Paradise Found: Cambodia’s Koh Tonsay

We were looking for relaxation, and we found it. After three days, two planes, one bus, a couple of tuk tuks and one wooden fishing boat, we found our own slice of paradise.

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.

When we told our tuk tuk driver on the mainland that we wanted to spend a week on Koh Tonsay, he laughed in disbelief, which had us a little worried about the definition of the words “untouched” and “simple” we had heard describing the tiny island off Cambodia’s south coast.

We needn’t have worried. Having nothing to do was just what the doctor ordered, though it took me a couple of days to relax into the “if we were any more laid back we’d be dead” vibe of Koh Tonsay.

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.

Chile, Germany, United States, England, Serbia and more were all represented on Rabbit Island.

But still, no rabbits…

There was, however, one exceptionally vocal rooster who simply refused to allow us a sleep in. Initially peeved off at the interruption of our serenity (I mean, this was our Island paradise for goodness sake!), we soon accepted that he was indeed there first, and succumbed to rising with the sun to enjoy morning swims, beach jogs (okay, I did it once, but Marty and Tyrhone were quite dedicated), and impromptu yoga sessions on the beach front.

Never before did a ‘salute to the sun’ feel so authentic!


As many of the Island’s inhabitants slept off their Angkor beer hangovers, we had the beach exclusively to ourselves, before settling in at an outdoor restaurant (everything on Koh Tonsay, is by default, outdoors), to feast on banana pancakes and strong coffee of the blow-ya-head-off variety, served up with cans of ‘sweet milk’ as the fresh stuff was scarce. There were no complaints from our table, however, we lapped up the condensed stuff like mother’s…well… milk.

In the interests of maintaining Koh Tonsay’s presence as a mere blip on the tourist trail radar, however, I feel it my duty to balance my shining review with a few reasons not to visit…

Reasons not to visit Koh Tonsay:

#1 Dogs do the dishes. Well actually they just help out by licking all the plates clean at the collection point, before they are washed (we really need to believe this).

#2 Toilets are flushed by hand. Or rather, by a small bucket used to scoop water into the bowl. Nothing gives one more satisfaction than flushing one’s own refuse. Call me weird…

#3 Your feet will never be clean. Just accept the fact. I abandoned the concept of footwear all together, resulting in a rather nasty tooth-pick injury. Marty succumbed to a tree root during his morning jog, ripping a rather impressive flap of skin off his big toe (I’m trying to put you off here, is it working?).

#4 Things will bite and sting you. Tyrhone was victim to a rather ghastly mosquito attack during a sunset massage, resulting in him flying from the beach-front cabana, and racing into the sea in a fit of girlish shrieking. I’m sure he traumatized the poor masseur. The mosquitoes, however, were unperturbed.

We were all stung by invisible little stingers in the sea too, and though they left quite impressive red welts, were pretty bearable.

#4 Koh Tonsay is home to a sick individual. “George Micheal” the chicken, made the lavatory at one particular eatery it’s home, eye-balling the guys as they relieved themselves after one too many ice coffee’s with sweet milk. Yes, we named him (or rather, her). Sickos must be named and shamed. No offence, George.

#5 Red ants will attack you if you attempt a jungle trek. I found out the hard way. We began the hike up the mountain in the centre of the island with all the enthusiasm of Bear Grills on speed. It was tough. And it was steep. Our guest house owner was not exaggerating when he performed a charades-like rendition of clambering over rocks, complete with tortured expression. We made it to the top dripping in sweat, discovering an old Khmer Rouge bunker.

There was only one way down, but we struggled to find a path, and that’s when the ants forged their attack, dropping from the trees. This time it was my turn at girlish shrieking, but I am a girl so…

With all the drama about the ants, we didn’t give much thought to landmines, untill later when the ‘chilled out Chilean’ (Marty’s neighbour) brought it to our attention. Oops, sorry Mum, lesson learned…

Did I manage put you off?

Hopefully not. All of these (mis) adventures provided excellent fodder for conversation, and enhanced our comedy-infused card games every evening. Add to that, Marty’s Malaria Medication-induced night terrors, a lizard landing on my head at lunch, and a much larger lizard taking up residence in our bathroom, and we were not short of material.

But it doesn’t end there.

Language barriers provided for exciting and interesting meal times. Marty proved to be the worst at ordering, and always seemed to miss out on pancakes. Whether the coffee came out steaming, or poured over ice was subject to chance.

One day, four boat-loads of Cambodians from Phnom Penh arrived, equipped with enormous speakers, and enough beer to sink a ship. Luckily they didn’t (sink, that is), otherwise we would have missed out on live Khmer pop blasted out across the Island ’till the wee hours. Actually, have you ever heard Khmer pop? Let’s just say, we’re glad it was just one night…

A Rushed Exit

Just this morning we were partaking in another banana pancake sit-in, when we thought it might be a good idea to settle our accounts at our respective guest houses (each guest house has a restaurant, and seeing as Marty’s $5 per night bungalow was attached to a separate establishment, we had run up tabs at both places).

Luckily we did, as we barely scraped through, settling all our accounts and leaving us with a mere US$5.

It was time to go. Though we had wanted to stay an extra night, our lack of budgeting skills and no cash facilities on the island made the decision for us. An hour after running around like a headless George Micheal, pooling our limited resources to pay off our debtors, we were deposited back onto the jetty in Kep. We returned to the luxurious (by comparison) Rega Guest House, where we washed off the salt, the sand, and had a chance to reflect on the last few days.

It’s actually good to be back in civilisation. It’s good to be clean. The dogs don’t do the dishes here, or so we hope, but Koh Tonsay, despite it’s idiosyncracies, definitely secured a special place in our hearts.

It turns out that the name “Rabbit Island” comes from the shape of the island rather than its inhabitants. I guess Dishwashing Dog/Perverted Chicken/Chilled-out Chilean/ Flesh-eating Ant Island just doesn’t have the same ring to it.









Paradise Found: Cambodia’s Koh Tonsay — 16 Comments

  1. Just reading that made me warm. Sounds like a wonderful start to your travels. I think I’d need to pack a gallon of calamine lotion as mosquitoes have a way of seeking me out. Can’t wait to read the next installment!

  2. Sarah!!!!! This was so wonderful. You are off to a fantastic start. I have to go to this island. You can tell me all about it in person one day :) Yay for you! Where to next?

    • Yes Kim, you must go if you get the chance! Simplicity at it’s best! Imagine swapping tales when we finally get to meet- ooh the excitement is too much! I can’t bear it!!!! We are hiring motor bikes tomorrow and riding to Kampot, a town 25km away. After that, we’re not sure, but the guys seem pretty keen on buying motorbikes and driving around the country… Keep you posted :)

  3. Dishwashing Dog Island has a nice ring to it! This was so wonderful to read Sarah – I felt like I was right there with you, relaxing with my coconut water. Ah, one day that will be true! I can’t wait to share real-life adventures with you, but in the meantime this is a wonderful second option :)

  4. Just spent an hour catching up on your blog and reading all your recent posts Sarah. You are such an entertaining, amusing and readable writer. Wonderful that you are ‘following your bliss’! Obviously your last week in Perth got pretty busy but thanks for getting my towel back to me with such a lovely note . . . It has been a joy getting to know you and no doubt following your blog will mean we all get to know you more each time you share your next adventure.Your island paradise sounds like it had its challenges but the salute to the sun at dawn was an inspiring image. So glad I got to meet Tyrhone (hope i spelled that right without checking) finally before you left. What a good man! Much love to you both and may the Force be with you.Big hugs,Sally.

  5. He he he…..”Hoooooooow’s the serenity? So much serenity.”
    You’ve seen ‘The Castle’ right?

  6. I laughed out loud when I read about George Michael the chicken:)Rabbit Island seems to be part paradise part terror but great fodder for a blog post. The dishwashing dogs don’t instill too much confidence but so long as you had a great time, that’s all that matters. Like you said in your blog post, it’s great just to get away from it all and as I put it in a previous comment, just be a free range human being. I wish you all the best and I can’t wait to hear about the next place you visit.

    • Thanks Matthew, glad you found it amusing – we certainly did!!! I definitely thought of your comment, as there were plenty of free range chickens on the Island, though if poor George Micheal is anything to go by, maybe this isn’t such a good thing :) :)

    • Thanks Scot! Yes, we are having a weird and wonderful time in Cambodia! I haven’t been to Phi Phi yet, but I look forward to checking it out :) Thanks for reading!

  7. Ah I had a good laugh at your bit about the ants falling from the trees!
    Looks like a lovely place and all the reasons you mentioned to stay away are the very reasons one should visit in the first place! Good story.