Michael Batson

Travel Writer





Sam Mountain Lady & The Million Dollar Hill - 8 March 2012

If you’re planning on experiencing the marvels of river travel to Cambodia from Vietnam on a budget, tour operators on both sides of the border will quickly dispel your notions of wonder and romance. Instead you get a two-day ordeal, much of it by road, and punctuated with a stay in a grimy hotel amongst the poorest I’ve seen in Vietnam.Pity then as Vietnamese hotels are generally good value for money, and the Mekong Delta a cultural and natural wonder. But if you make your travel plans for upriver cruising in Saigon’s Pham Ngu Lao district, you’re in for a disappointment.The Delta is a web of waterways and rice paddies covering 60,000 square kilometres and punctuated by dry, dusty towns across three provinces of southern Vietnam west of Saigon. The region is the so-called “rice basket” of Vietnam as it produces half of the country’s rice crop, and is densely populated with 17 million souls, most engaged in agriculture and fishing.Rich and fertile, the land now produces up to four rice crops per annum hard work then, as rice is a tyrant. Previously impoverished the Delta region benefited greatly from the Doi Moi reforms from 1986, turning Vietnam much like China, into a free-market economy under one-party communist rule.Having previously flown over the Delta, the land is largely pancake flat and made up of thousands of rice paddies. Vietnam is the world’s second-largest rice exporter after Thailand. Waterways criss-cross the terrain. Canals, lined with houses, in

The Jewel in the Crown - 28 February 2012

Yogjakarta is the jewel in Java’s tourist crown and next to Bali the place where most visitors to Indonesia want to come. Yogjakarta (or Jogyakarta) is the only province in the Republic of Indonesia headed by a monarch, courtesy of a bitter civil war fought between two royal brothers of the then Kingdom of Mataram in the 18th century. One wanted

The Big Durian - 21 February 2012

On the city scale of things Jakarta rates as a megalopolis. Its population is currently estimated at 10 million but depending on where you draw the boundaries of Indonesia’s capital, the larger metropolitan region has up to 18 million souls with predictions that the total population will top 30 million in just a few years.Jakarta is a heaving

The Only Tuk Tuk I Ever Liked - 16 February 2012

The only tuk-tuk I ever liked isn’t a vehicle and has nothing to do with driving it’s a peninsula on Samosir Island at Lake Toba in central northern Sumatra. Lake Toba (Danau Toba) has been a backpacker drop-in chill-out place for years. You can get there by taxi from Medan for 65,000 rupiahs (about US$8) and depending on traffic, takes 4-5

Medan - Python Eating City - 11 February 2012

Medan, in northern Sumatra (or Sumatera) is a two-hour flight from Bangkok and the third largest city in Indonesia.  Indonesia is sometimes described less as a country and more of a polyglot Javanese empire run by central government from Jakarta and backed by the country’s formidable military, the TNI.For years parts of Indonesia did their

Sin City Pattaya - 8 February 2012

A t-shirt in Thailand says “Good guys go to heaven but bad guys go to Pattaya.” Pattaya, about a 90-minute drive southeast from Bangkok, looks like Australia’s Surfer’s Paradise from afar and has about as much charm but arguably more character.Anthropologists and some sociologists might even find it fascinating, psychologists too. Visitors

Jimmie the Knife - 5 February 2012

The old phrase “Putting your arse on the line” took on a whole new meaning in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh recently, when a young American resident was shot on his way home from a bar.Heading home in the early hours of Sunday morning, Jimmie aged 24, was approaching Norodom Boulevard, one of the city’s main thoroughfares from Street 172

Who Killed Chea Vichea - 1 February 2012

US documentary film maker, Bradley Cox once said “hero” is one of the most over used words in the English language. Interviewed about his 55-minute documentary “Who Killed Chea Vichea” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, Cox commented “I don't know if I ever met an honest-to-goodness hero in the flesh until I met Chea

Hollywood in Cambodia - 16 January 2012

Cambodia has proved a challenge for film makers over the years. For most movie goers, the enduring cinematic image is that of Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields, set during the Khmer Rouge era, though the film itself was shot entirely in Thailand, and slated for its Hollywood depiction of events.Other films however, did make it to the