Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Sihanoukville on the Costa del Cambodia - 1 August 2014

In an attempt to avoid going stir-crazy in Phnom Penh, you can take a bus to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s only deep-sea port and leading beach resort area on the Gulf of Thailand.  The French named it Sihanoukville, the Cambodians Kampong Som. Some expats refer to it as “Snooky” and others, largely Anglophiles, refer to it as the Costa del Cambodia. Overly ambitious developers would like to think of it as an Indochinese Riviera. Cambodia doesn’t really “do” beaches. To the east is Viet Nam, one long beach. To the west is Thailand famed for its beaches. Comparatively, Cambodia’s coastline is short (500km) and it has but a handful of small offshore islands; pretty but not spectacular. Cambodia’s restricted maritime footprint was the result of French colonial rule, a hangover of which is the vexed issue of sovereignty with its larger, more powerful neighbours. A sticky situation now much heightened with offshore oil and gas deposits being claimed by all three nations.The port of Sihanoukville was built by the French who named it for the former regent, Norodom Sihanouk. The French also built the railway to Phnom Penh. Years of warfare and neglect saw this infrastructure fall into disrepair. Today the rail line has been resurrected with foreign aid monies. Freight trains now run twice weekly to and from Phnom Penh’s art deco railway station near Monivong Boulevard.Tourism started to take off in the 1990s when personnel from UNTAC, then the largest UN

Chiang Mai - Rose of the North - 4 July 2014

In the far north of Thailand sits the city they call the Rose of the North. Foreign tourists have been travelling there for years, its history however, runs far deeper than that. Chiang Mai sits at the confluence of cultures. The past and present, has been dictated by ethnicity, culture, language, trade, war, religion and empire. Chiang Mai

Getting the Travel Blues - 31 May 2014

One of the best things about travelling used to be the people you met doing the same things you were. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met in life have been those out there, where your lives intersect. As Jack Kerouac pointed out; travel is useful, it feeds the mind.Travellers' meetings can be those in which one learns more about

Jim Thompson and the Order of the White Elephant - 7 May 2014

When I first visited Jim Thompson’s house a decade ago, I was already much taken with the idea of living in Asia. After seeing the house I was sure I wanted to return. I was envious of Thompson and what he had created, a farang in Asia living his dream, comfortably off. There was also Thompson’s murky past as a WWII operative, full of intrigue

Letter to the Jakarta Post - April 2014

I travel widely in Southeast Asia and recently visited Indonesia after an absence of several years. I was disappointed with the state of tourist infrastructure at the budget end compared with other countries in the region.  In particular hotels are of poor quality and overpriced. For 250,000 rupiah (US$27) in Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia you

Anti-Government Protests in Bangkok - Taking It To The Streets

On Sunday, 22 December 2013, Thailand’s opposition parties staged major demonstrations in the country’s capital designed to disrupt traffic and tell the government they wanted major reform of government processes. The crowds promised to be among the largest ever assembled in the history of the Kingdom. They had already announced they would be

New Zealand Football's Mexican Stand-Off - 20 November 2013

The play-off for a place in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil second leg in Wellington on 20 November was in stark contrast to four years before at the same venue.  New Zealand had just been ‘thumped’ 5-1 by Mexico in the cauldron of the Azteca Stadium, one of football’s most iconic grounds. Prospects for qualification in the home leg were