Michael Batson

Travel Writer





The Withered and the Worn - Expats in Phnom Penh - 2 June 2015

I’ve noticed of late more of the hard bitten expat brigade about Phnom Penh. These are much like the ones you more often see in Thailand in large numbers usually congregating in that kingdom’s fleshpots. This is probably because many of them are those same ones.Previously, I’ve seen expats from Thailand hanging about the streets in Phnom Penh. You can usually pick them out due to their overwhelming lack of dress (sense). They’re often in shorts and singlet.  So what you say, so are half the backpackers. That’s true, except this crowd have a different edge about them. They sport an array of tattoos, some have crew cuts or shaved heads, pack a solid build, while others are often advanced in years and in poor physical condition. Many do look like they’ve just been released from jail. A mate of mine refers to them as the “jailbreak crew”.These more temporary visitors usually arrive in Phnom Penh out of mild curiosity on a visa run. One of the conditions of living across the border in Thailand, and in other Southeast Asian countries, is the temporary nature of your stay. Visas only last so long and invariably require you to leave the country in order to renew them. Doubtless this is some attempt by the host country to infer you’re not really welcome to stay all that long. Consequently, there’s the monthly or quarterly ritual of expats in Thailand heading for the nearest border with neighbouring states. Most go to Myanmar, Laos or Malaysia. Now some are coming to

Dazed and Confused - Saigon to Phnom Penh by Bus - 1 May 2015

I like the differences about Asia, not the similarities. If it was all the same I’d stay home. On a recent trip from Saigon to Phnom Penh I was struck by the way things in Asia have a curious way of disappearing. I don’t mean ordinary things like keys or even your wallet. I mean things like passports and people. And then just as curiously they

Ben Thanh Market - High Pressure Sales - 4 April 2015

Cho Ben Thanh, or Ben Thanh Market is the most celebrated and regularly visited of Saigon’s markets and probably the city’s biggest tourist trap. It’s a hive of commercial activity and the sights are an assault on the senses. But the experience however, is not always pleasant. In contrast to neighbouring Laos and Cambodia, “No” in Vietnam seems

Dalat - Misty Mountain Hop - 1 March 2015

If you’re tired of the heat in tropical Vietnam you can do what the colonials used to do, head for the hills. A few hours by road from Saigon is Dalat (or Da Lat), the capital of Lam Dong, and a stop on the route to the coastal wonder of Nha Trang. Dalat was an escapist hill top retreat built for French colonials, a surreal touch of the French

Vietnamese Cafe Street 51 Phnom Penh - 31 January 2015

The sidewalk Vietnamese coffee shop on Street 51 in Phnom Penh can be a great place to spend an evening watching life go by and can also serve to catch up on the latest developments. If you’re lucky you can meet some interesting characters worth the effort and some others you rather had just passed on by.Cambodia's small ethnic Vietnamese

Boeung Kak - The Lake That Disappeared - 9 December 2014

Many visitors to the Cambodian capital today would be unaware the city once had a lake. Boeung Kak Lake (usually “Bong Kak”) was the largest urban wetland in Phnom Penh. All up it was 90 hectares (222 acres) of water, aquatic weeds and wildlife. The lake was located in the north of the city bordered by the railway, Calmette Hospital, and a

War Remnants Museum in HCMC - 29 September 2014

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is a somewhat harrowing experience. The displays and images are a sobering reminder of Vietnam’s recent violent history and demonstrate what belligerent industrial nations can do to largely peasant ones.  They record a raft of human emotion, suffering, persecution and orchestrated destruction from

Reunification Palace - The Dragon's Head - 31 August 2014

Near the centre of present day Ho Chi Minh City sits the Reunification Palace, a relic of Vietnam’s more recent past and a symbol of its present, and probably future too. HCMC, or Saigon as it’s still widely referred to, has many iconic buildings. There’s Notre Dame Cathedral, City Hall, the Opera House and the wonderful Central Post Office