when it fact it’s neither. The early Dutch called Vientiane “Win-kyan”, later the French varied between; Vien-Chan, Vieng Chen or Vian Chan, with or without hyphens, and then the British, Wieng-Chan. It started out as two syllables and wound up being four, “Vi-en-ti-ane”, which depending on what you read means the “City Of Sandalwood” or the "City Of The Moon". Vientiane once played second fiddle to Luang Prabang, the seat of royal government and capital of the mighty Lan Sang (or Lang Xang) Empire – the Kingdom of One Million Elephants under the White Parasol – which encompassed modern day Laos and some neighbouring countries too. On the tourist trail it probably still is in its shadows. The more

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

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