Michael Batson

Travel Writer





The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek - Walking on the Bones - 2 July 2017

Cambodia’s earlier history was awe-inspiring, it’s latter blood thirsty almost without parallel in scale, and both have left their mark. In fact it has been said that a curious feature of Cambodia is that after the world’s greatest religious monument, the ancient city of Angkor, the country’s most popular tourist sites are a torture centre in Phnom Penh at Tuol Sleng or S-21, and an execution ground, known as the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. Genocide tourism wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve been to a killing field in Cambodia before albeit by accident, there are in fact hundreds, a large cave where skulls are displayed in the dark and the damp. The victims had been thrown from the edge of the cave into the abyss below, now some form a gory monument to a dark period in Cambodia’s past. I’ve been to the Genocide Museum at Tuol Sleng, the actual site still with dried blood on the walls after all these years. The story of that place, a former school and torture centre where the Killing Field’s victims were first incarcerated, was told in the form of a love story through film where two star-crossed lovers were separated, imprisoned, and then killed. All this without the narrative mentioning that Tuol Sleng, or S-21— an acronym derived from the Khmer compound noun santebal, which combined the Khmer words for “secret” and “police” with 21, a code number assigned to the institution—was where the vast majority of the 17,000 victims were Khmer Rouge cadres

Pham Ngu Lao, Saigon - The Place To Stay - 2 June 2017

Pham Ngu Lao sits in Quan (District) 1 not far from the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City. There are a number of streets with the name Pham Ngu Lao along the southern boundary of the Central Park of Saigon and the “Love Lake”. The main street, Bui Vien, has been referred to as a seething sea of humanity, but that’s true of Saigon generally. 

Vung Tau, Viet Nam - Waiting for the Weekend - 7 May 2017

The main road from Saigon into the coastal city of Vung Tau is named for Võ Nguyên Giáp, Vietnam’s greatest military figure of the 20th century, maybe ever, and it’s first ever four-star general. The road is broad, an 8-lane dual carriageway with lanes for motorcycles of which Vietnam has many, and is lined with manicured trees and rows of

Sihanoukville: Super Tuk-Tuks and Keystone Kops - 21 April 2017

Sihanoukville on the gulf of Thailand is fast becoming a destination on Cambodia's tourist trail, and has always been popular with locals. The trip from Phnom Penh takes about five hours by road and can be a little hair-raising. As a tip I’d avoid using minivan services. While they promise to get you there faster than larger buses, and usually

Dor Aray Sat near Phnom Penh - 15 February 2017

Areyksat Village (or Dor Aray Sat) is a Cambodian rural village typical of hundreds across the Kingdom of Wonder. Small, quiet, a few shop houses, a dirt road running through the middle. On hot still days motorbikes and the odd vehicle throw up a layer of dust coating the buildings, the roadside vegetation, and everything else. Sometimes one of

Vientiane - Please Slow Down - 24 November 2016

Vientiane is probably the most laid back capital city in Southeast Asia. This is maybe because Vientiane is capital of Southeast Asia’s quietest country, the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao, or the Lao PDR. It’s so laid back there’s a standing joke that this should stand for “please slow down”. If Bangkok is a megalopolis, Saigon a

Nong Khai - Naga City - 21 October 2016

Nong Khai sits at the very northeast of Thailand on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. Locally, it’s known as Naga City, after the mythical serpents said to inhabit the Mekong – the city is filled with literally hundreds of serpent images. Nong Khai is also known for its temples, rocket festivals and great balls of fire – the latter a natural

Cambodia's Kem Ley - Every Country Needs One - 18 August 2016

It’s over a month and a week since Dr. Kem Ley, perhaps Cambodia’s most prominent independent political commentator, was gunned down in broad daylight in a Phnom Penh cafe. On the surface of it, Ley’s killer was a loner with a personal grudge, however, it’s widely assumed his death was all about cold, hard calculation and orchestrated high up