Michael Batson

Travel Writer





The Curious Case of the Kings of Cambodia and the Kims of Korea - 7 January 2012

I’ve only set foot in North Korea once. It was cold, bleak, and I was surrounded by heavily-armed military-types with their eyes shielded by sunglasses, and they were just the South Koreans.On the surface of it, Cambodia and North Korea have little in common.Separated by distance, ideology, climate and language Cambodia has embraced the free market, foreign investment and tourism. North Korea remains cut off between the Yalu River to the north and the world’s most heavily guarded frontier in the south. But Cambodia and North Korea once had much in common. They were amongst the world’s most secretive and violent nations, and while the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is still stuck in a Cold War time warp behind the world’s most heavily defended border, Cambodia has moved on. Cambodia is North Korea’s oldest ally in Southeast Asia and Cambodia has long served as a link between North Korea and the region. Diplomatic relations between Cambodia and North Korea go back decades to when Sihanouk met Generalissimo Kim Il-sung (Kim I) in 1961 at a Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Belgrade. The two quickly developed a personal friendship developed, a relationship that continued to a lesser extent with Kim’s successor, his son, the late Kim Jong-il (Kim II).In his heyday, Sihanouk dominated his country in a way few other royal heads of state managed in the 20th century, almost as totally as the Kims dominated North Korea. Following his overthrow in March 1970 by the Lon

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

Strength Through Oi - Cowboys & Expats - 30 November 2011

One of the interesting things about living in Cambodia is some of the expats you meet. There are some weird and some wonderful foreigners who have chosen, for a variety of reasons, to relocate to the self-styled Kingdom of Wonder. Some are here out of genuine love of the place. They’ve come here for everything that’s different about living

The Museum of Bats - 20 November 2011

The National Museum of Cambodia sits along the western side of the large square in Phnom Penh also bordered by the Royal Palace, Street 178 and grand French colonial mansions near the Riverside on Boulevard Sothearos, not far from where the Tonie Sap River merges with the Bassac and Mekong rivers. It is the largest historical, cultural and

Return of the King - 8 November 2011

The Kingdom of Cambodia has the last remnant of royalty in the territories that were part of what was once known as French Indochina. The Emporer Bo Dai abdicated in Vietnam in 1945, and the communist Pathet Lao, ironically led by a former royal, had the entire Laos monarchy locked up in 1975.Cambodia is awash with public holidays, many with a

Land of the Lobsters - 28 October 2011

Takeo Province lies to the south of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. To the north and east it borders with Kandal, to the west with the provinces of Kampong Speu and Kampot, and to the south with Vietnam. It has a predominantly rural population of almost one million, jammed into an area barely 3500 kilometres square. Takeo is often referred to

Water, Water Everywhere - 17 October 2011

Though situated miles inland the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh is dominated by water. Previously the city was known in Khmer as Krong Chaktomuk meaning "City of Four Faces".  The name is derived from the “X” formed by the junction of the three rivers that meet in the capital; the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap. Cambodian history too has been

Lady Boys, Viagra and Elephants - 4 October 2011

That's got your attention... Someone once called Koh Chang “the last paradise islands in South East Asia” though I think it’s too late for that.I first came to Koh Chang when there was nothing here but a few places where bamboo huts with thatched roofs were strung along the island’s western beaches. Access was by fishing boat and you walked

The Russian Market - 20 September 2011

The Russian Market or Psar Toul Tom Poung (Psar is market in Khmer) is popular among tourists, expatriates and the local Cambodians. Don’t come if you’re expecting an air-conditioned surround with all the bells and whistles. It’s basic, hot like a sauna, and when it rains in Phnom Penh the floor floods. Moto riders delivering goods take their