"Koh Tonsay means “Rabbit Island”, yet there were none to be seen as we alighted the boat at her sandy shores. There were however, several chickens, a few ducks, a couple of cats, and several dogs.
After securing a simple thatched bungalow for $7 per night at the north end of the island, we washed off our worries in the calm, emerald water, surveying our new home for the next few days.
Coconut palms swayed high above us, the island’s dense jungle interior creating a backdrop reminiscent of “Gilligan’s Island”.
We hoped a place like this existed, and we had found it!
Days spent suspended in hammocks along the beach were interspersed with swimming, perusing the menus of various restaurants, devouring fresh coconut, more swimming, card games, and meeting ‘the locals’, both Cambodian and foreign."
Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) is so named because locals say it resembles a rabbit, an example of what too much local brew
can do to your imagination. If you like rusticity, come now before the island is changed forever by development.
The main beach where the boats anchor is lined with coconut
palms, hammocks and lazy chairs, a few dozen huts ($5 a night, shared facilities, $7 if you want a private bathroom).
Many people say Koh Tonsay is a ‘tropical paradise’ but don’t expect the sanitised resort version.
The main beach (250 long) faces west towards the setting sun.
From the southern end of the main beach, a 10-minute walk takes you to a fishers’ hamlet and two more sandbeaches, one on
either side of the island’s narrow southern tip. It’s possible to walk all the way around Koh Tonsay.
The island’s interior is forested and, except along the beaches, trees grow right up to the water’s edge. On thehilltop you can see the remains of a one-time Khmer Rouge bunker.
There is no electricity, so at night it is just you, your torch, perhaps a beach bonfire and about a million stars overhead.
Avoid going down on weekends, too, since when we last visited, a large group of young Cambodians brought their karaoke machine and blasted pop tunes until wee hours of the
morning. Most nights it's very quiet.
There are opportunities for walks to other little bays on the island and the swimming straight off the main beach is excellent.
If you want to get more active, you're on a fishing village island remember, so look into trying to rustle up a fishing trip.
The name Koh Tonsay is derived from the word Rum
Say. While trying to avoid the commander’s troops, Prince Sakor Reach grew hopeless because his own troops began to tire. He led his remaining troops across the sea to an island in front of Kep city, where the troops spread out. Accordingly, the island was called Koh Rum
Say, the Koh Ormsay or Koh Ornsay, and the Koh Tonsay, as it is known today.
Koh Tonsay is 2 square Kilometers. During then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s Sangku Reastr Niyum regime, it was used as a place to rehabilitate criminals, who were also used to defend the island. Horse cart paths and wooden, thatch roofed motels were also constructed during this time. Most of this infrastructure has been destroyed by weather and decades of war. Today, seven families live on the island. They earn their living by fishing and growing coconut trees.
Koh Tonsay is located about 4.5 Kilometers southwest of Kep. Tourists are drawn to the two beautiful white sand beaches. The sea here is shallow and has a long slope, making Koh Tonsay excellent for swimming. At the sea bottom area a variety of corals, sea animals and plants which attract researchers and ecologists.
Getting there: Boats leave from Koh Tonsay pier in Kep for $10 return.
Only 20 minutes by boat from Kep.
"Every ten or so bungalows belong to a different owner, and each has also built a little bar or restaurant by the shoreline. They’re the only places to get anything to eat or drink – not that it’s a problem because the food is delicious and the prices reasonable. I order crabs for lunch and, several minutes later, the boy who took my order wanders out into the water and collects some crabs from the cage floating ten metres out to sea. There’s no denying the food is fresh.
There isn’t really much to do except eat, drink, relax and enjoy the water. The only power on the island comes from generators – and usually only for a few hours during dinner in the evening. There are no electronic distractions, no other places to be, no outside influences. The most exciting parts of the day tend to come from finishing a chapter of your book.
I decide to be slightly active one morning and go for a walk around the whole island. It takes me almost two hours… but not because it is particularly large. It’s more because there is no obvious path or development so at times I’m forced to beat my way through bushes, clamber over rocks, or wade through a rising tide.
Local fishing families and their small wooden shacks are the only signs of life on the walk. Some of them are clearly out to sea, but others have the boats and nets pulled up close to the sand. I get smiles and waves from them as I walk past… and on one occasion, a friendly point towards the path which I couldn’t quite find myself.
But for the most part, Rabbit Island is about doing nothing. The other tourists here seem content to lie in the sun, read a book, take a leisurely lunch, nap in a hammock, and any of the other things you might expect on a remote beach. One hairy backpacker told me he was here to detox after a week of partying in Phnom Penh, but I don’t think that is the norm."