Just a Hop from Kep to Rabbit Island

Rabbit Island

Our captain wore blue tight briefs and an Angry Birds hat as he accelerated and decelerated over the two foot swells that passed in between Kep, a town on mainland Cambodia, and Rabbit Island. The small waves moved parallel to the boat, running perpendicular to both shores, and subsequently rocking us violently. A little girl onboard was crying. We were all soaked.

Rabbit Island

In the distance, Rabbit Island appeared barren. The boat rocked so hard, I couldn’t help but picture Tom Hanks, Wilson volleyballs, and Fed Ex packages left unopened.

But our young captain managed to sail us safely to the shores of Koh Tonsay, which translates to Rabbit Island. There was a small house at the head of a trail. A few locals swung in hammocks on the shaded porch. Two small children ran from the shelter and dared to touch the bay. Their mother screamed for them to return to the house.

Kids on the Shore of Rabbit Island

“Do we take this path to get to the beach?” I said, feeling foolish for asking the question since we were standing on a beach–but the shore we arrived on couldn’t have been the beach that other tourists had described to us.

A woman who had just gathered a few heads of wilting lettuce from our boat waved for the passengers to follow her.

The trail split and so did the ten Westerners that had initially started down the path together. Another fork and we wondered where we would end up. Eventually, however, everyone found the other side, where stilthouse bamboo huts lined the beach, old beer bottles and mutilated coconuts were piled beside the trailhead, and palm trees and bamboo lounges fringed the ocean. The waves were small, but the fierce winds made the waters choppy.

Aside from the women giving five-dollar hour-long massages beneath open-air canopies and the lounging employees of the lifeless restaurants and network of huts, there were maybe forty visitors, most of whom were day-trippers set to leave the island by four, spread out along the quiet beach.

Relaxing on the Beach

I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and swung in a hammock that was tethered to the arms of a multi-branched tree that fruited orbs, which looked like round pineapples. When I got hungry, I sat at one of the food huts. Every dish was about five bucks, except for chicken, which was priced as if it were the lobster of the land. A man, who had apparently left the world to live in his crazy head on Rabbit Island, swung a bamboo pole at a mango tree. He giggled as unripened, under-sized fruits dropped to the ground, nearly clonking the pacing dogs that eagerly awaited my slow-cooked meal–a meal that took so long, I nearly missed the boat back to Kep.

Getting stranded on Rabbit Island overnight wouldn’t have been terrible. They have a three-hour happy hour when dollar beers drop to seventy five cents, which allows drunken guests the chance to return to their austere bungalow before the electricity gets cut at 10:00 pm. This is not necessarily a bad thing since the less-than-ten-dollar-a-night bungalows fitted with an old mattress and mosquito net are a bit grimy and you might prefer to not see your habitation.

The Boats to Rabbit Island

On our return to Kep, the boy captain, in his underwear and Angry Birds hat, again fought the swells. When it was time to dock the boat between the line up of turquoise and orange vessels, he missed. He swung around and tried again. Like a frustrated kid attempting to park an SUV in a very narrow spot, he went a bit too fast and crashed into the other boats, snapping off a propeller or two.

Nine dollars gets you a round-trip ride on a tuk tuk and boat.

Important note: Keep in mind, even if five minutes is a half hour in Cambodia, 4:00 pm–the time the boats depart from Rabbit Island–sometimes means 3:30 pm. Don’t miss it.

Where I stayed in Kep

If you’re not looking to spend a night in a Rabbit Island shack, a nice alternative back on the mainland is the Kep Malibu Bungalows. The property is perfect for those looking to spend a few days relaxing beside a pool and the lush hills of the countryside. It’s a twenty minute walk to the famous crab market, where dozens of seafood shops will compete for your business, (though I suggest Kimli’s, which serves the most delicious platter of crustacean). If you require wheels, then everything is easily accessible by tuk tuk or motorbike. The owner will rent you the latter for seven dollars per day.

The staff is friendly, the restaurant serves tasty bites from a dining deck that looks out toward the windy seas, and for less than fifty dollars a night, you can have an air-conditioned room or private bungalow. For as little as thirty dollars, you can stay in a thatched roof bungalow, which is where I spent three nights. Though it lacks air conditioning, the fan through the mosquito net kept us cool. We did, however, have a bat fly through the gap between the roof and wall, giving me the opportunity to exhibit some machismo to my wife. I chased it out with a towel. (To be fair, at a five star resort in Bali, where rooms were twenty times costlier than Kep Malibu Bungalows, we had a bird fly into our honeymoon nest and poop on the bed.)

Though the hotel could use a few touch ups–pool lounge mattresses had water stains and bathroom lights flickered when I flushed the toilet–the rooms are clean, spacious, and comfortable and the grounds are beautiful. Keep in mind that these imperfections are the things you should expect in a third-world country, miles away from a populated city.

Disclaimer: Kep Malibu Bungalows hosted me, but the review is honest.

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia, Somewhere

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