Island Rhythms

By Jane Mountain | April 28, 2014

13,260 km so far.

Even though being here on Koh Ta Kiev is far removed from our normal routine, it didn’t take long to develop a simple island rhythm of our own.

Slow Dawn

Our bungalow, The Crab Shack, is a stilt shack, raised about 5 feet off of the ground. It has 3 walls. Where the 4th should be, we have a curved wooden railing and a view onto the brilliant blue bay.

bamboo hut island view cambodia

View from The Crab Shack, Koh Ta Kiev.

The dawn light tugs at our eyelids early, and we gaze out to sea, listening to the sound of exotic birds waking the jungle with their calls.

At this hour, the water is smooth and clear, barely a ripple hitting the shore. It beckons to us, so we drag our slow bodies out of bed, climb down the four round rungs of our ladder, and step out onto the sand.

If there is no one around, we slip into the water naked, enjoying the feel of the early morning coolness on our skin.

Though the sun has barely risen, the water is already warming up, like a hot tub on low.

Cold Buckets

The water is also dense with salt, meaning we effortlessly bob around, watching the sea bed for sea urchins and crabs. After we get out, we’re covered with a sticky, salty crust that stings the various nicks and cuts we’ve achieved since arriving on the island. We wrap ourselves in our towels and, barefoot, wind our way along the jungle path from our cabin to Ten103’s shower stalls.

The path is mostly smooth sand or fallen leaves, but we have to watch our step carefully. There are sharp roots that poke out from the ground unexpectedly, hard edges on smooth boulders that want to jab our soles, and jungle creatures – tiny green lizards, rambling hermit crabs, and juicy millipedes – to watch out for.

Jungle creature, Koh Ta Kiev.

Jungle creature, Koh Ta Kiev.

The showers are housed in a series of cubicles made of brick and woven bamboo, about 3 ft square each. A large plastic water bucket sits in the corner, filled with water from one of the resort’s shallow wells.

There is a plastic scoop with a small handle that we dip into the water, and then splash down over our sticky bodies. It is refreshing, despite its musty smell, and I can’t help gasping a little as the cold water hits my sunburned back.

Clean and fully awake, we wrap ourselves back in our towels – there’s no need to dry off, as the hot air will dry us in minutes – and pick our way back to The Crab Shack.

Stretching and Yawning

Back in our bungalow, we serve ourselves bowls of muesli and stretch out, Stephen swinging in the hammock and me on the bed.

We spend a little time watching the traffic jam of termites, all taking the slow march home from a long night of work. One by one by one, they make their way along our bungalow’s railing and up a post.

From there, it’s onto the roof, along a tree, and off into the forest, where the coolness of their sandy mound awaits.

Termite army, Koh Ta Kiev.

Termite army, Koh Ta Kiev.

When watching the jerky robot movements of the termites gets dull, we grab our computers and get down to work, writing blog posts and editing photos. We will be monumentally behind once we return from this little holiday-within-a-holiday, and we want to be able to post everything as soon as possible.

Lunching and Lounging

By lunchtime, we are ready for a little more action.

We head back along our jungle path to Ten103’s bar and restaurant area. A circular deck sits under the shade of a huge tree, which not only keeps us cool, but also hides the bar from view when you’re out in the bay. There are bamboo mats and cushions spread all over the deck, where vacationers lounge, sipping fruit shakes, iced coffees, or cans of Klang.

Poring over the menu, we pick from Khmer curries, pancakes, bruschetta, and big plates of noodles for our lunch. The food costs about twice what it would on the mainland in a tourist restaurant, so I try not to worry too much about the prices. We know we are paying as much for the atmosphere as the food.

The friendly staff, a mix of temporary foreign staff and Cambodians, sets about preparing our drinks and food while we stare out to sea.

The generator is only run in the evenings here, so everything is prepared without the aid of electricity or running water. Ice for our drinks is chipped away from the huge ice blocks that the boat delivers every day, and the meals are cooked in sturdy woks and pans over open fires, just like we’ve seen on our travels throughout rural Cambodia.

Recovering From An Exhausting Morning

After checking out the newbies, who arrive on the boat around noon, we head back to our cabin to see if we have any neighbours tonight. Each cabin is separated by at least 50 m of dense jungle, so it really doesn’t matter if someone is next door – we can’t see or hear them anyway.

After all our hard work in the morning, the afternoon is for relaxing. I devour my Kindle books while Stephen sits in the sunny corner of our cabin, working on getting rid of his ridiculous cyclist’s tan lines. Without fail, a stiff breeze blows up just after noon, keeping our cabin around 27C, while the air outside rockets up to around 40C.

Occasionally, another guest wanders past our open cabin along the beach, and we lazily watch them until they are out of sight.

We spend the afternoon reading, staring out to sea, and slipping into the water for lazy swims when the heat gets too much.

Dinner And Drinks

The evening is for socialising, so we gather with fellow guests around the long benches at the bar. Each night, there’s a different drink special, and while we sip on cocktails we chat with the other beach bums about destinations, vacations, and life back home. The majority of guests here are heading home in a few days, and we don’t envy them at all.

At 6pm, the electricity comes on, and we are highly entertained by the bar staff’s variety of musical choices. There’s Miley Cyrus, Efterklang, Childish Gambino, some American country pop, generic white reggae, and lots of rap-pop we’ve never heard.

A dinner special is on the menu every night, and I try it twice. Each time it includes a cut of locally caught fish. This is huge for me, since I haven’t eaten fish for 7 or 8 years. I have to admit, it is delicious.

It is a bit of an ethical conundrum though: is it wrong to eat a locally caught, sustainable fish?

My emotional side says yes, my logical side says no.

But I know it is good to test my long-held beliefs now and again, to make sure I still hold them. Stephen reminds me that fish is certainly a gateway meat, and that it’s a slippery slope to bacon or cannibalism. I argue that if the humans are sustainably harvested, then what’s the problem?

Slippery slope or not, I know that once we leave the island, I won’t be eating fish again soon.


After dinner and a few drinks, we strap our headlamps on and return along the dark jungle path. Everything looks different at night, and the twists and turns that have become second nature in daylight often lead us the wrong way in the dark. A few times we have to backtrack to find our way.

Emerging from the jungle onto the beach in front of our cabin, we gaze up at the stars, brilliant in the secluded sky.

Finally, we are back home. We slip under the mosquito net and flop down on top of our silk sleep sheets – it is far too hot for covers. We lie back and relax as the rustle of the jungle lulls us to sleep.  

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