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Rabbit Island


Here we are again; under the fan. Sweat, Sand, Sperm, Saliva. It’s the year of the rabbit, and YingYing (YY) is a rabbit, so we’ve decided Rabbit Island (Koh Tong Si) just 1 km offshore from the seaside town of Kep (172 km south of Phnom Penh), was to be our prime destination. But first we’re heading up north to Siem Reap and Angkor. Cambodia: the “wild west” of South East Asia. The land of mystery and madness; a turbulent culture still bubbling away. Will it have changed much in 3 years? It left a huge dent on my psyche the last time; the electricity of Phnom Penh, the metaphysical awe of Angkor and the pure charm of the terrestrials themselves. Our first few days in Phnom Penh were spent strolling around town adjusting to the heat and pace of familiar modes. Just-what-is-it about this country, and the Khmer people ???. . . Is it their crumbling history, their savage wars, the Boeng Kak lake, the hustling moto-drivers (motorbike taxis), it’s faded glory architecture? Even the geckos have that “je ne sais quoi”. The charm and ethos of this land is charismatic at will. Although things are relatively secure since the Hun Sen (purportedly guarded 24 hrs a day by 500 soldiers) coup d’etat in ’97, as well as the Khmer Rouge amnesty in ’98 (a few rich farmer generals to say the least). There’s still a sense, that at any moment something could Burst! Spark! or Shift a Sabre, and the country would come a tumblin’ and a rumblin’ apart, once more. We didn’t know much about Rabbit Island (RI), only what we’d read in the Lonely Planet — “It has 4 nice beaches and it’s possible to stay with families on the island as long as you can sort out a price for food and lodgings” — however, on all our travels together we’d managed to finish each one by chilling out for a few days on an island. So . . . . . The ineffable wonder of Angkor (whom most people flock to see) was again breathtaking and the high voltage mien in and around Phnom Penh can never be left out. However, both cities now are flowing with tourists and backpackers alike. Make no mistake, Cambodge is still a swingin’ safari. But, after 2 weeks here RI was beckoning, and it was unchartered virginal ground. Due to bad roads we had to drive via Kampot. Though our de rigueur crazed taxi driver had us there in 2 1/2 hrs flat. On the way YY had a headache from a lack of coffee and was catching 40 winks in the back seat. Speeding down National Hwy 3 with house music blaring from the speakers, I perused the sexy milieu outside. Omnipresent rice fields, palm trees, banana trees, lush verdant hills, mutant dogs, sickly cows, healthy fat water buffalo, bad-bad roads, incredible pot holes, roosters, ducks, geese and of course the Khmer citizens themselves; men, barechested with office pants; women, decked out in kramas and sarongs; naked kiddies smiling at play. What a feasty assimilation I had. With sleepy Kep only 24 km away from Kampot, we plowed our way past the touts (a necessary evil) at the taxi rank, grabbed a moto each and 20 minutes later we were haggling for the price of the 1 km boat ride to RI. $15 later, we were on our way. (No public transport of course.) As we approached the islet, our anticipation grew. We’d been talking about it for months and now we were within 10 min. of our prize. Would we find somewhere to stay? Would they be hospitable? Any sandy beaches ? Tourist eating mozzies? From 200 metres away, all we could see was a few small fishing boats and beyond that 1 wooden hut nestled amongst lots of verdant gear. As we hopped out of the boat we were greeted by locals from the shanty which lay right upon the waters edge. We asked — the interminable travellers question — “How much?” They replied $10 per night including food, for the two of us. Things were looking fine. Goooood moooorning — Ko Tong Si.

Well, Rabbit Island is all that and more. We’re staying in the 2 storey wooden hut/house with our friendly hosts; Bora — 19 yrs — who speaks a little bit of English; Danet — 15 yrs — who Bora has a crush on and in fact asked for her hand in marriage. Only problem is Meng — 52 yrs and mother of Danet — told Bora he needs $2,000 to claim his prize. A local custom? I’ll find it out. Trouble is Bora only earns $40 per month as a fisherman. Got all that? The first night we ate much fresh crab, rice and fish; all gurgled down with natural coconut juice (oun-yeh) and gin. Oh yeeaaaah, life is pure. Whilst chatting with our new friends we learnt all of the above, as well as the fact that we were the first foreigners to stay on the island since the seventies, when the Khmer Rouge had it’s tragic way. Our lack of the Mon-Khmer language was supplemented by our phrase book and Bora’s spartan English. YY’s French could not contribute this time. There are only 10 families on RI; Meng — I snapped her profile, it’ll display a thousand tales — has lived here for 46 years and has 7 children, with only Danet still living with her. We never actually met Meng’s husband (a fisherman) although he woke us up with raucous laughter the first night there. There was no electricity on RI and the 12-volt car battery was flat, ergo oil lamps were lit. We were confoundedly grateful that there were no mozzies. However, our beds were rock hard, as in wooden, and with no fans we were sweating all night long, until about 4.00 am when a fresh breeze came alive. We awoke at 5.01 am, with a cockle doodle doo; watched the colourful sunrise and shifted back to sleep. About 9 am we inquired about brekkie. “Sorry,” said Bora. “No Yam Yam till 10 o’clock”. Apparently it’s a standard two meals a day on RI. YY’s tummy was already grumbling, lucky we brought a few satchels of Ben Cafe — After breakfast we ventured to the other side of the island. The beach aspect, has soft sand, tiny waves and leads to the Gulf of Thailand as well as the South China Sea. Though the isle is only 1 km x ½ km we did peruse a few small farms housing tiny rice fields, vegetable gardens and other assorted animals. The beach was empty except for 2 roosters and one stray water buffalo, who graciously kept to his end allowing us to bake and slide the afternoon away. The third day was spent lazing on the lagoon side of the island; chilling on the balcony, snoozin’ in the hammocks and watching island inhabitants at work and play; fishermen fishing, cooks cooking and farmers slumbering. “Hey Bora, how about some more Coconut Juice?” 2 minutes later he’s scooting up a tree, quality service indeed. Whilst sipping our juice, a family (2 adults, 2 children) arrived to purchase some fish; Bora looked after them as well (I hadn’t seen him do much fishing yet). True to our voyeuristic nature, we noticed that the young kid was smoking a rollie. Although it was none of my business I motioned to him and his dad that he shouldn’t be smoking. The kid looked confused and worried, but the dad displayed a look of fatherly pride at his 8 yr old. Anyway, I had to leave them with it, as the Ying was getting a bit impatient, inasmuch as it was time for a dip in her invitingly sang-froid lagoon; the sun was in it’s vitiating phase. After 4 days and 3 nights our stay on RI had come to an end. YingYing & I had gotten along just splendidly. So much time and no stress; romance, isolation and not a land mine or Khmer Rouge in sight. We did indeed feel special and suggested to the delightful Bora, Danet and Meng that we’d return another day. Who knows? Maybe we’ll open RI’s inaugural guesthouse.

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