Michael Batson

Travel Writer

Vietnam

Cambodia

Other

Travelogue

Boeung Kak - The Lake That Disappeared - 9 December 2014

Many visitors to the Cambodian capital today would be unaware the city once had a lake. Boeung Kak Lake (usually “Bong Kak”) was the largest urban wetland in Phnom Penh. All up it was 90 hectares (222 acres) of water, aquatic weeds and wildlife. The lake was located in the north of the city bordered by the railway, Calmette Hospital, and a couple of Phnom Penh’s main boulevards. Once it was the main backpacker ghetto where guesthouses lined the eastern shore jutting out over the water, and the surrounding lanes were filled with families, bars and cheap restaurants. Guests watched tropical sunsets, were served cheap beer and food, had their laundry done, and every day was like Sunday.  For Cambodians the reality was it much more than that. Boeung Kak was a wildlife refuge, aquatic playground, ready source of income for mostly family businesses, and an integral part of the city’s natural flood prevention system which came into its own during the rainy season. It was also an oasis away from the hustle of the densely-populated city and the constant traffic noise. In 2008 all that changed when a development company started pumping it full of sand. Shukaku Inc, which is owned by the wife of a politician, bought a 99-year lease for US$79 million for 133 hectares of land surrounding and including Boeung Kak Lake. They turfed out the residents – it’s thought that over 17,000 people were affected– and turned this water wonderland into a dust bowl. The fate of the

War Remnants Museum in HCMC - 29 September 2014

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is a somewhat harrowing experience. The displays and images are a sobering reminder of Vietnam’s recent violent history and demonstrate what belligerent industrial nations can do to largely peasant ones.  They record a raft of human emotion, suffering, persecution and orchestrated destruction from

Reunification Palace - The Dragon's Head - 31 August 2014

Near the centre of present day Ho Chi Minh City sits the Reunification Palace, a relic of Vietnam’s more recent past and a symbol of its present, and probably future too. HCMC, or Saigon as it’s still widely referred to, has many iconic buildings. There’s Notre Dame Cathedral, City Hall, the Opera House and the wonderful Central Post Office

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

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