The Wind and the Wonderful – Kep and Koh TunsaiMay 24, 2012
As much as I like adventure and the great unknown, sometimes I quite like going somewhere where I know exactly what I’m going to get. So as yet another May public holiday came along I decided I wanted peace, waves and crab and the place to get that in Cambodia Is of course Kep and Koh Tonsai (Rabbit Island).
There’s always a pretty simple agenda for our Kep/Koh Tonsai trips – a five o clock stroll to the crab market for a seaside sunset dinner the strip of wooden restaurants by the sea, and the evening spent watching women bring in cages of blue crab from the ocean whilst tucking into big plates of the beauties covered in a delicious Kampot pepper sauce; a peaceful night’s sleep at a simple guesthouse and in the morning a pleasant 30 minute boat journey to Koh Tonsai where a couple of days of nap, swim, crab, beer against a soothing soundtrack of gently lapping waves awaits.
To me this is great because I’m quite a lazy person and the less decision making there is on a short break the happier I often am. Also I really love the beach and Sihanoukville is not quite so relaxing because you can’t close your eyes for one minute without getting pinched on the leg and asked if you want leg hair removed or your arm to be bandaged up with friendship bracelets.
The sunsets on Rabbit Island are beautiful enough to leave a silly grin on your face and there is no need for the whir of a fan when the sea breeze eases you into a cool sleep in your wooden bungalow. Yep, Kep is the place for me.
There have of course been deviations from the peaceful routine. During one stay a friend and I were sat sipping Mekong Whisky on the open balcony of our guest house in Kep. The friendly owner came over for a chat and we offered him a drink. When a man says “No, I shouldn’t drink whiskey it makes my head wrong” it’s generally best not to encourage.
My friend and I learnt that lesson after he had some whiskey and went from being a friendly bloke to telling us we should get out of his guesthouse and that we were daughters of Satan and should have died as babies because we weren’t Christians. Seems this guy had been fairly successfully converted to Christianity or ‘saved’ as he put it. I haven’t stayed at that guesthouse since.
Last year a group of us discovered that the new bar at the crab market sells really good cocktails and encourages customers to take charge of the music. Hence a not so enjoyable boat journey the next morning, but once we got on the island and in a hammock everything was back on track.
However, my most recent trip to Kep over the King’s Birthday Weekend definitely wasn’t plain sailing.
Kep was far busier than I had ever seen it. Fingers crossed it seems that Kep is developing with a restraint and that its eerie, sleepy beauty is maintained for the moment.
The main square where the picnic hammocks are set up is still the same except there are a few more small guesthouses and an Italian restaurant which blend in nicely enough. The big, expensive resorts are also tastefully set into the mountains and there hasn’t been much development of the crab market really.
I do prefer to be packed in with mostly day-tripping locals in Kep than hundreds of fellow foreigners as is more the case in Sihanoukville where the divide between the fully clothed Khmers and Barangs in bikinis is set in sand.
Showered and napped after the mental-as-ever bus journey, we went down to the crab market. We decided on a seafood soup and squid for lunch and get stuck into the crab later. That was a mistake though, because due to the amount of people in Kep, crab was unavailable for the entire long weekend.
This was extremely disappointing: Kep without crab is like a Ploughman’s lunch without a pickled onion as far as I’m concerned.
We started the evening off with happy hour cocktails at The Sailing Club (beautiful, highly recommended) went on to the crab market and ended up at a funny little place called Kep Rock where they were showing the Man City v QPR match on the big screen; ( they also had good pool table for those of us not so interested in football).
The boat trip out to Rabbit Island the following morning was a little choppy but not remarkably so. However, as a few of us sat around enjoying barbecued fish and salad by the sea some-one said “It’s pretty windy isn’t it?” and after that we realized that it was actually extremely windy.
The gusts continued relentlessly all day and throughout the evening .The waves were fun at first but the wind started getting to us after a bit. Extremes of weather are part of the fun of things out here: cycling bikes through river roads or the daily sauna of a five minute trip to the vegetable lady in Psar Tuol-Tumpoung, why would we live here if we didn’t get some pleasure out of that?
However, this wind reminded me a bit too much of sandy ham sandwiches in Eastbourne as a kid, and although no-one was forcing me in the sea this time I did come out feeling like I would have enjoyed being curled up behind Granddad’s windbreaker with a mug of Heinz Tomato soup rather than in a hammock with a cold beer.
The next morning I was literally nearly blown out of my hammock and the sea really didn’t look very appealing anymore. It was actually a pretty ferocious sand in the eyes sort of situation so we weren’t really surprised when we crossed the 10 minute jungle track to the smaller bay to see about 8 boats lined up and a load of people sat there idly reading kindles or dodging coconuts as the wind knocked them off the trees….too windy for the trip back to Kep obviously.
I’ve known people to get stuck on the island due to big storms and it wouldn’t normally bother me calling work to say I’m stuck on an island but actually it wasn’t as if the storm was going to pass and leave us with clear skies. It was just wind, wind and more wind…..and no crab. I was fairly keen to get indoors to be honest.
We had a bus to catch back to PP at 1.30 and the winds seemed to have died down by about 12.30. Lots of other people were obviously getting pretty bored waiting and keen to get off the island too. Eventually a boat man decided it was safe so we climbed aboard, ten people to a boat.
It was about five minutes into the journey when the wave appreciation noises amongst people on our boat turned from ‘oohs’ and giggles to pretty strained high octave ‘arrghs’. I’ve never been scared of water or boats but I’m not great in air turbulence easily explained by the fact I’m good at swimming and not that good at being blown up in or out of a massive vehicle in the sky.
I think I held a grin on my face as we started lurching towards the fierce, grey waves. Another girl on the boat decided the best thing to do was to crawl underneath the wooden planks that covered the hub of the boat – not wise in my opinion.
It was interesting to watch the reactions of fellow passengers on the boat as the intensity of situation increased. I kept one hand gripping the wooden plank I was seated on and the other keeping the zips on my bag tightly shut thinking what a nightmare it is trying to get a new passport here. Although I must admit there were a few waves where I did weigh up the likelihood of the wooden boat clouting me on the head if we did capsize.
I kept smiling and giggling (even if a bit hysterically) because the little Khmer boy in front was being brave and his Mum and dad were trying their best not to look scared either. They were the only people on the boat with life-jackets, although the dad was kneeling on his and holding his wife steady.
I looked across to the other boats and there were similar situations going on in those, although we didn’t have anyone vomiting in our boat surprisingly. Finally we got near enough to the jetty to crawl out, jump in the sea and carry our bags up the rocks to dry land. Lots of pats on backs and general comradeship lifted my spirits although the bus journey back to a very rainy Phnom Penh in wet clothes was not fun. The hot shower was turned up to high for the first time when I finally got home.
I wonder how long it will be before Koh Tonsai is no more, unfortunately I am not sure it will be very long. Just in case I will be going back next month for a fresh dose hopefully minus some wind and plus some crab.