We had always planned to go to explore the Cambodian southern islands as they had been described in blogs and guidebooks as ‘the Thai Islands 10- 20 years ago’. Before arriving in Cambodia we had not done much research on which islands to go to. Whilst travelling in Vietnam we had met a couple of people that told us about Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem and Koh Ta Kiev. Koh Rong is the most developed out of all three, a bit of a party island and in the previous few months had had issues with its water sanitation. So our choice was between the other two. In Mui Ne we had been recommended by another traveller to check out Koh Ta Kiev as it was a beautiful island with very few resorts and was much more back to basics than the others. This meant no real electricity apart from in the bars (so no lights or fans in your dorms or rooms), no internet let alone wifi and no running water. We ended up deciding to go to Koh Ta Kiev just as we knew it would be a completely different experience and one we might not get the opportunity to do again due to development. Once we had made that decision we had to decide on our accommodation. Our options were limited as there are only a handful of places on the island: The Last Point, Cactus, Ten103, Na’s bungalows and Crusoe. Due to the price we had narrowed our choices to Kactus (which had been recommended to us) and The Last Point which was cheaper on hostelworld. In the end, we went for the cheaper one as we knew island life would be more expensive anyway and we are supposed to be on a budget.
Most of the boats for Koh Ta Kiev conveniently leave from Otres 1 beach outside of seagarden resort. Our boat was due to leave at 11.30am so we got a quick tuk-tuk over from the village in the morning for a couple of dollars and got breakfast at the Seagarden Resort. We had also packed the few clothes etc that we needed into our small bags (definitely overestimating how much we would wear and use) and we left our big bags at the Sea Garden Resort where they store them for a couple of dollars per week. At 11.30am our boat was being packed full of supplies- food, beer etc (the essentials) and we bought our return boat ticket from the guy next to the boat for $12. Then we were off on a couple of hours journey across the sea to the small island of Koh Ta Kiev.
On approaching the area it looked gorgeous with a long stretch of white sand and small wooden structures that were facilities and accommodation. However, as we pulled closer into the bay I was a bit disappointed. We had read that on the Last Point’s beach (it is the only resort on this beach) there is a lot of rubbish that collects along it from the sea. I was expecting a few bits and pieces dotted along however, unfortunately, all the way along this huge stretch of beach it was completely littered with rubbish. Also the day we arrived there was tonnes of seaweed that had been brought in by the current in the sea and along the beach. Other days the water and beach was much clearer as this wasn’t there. We checked in which meant meeting Ozzie one of the bar staff (we had met Lillie on the boat already) and him pointing to the dorm, paying him as we had already booked and him saying choose beds and let me know where you are at some point. We couldn’t tell whether this was a little chaotic or just super relaxed. So we did. Luckily due to it being low season, the place wasn’t very busy so we managed to find a couple of bunk beds with the better mosquito nets as a lot of them had big holes. This was quite important as the dorm only had 3 walls with the front of it being completely open to the elements and nature. This was amazing- it meant that generally it was cool and you were woken up by the sunrise. This did mean that you were woken up by the sunrise at 5-6am every morning though as it was bright and hot on the beds. But that was part of island life wake up early at sunrise and go to bed early not too long after it gets dark as there isn’t much to do. Due to it being the start of the low season we were pleasantly surprised when we checked out that we got money back from what we had paid for our dorm beds towards our tab, prices had changed at the start of our stay apparently!
Our first day there after settling into our dorm we wandered all the way along the beach and back. It was incredible how much rubbish there was- plastic bags, bottles, fishnets and cages, ropes plus so much more than you would think could come out of the sea. It was just such a shame as well as this strip of beach would have been glorious if it was possible to keep on top of the problem. Unfortunately, there is just too much that comes out of the sea from the mainland. On our walk, we met Hans. He was a German guy that was camping along the beach in a tent. He had made a camp for himself using the rubbish he had found on the beach- very ‘The Island’ style. He spent most of his days walking the beach and making creations. Then he would come to the bar area to meet new people when the boat came in about 1, to participate in Klang O’clock, to have food, beer and to get weed. Due to there not being basically anything on the island apart from a few basic resorts the whole island had an incredibly laid back feel. In tune with this was the general weed culture, sold openly at all the bars with the Last Point advertising Big Joints for $3 and if you rolled 10 for them then you got one for free. Not our thing at all and we were definitely the only people at our resort that didn’t smoke the whole time we were there. The perfect place to do it though if you are into that- chilling out on and island all day with no one about, nowhere to be and nothing to do. A lot of people because of the weed as well as the islands vibe itself meant that they stayed a lot longer than planned. It also limited what people saw of the island. One girl, we had met there ended up staying 3 weeks and I don’t think she really left the Last Point except to go on a boat tour. But she had an amazing three weeks enjoying herself.
We went back to the bar area which was pretty cool. There is not much at the last point- a dorm and bungalows, little huts holding toilets and showers and then central to the place is the bar. It is a wooden bar that everyone sits around with painted signs and plaques from travellers all over it- some inspirational, some factual and some just for the fun of it. Most of the staff, even if not on shift are usually there for most of the day and it has a nice community vibe to it. We managed to make it back for Klang O’clock. This is between 3- 3.30pm every day where you buy one Klang ($1.50) at 3 pm and you are allowed to drink as many as you can (limited to 10 now for reasons) in that half an hour for free. It is fun, a way to meet new people each day and get a little drunk in the afternoon for cheap on an island. When we were there at the Last Point during the day we played. The first afternoon we were speaking to a couple of young swiss-german guys one who also had an English/South African accent and mannerisms which was bizarre.
When Klang O’clock was over everyone dispersed for the afternoon and we decided to do a trash collection. At the Last Point in order to try to help with the trash problem, you can collect a bag of trash each day and get a free ‘Trash beer’ or money towards something else. A couple of days we did it in the morning and put it towards trash coffee. It didn’t take very long to collect the rubbish and then we had a free beer for later in the evening. After this, we wandered down the path five minutes from The Last Point to check out Kactus. These are the only two resorts in this part of the island and both have their own beaches. Kactus’ is much cleaner and well kept, at least by the resort itself so we went there for an evening swim in the sea. Initially, I wondered whether we had made a mistake with where we had chosen as Kactus had nicer areas to chill out and sit etc. But by the end of the week we were very happy that we stayed at the Last Point. We could come and go as we pleased, get food when we wanted it (it was only available set times of the day at Kactus) and the people/staff made it.
The staff there were Ozzie (crazy but chilled lovely German), Lillie (chatty interesting Canadian), Thaijs (a friendly Belgian who just wore a Khmer robe every day), Nathan (a man lost in time and himself most of the time) and Kiera (a quiet but genuinely nice German). When we weren’t exploring the island or the beach we were often chatting to them and got to know them quite well. All were working for a small salary and getting accommodation and meals there. It varied in the length of time they had been there from a few weeks to 18 months living simply on the island. They were all incredibly happy when Dave said he had a huge collection of music, with it being a very eclectic mix on his iPhone as they would often listen to a few albums they had between them. They also had two super cute puppies that were around and we got to play with a lot!!
On our first night there we tried the Last Point’s pizzas as they have a full pizza oven there and they were delicious. We chatted away to people and then went for a swim in the sea when it was dark as around the island there is often bioluminescent plankton in the water. On dark nights when you move in the water you see all the plankton light up around you.
We were woken up by the sunrise the next morning and cooled off by having a refreshing cold water bucket shower. We had breakfast at the bar and then went off to explore the island. All the other resorts are across the island towards Long Beach which for us meant a hot trek along Kactus beach and then through the jungle for about an hour where we eventually came out to Ten 103 resort. This was based on a small pebbly cove just before Long Beach. After being nosey at their place we continued along the coast and walked all the way up Long Beach to crusoe just checking out the other places. As we passed by Crusoe we were greeted by a very friendly and familiar face- we had found Niels (a friend from Laos/ the gibbon experience). We knew he may have been on the island but we weren’t sure if our dates coincided with his or where he was staying so it was a happy coincidence that we happened to pass by. We spent the rest of the day chilling out at Crusoe resort- they had great places to chill out and it meant we could catch up with Niels. As it happened the family that owned Crusoe had actually gone away for Khmer New Year leaving Niels, another guy, a couple and the boat Captain there. This meant they had free rain of the resort but that they had to go out each day to get food supplies from the mainland on the boat, do chores around the resort to keep it in working order and cook as a group. It had made for a great experience for them all apparently and had actually made it cheaper then they would have been able to buy meals from the family. We had some drinks with them and did a bit of snorkelling as it was good by them with lots of fish before making our way back through the jungle before it got too dark. In the evening we played cards, had dinner and then Dave built a bonfire out of the few bits that had been collected in the morning. We sat around the bonfire watching the stars and listening to Thajis, Nathan and Lillie play and sing.
We ended up in a bit of a routine for the rest of our mornings on the islands. We would wake up with sunrise, go for a swim, collect a bag of rubbish before it was too hot, shower and eat breakfast. All generally before 9am which is ironically the most productive we have probably been in the mornings on this trip. In the afternoon we returned to Crusoe to spend time with Niels and we joined their group for a boat tour around the island for a couple of dollars of fuel each. We stopped at the elephant rock which is a popular cliff jumping point from the top. It’s not too high at only about 7m but as me and Dave stood at the top it looked a lot higher and we got incredibly nervous. I went to jump a couple of times and then freaked myself out and stepped back, having to sit down due to having jelly legs. We watched a couple of the others jump and then Dave managed to get up the courage to jump. I am glad he did as I was then able to jump. Unfortunately, I was thinking way more about just forcing myself to jump than to think about how I was jumping and I entered the water in more of a seat position which hurt a lot. The backs of my legs both went numb and instantly came out with huge purple bruises. We were glad we managed to do it, but neither of us feel the need to ever jump off of a cliff again. Been there, done that, hated every second. We relaxed on the boat with some beers in the sun whilst we went around the island. We saw Cambodia’s naval fleet of about 3 boats, the fishing village and then we stopped back at the Last Point as the guys wanted pizza from our place before they went back. Plus it meant we didn’t have to walk back through the jungle in the dark (and with very sore legs) which was a bonus. My bruises made it very difficult to sit on the benches of the bar at the Last Point though.
Our next few days were very chilled out. We completed our morning routine and then chilled out at the bar as there wasn’t really anywhere else to sit due to the sandflies on the beach. On one day we spent the morning going up and down the beach collecting wood for another bonfire which was very nice but with fewer people this time. As we were at the Last Point during the day we participated in Klang O’clock for these days and then sat watching the colours of the sky whilst the sun was setting. We swam with the plankton a couple more times too as the sea was clear and the sky was dark making the plankton really stand out, it was an incredible experience. On one evening we decided to try Kactus for dinner as their food was supposed to be delicious. We chilled reading on their terrace beforehand and then had a nice meal.
On our last morning, we got up slightly earlier as the sun was beginning to rise about 5 am and sat watching the whole sunrise on the beach. It was gorgeous reds and pinks, a very peaceful experience with lots of us out all watching nature be miraculous in silence. We had breakfast and took a few photos of the place as we hadn’t really had our cameras out much whilst we had been there. Then with slightly heavy hearts, we said goodbye to new friends and the island boarding the boat back to the mainland. By the end of our time there we both understood how people end up staying there longer. You begin to appreciate the simplicity of it as well as just taking time to see nature in its element and beauty. It is somewhere that we have been recommending to people since if they are heading that direction. Unfortunately, there are plans for a chinese casino to be built on the island with Ten103, Crusoe and Na’s bungalows at least having to leave their resorts by January 2018. Although Kactus and the Last Point are safe for now the island will not be the same and it is probably only a short time before they have to leave too. So get there while you can to experience this place!