Thursday, July 1, 2010
The Khmer name for Rabbit Island is Koh Tonsay (Koh meaning island and Rabbit meaning Tonsay), but being a barang people only refer to it as Rabbit Island in my presence. As in, "You go Rabbit Island tomorrow?" It is located just of the coast of Kep and is a popular spot for tourists and day-tripping locals.
Wikipedia seems to be under the impression that the island gets its name from its shape (apparently similar to a rabbit?), but Kep's official web site begs to differ. According to this site the island gets its name from a play on the Khmer word rumsay (which the web site does not bother to translate, but the internets tells me might mean "to spread out troops") from an incident involving the Khmer Rouge and someone stationing troops there. It seems strange to me that this island would have gone nameless until the 1970s or later. Regardless, there is a tiny island of about 2km off the coast of Kep and everyone who heard we were going to Kampot told us to go there.
At first we were hesitant to visit the island. The main draws everyone raved about were there was a nice white-sand beach (white sand my ass, that sand was brown like east coast Florida beaches) and you could sleep on the beach in a hut. The beach-hut-sleeping seemed to be the big, novel attraction. Cale and I, spoiled by constantly sleeping in huts on the beach in Samoa, were a little jaded, "So what? You sleep on the beach in a hut? How else are you gonna sleep on the beach?" Also the boat ride to the island was $20, which seemed a little pricey to us.
When we ran into Christian (the PCV) and Jessica Friday night, they wanted to go to Rabbit Island, but they too were also concerned about the tuk-tuk to Kep and boat ride price tag. Happily we agreed to go with them and share the costs.
Saturday morning we stopped at a shop for our typical going to the beach supplies: vodka and juice. Christian and Jessica went for the sangria and corn flakes. Then Christian talked a tuk-tuk driver into taking us to Kep for $8 which seemed pretty cheap to me, though Christian seemed to feel we could have gotten him down to $7. Once at the dock where the boats leave from we ran into another group of barang heading to the island as well. They immediately asked if we wanted to share their boat (it is $20 per boat, so the more people, the cheaper the ride for each person). However, that made a group of seven and the ticket seller insisted that a boat could only handle six barang. Eight Khmer was no problem, but barang are bigger and six is the max. The weather was particularly windy that morning and the water was very choppy. After we were underway and the boat rocked in the waves we were glad to only have the four of us on board. Due to the waves and wind, they couldn't land us on the side of the island where the huts were. Instead we were dropped off on an easier side and trekked through the jungle for about 15 minutes (at most) to the accommodations.
The huts here are a little fancier than your basic fale in Samoa. Once again, sticking with local construction techniques they are all enclosed (why do people who live somewhere so hot build houses with so many walls and such tiny windows?). However, there was the added bonus of an attached bathroom with toilet and shower head. There were Khmer-style lunch huts on the beach which were much closer to a Samoan beach fale, but these were just for hanging out in a hammock and not for sleeping.
After settling in, we immediately set to the difficult task of relaxing. The wind was still blowing like crazy and the day had become overcast. Instead of jumping in the water, we did some hanging out (literally, Khmer is a hammock culture) and reading. That night Cale, Christian, Jessica and I set up camp in one of the lunch huts and shared our supplies while anticipating an amazing sunset. Unfortunately, cloud coverage interfered with that, but it was still beautiful.
I was feeling a little bad for Jessica. In addition to hogging her boyfriend (who she had flown around the world to see) talking about Peace Corps and living in the third world stuff, it also just so happened that Christian had a lot of Samoan friends growing up in California. So we had twice as much to talk about. Best part? "Can I ask you guys a question," Christian asks. "Did you eat a lot of hot dogs?" OMG! Like there isn't at least one cold hot dog in every styrofoam clam shell meal you are given at an event. Apparently his Samoan friends subsisted almost entirely on hot dogs.
The next morning brought with it calm winds and a sky full of sunshine. It was the perfect day for beaching. Before hitting the water Cale and I stopped for breakfast at one of the beach hut establishments. The menu offered an item called pancake with fruit salad. In my experience that is a pancake with a mix of cut fruit on the side. The price listed was $1-2. That usually means there is a small and a large. When I ordered it and the lady asked me if I wanted one or two, I assumed this was the difference between small and large, did I want one pancake or two. I went for two. I chose wrong. Not long after the woman came back with two plates. On each plate was a pancake (more like a crepe) that filled the entire plate. Each pancake had been covered in chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and fruit (pineapple, mango, etc). It was insane. I turned to Cale for help. I was able to make my way through one entire pancake, though I was moaning at the end. It was extreme sugar shock. Cale ate all the fruit off the other and was already feeling the effects when his omelet arrived. He had ordered omelet with bread, but they were out of the bread and decided to make up for it with extra egg. The plate set in front of Cale was mounded high with eggs and veggies. He bravely set to work and was only able to make it halfway through before he had to admit defeat.
We spent all morning lazing in the water or on the beach. For a late lunch we ordered some "potatoes in hot oil" which turned out to be french fries, as we had hoped. By late afternoon the wind had picked up again and the clouds were setting in. That night we had dinner with Christian and Jessica before turning in.
The next morning we were up early to catch our boat at 9am (when you buy your boat ticket it is for the return trip as well, you are supposed to take the same boat there and back, that is how the guy gets paid fairly since there is the same number of people on both trips). It was not a promising day. It was overcast and raining intermittently. In the process we picked up two stray travelers who apparently had not left with the same group they had arrived with. Phone calls were made and it appeared they could share our boat despite not having arrived on it. We trekked through the jungle to meet the boat. However, as we trekked the rain picked up. Not long after we arrived it began to pour and we could not longer even see the not-so-distant coast of Kep through the curtain of water. Though we had no expectations of leaving at nine, as 9am became 10 am and there was still no boat we assumed they might be waiting for the rain to let up. We were right. Once the rain turned to sprinkling around 11am a man jumped into one of the four boats anchored just off the beach and began to bail it out. When he had finished he indicated he would take us across. Not long after we crossed the halfway mark we saw a boat coming towards from the dock in Kep. It was the boat we had take across Saturday morning on his way to get us. He too had been waiting for the rain to stop. We waved wildly to get his attention and he turned around and followed us back.
We parted ways with Christian and Jessica, who were headed to Christian's site by bus from Kep, and tuk-tuked back to Kampot with the two other travelers we had shared the boat with. By the time we dragged ourselves into our guesthouse room (which we had just kept for those two nights rather than pack all our stuff up again and store it) we were tired, soaked through and freezing. Opening the door to the room and collapsing on the bed felt like a homecoming. The hot-water shower that followed was glorious. When we finally felt like humans again we went to the Wunderbar for dinner where we watched Portugal just massacre North Korea. A group of South Koreans had come to watch the game and root for the North, but they left out of desperation before halftime even began.
Posted by Cale