Michael Batson

Travel Writer





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 mass of humanity. Expats nicknamed it “The Big Durian” because, though widely referred in Southeast Asia as the king of fruits, its sight and smell (guests are banned bringing it into some hotels) can put you off. There are the very rich in their apartments with luxury cars who shop in Jakarta’s cosmopolitan malls, and beggars and slums to rival Kolkata. There’s so much traffic in Jakarta it doesn’t move at all at times, coming to a complete standstill in one great gridlock. Traffic lights change from red to green and thousands of horns blast and vehicles inch, literally their way forward.Motorbikes rival cars in numbers here, a rather unscientific measure of a country’s level of development. In more developed Thailand, cars outnumber motorbikes, in Cambodia however, poorer, it’s the other way round with motorbikes heavily outnumbering cars. Whatever the theory, it’s hard to see Jakarta absorbing anymore vehicles at all, they haven’t got enough room for the ones they’ve got now.Thanks to all that traffic the city is heavily polluted. Fumes cover your skin in a black layer of particles and you’d wonder the merits of drying clean

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

Palace Closed but Killing Fields Open - 12 December 2011

It was a Saturday morning and I cut down the short street from Preah Sisowath and Boulevard Samdech Sothearos to the Royal Palace, on the Phnom Penh riverside. From the side of the road the tuk-tuk driver asked where I was going. “Palace closed” he said “but Killing Fields open” and grinned.I have been to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh once