48 hours on Rabbit Island
Something special happens every day around 4pm on Rabbit Island: the daytrippers go home.
Around that hour, clusters of brightly painted wooden boats pull away from the beach filled with people returning to the mainland at Kep.
Then the island is all yours.
I’ve been to this tiny island off Cambodia’s south coast a number of times, mostly with Skip and often with visitors from overseas, but we’ve always left before 4pm.
This time, when I went with my niece, Emma, I decided to book a cabin for an overnighter (which turned into two) and discovered a little slice of paradise.
In the late afternoons, warm sea breezes whisper across a 250-meter beach that is occupied by no more than 20 people (I counted them). Restaurants offer $2 Happy Hour mojitos, piña coladas and margaritas and you have your own private viewing of the sun as it sinks into the sea in a blaze of orange and red, streaking the sky with dazzling hues of pink and purple
Taking advantage of the solitude, Emma and I indulged in an early evening $7 an hour beachfront massage (offered on wooden platforms facing the sea till 6pm) then reclined on lounge chairs sipping cocktails with our feet in the waves as the sun kissed the horizon. A couple of sandy dogs sniffed around our feet and the only sounds came from the surf, the breeze and the Khmer cooks chatting to staff as they prepared the evening meal.
The miniscule 2km island of Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) is located less than three miles off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand so a 3 ½ hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Kep and a 20-30 minute boat ride will get you on the beach. You can pick up a boat by just arriving at the dock and hiring your own for $25 (roundtrip) or you can hop on the 9am shared boat for $8 (also roundtrip). The last boat returning is at 4pm or, if you’ve booked your own, you can name your own time. There are no cars, no electricity (except for the hours of 6pm to 10pm when the generators are run) and no shops.
There are, however, hammocks hanging from coconut palms, inner tubes that rent for a dollar for a float on the sea, an endless stretch of white sand and little beach shack restaurants selling dishes priced from $1.50 to $4 as well as basic thatch bungalows you can rent for as little as $7 for the night.
I opted for the “luxury” version and booked the $20 VIP Bungalow at Khim Leng (so-named because it’s closest to the water and has two double beds and a private bathroom). And two hammocks on the small front balcony where we began and ended each day.
On our first morning there, having been awakened early by the crowing of the island’s roosters, Emma and I pulled on shorts and hauled ourselves from our beds into the hammocks. We watched our bungalow owner and his staff clear the beach of giant leaves that had blown from the trees during the night and listened to the sound of the gentle surf lap on the shore. Twenty minutes later, a tray bearing two steaming cups of coffee was delivered to us as we dangled in our lofty perches.
That’s when we decided to stay another night.
Our schedule on Day Two was pretty hectic. After dismounting from the hammocks, we devoured banana pancakes ($1.50) at one of the beach shack restaurants then decided to hike (aka stroll) to the other side of the island.
It’s an exhausting 20-minute saunter along the beach to the other side where there is….nothing. Nothing, that is, other than white sand, shallow warm water, palm trees and an enterprising fellow selling fresh coconuts.
After we floated in the sea, it was back to the other side in time for beach-lounging and reading, followed by lunch (grilled squid and rice for $3 for me) followed by more time in the hammock, more dips in the sea and a $5 foot massage which we skillfully managed to fit in before sunset.
Day Two ended again with mojitos and margaritas as the sun vanished in a blaze of glory, followed by dinner (deep-fried shrimp with pepper sauce for $4 for me and an enormous bowl of “the best vegetable soup ever” at $2 for Emma) then a late-night moment in the hammock under a sky bursting with stars.