Thursday, 25 April 2013

Escape to Rabbit Island (Cambodia)

Sunset on Rabbit Island, Cambodia. Photo © Simon Raven
If it’s a taste of the simple life you’re after, head to Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay), a miniature tropical paradise a few miles off the coast of Cambodia.

By Simon Raven

“I have been in love three times in my life. I never expected the third time to be with an island.”

If your idea of a good time is escaping the crowds, and chilling out in a hammock whilst looking out to sea from the balcony of your beach bungalow, then Rabbit Island is the destination for you. Only a short motor boat ride from the once thriving French-Cambodian elite resort town of Kep, Rabbit Island is the ideal romantic retreat, or get away paradise of you’re desert island fantasies.

Beach Bungalow on Rabbit Island (Cambodia) Photo © Simon Raven 
Not for the faint-hearted, the accommodation on Rabbit Island is about as basic as it gets. The majority of the beach bungalows that are rented out by local families along the narrow main beach have simple toilet facilities, complete with squat toilet and a cold shower. The double bed in the bamboo bungalows is covered with a mosquito net that’s hung from the ceiling, and power is limited to a generator that is usually turned off around 10pm plunging the island into darkness. For some this is exactly what they come here for, to experience living a simple existence in paradise. During the week I spent on Rabbit Island, I met an Italian man who had been drawn to the island for this very reason. Antonio had travelled extensively all over the world during his younger years, and now finding himself in his late 70’s he had stumbled across the island whilst visiting the coastal town of Kep in a bid to escape the European winter. He had liked the island so much, he had decided to check out of his comfortable hotel on the mainland and relocate to the island instead. It had been three weeks and he had begun to worry about his lack of communication with his son in Italy and the outside world. Watching the sun set over the ocean one evening, as we shared a cold bottle of Ankor beer in one of the small bungalow restaurants on the beach, he confessed to me. “I have been in love three times in my life. I never expected the third time to be with an island.”

Tranquil. Rabbit Island (Cambodia) Photo © Simon Raven 
To Do: There is very little to do on Rabbit Island except enjoy island life. Grab a snorkel and chase fish around the rocks either side of the main beach. Walk the overgrown trail that circles the island, passing through tiny settlements and local fishing communities. Climb the hill to the top of the small mountain for a jungle adventure you’re unlikely to forget.

To Eat: Seafood is the main dish of the day here on Rabbit Island, and the majority of the bungalows will serve you fresh prawns, squid, crab and fish at a very reasonable price. Try everything with a Kampot pepper sauce (the local pepper grown here) that is considered by the French to be the best in the world. Sliced pineapple, banana and mango make for the perfect daytime snack.

To Drink: There is only one bar on the island serving cocktails and cold beer throughout the day and evening. Try a local brew similar to rice wine, that most of the bungalows will happily sell you in plastic bottles under the counter. For a delicious non-alcoholic beverage, try a fresh green coconut or a pot of Khmer tea (green tea).

Crab Fishing, Rabbit Island (Cambodia) by Chris Raven ©

Facts: Rabbit  Island (Koh Tonsay) is a few miles off the Cambodian coast, a short boat ride from Kep. There are no rabbits on Rabbit Island – it’s shaped like one! The island is close to the sea border with Vietnam. As this border is still disputed, straying into Vietnamese waters could be dangerous and locals refuse to travel to the smaller islands, such as Snake Island and Koh Pos further east. The island has become a popular destination for backpackers. A small hut was built on the edge of the main beach in 2007, and labelled, "Police Station", although it is not thought to be permanently manned. Be sensitive to the locals living on Rabbit Island. Many were driven here during the terrifying rule of the Khmer Rouge. Take photographs sensibly and don’t allow this beautiful island to be destroyed by tourism. There are rumours that Rabbit Island may have been sold by the Cambodian Government to property investors. This could be tragic news for Rabbit Island, so if you’re planning a trip while the island is still unspoilt, we recommend you go soon.

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