Fresh off the plane from Bangkok, with a bellyful of that Cambodian breakfast of champions, pork and rice, I packed myself — along with Lina and two of our friends— into an aging beige Toyota Camry, the driver of which seemed none too pleased to be carting a bunch of pale-skinned Westerners on their winter holiday.
Our destination: Nomad’s Land, an earthy little beachside guesthouse on the island of Koh Totang, in the Gulf of Thailand.
We sped out of the city on what I came to realize was a typical hair-raising Cambodian road experience, and through the ravaged Koh Kong province forests, along red dirt roads flanked by isolated stilt houses and the occasional bicyclist. At one point, we approached what I was sure was a dead end — a river bisected the road. We watched, across the river, as a diminutive barge about the size of two cars — and seemingly powered by an old lawnmower engine — slowly sidled up to ferry us, and our car, across. Eventually, we arrived at the tiny, trash-strewn seaside village of Poyopone, ramshackle except for the occasional black Lexus. From here, a small fishing boat piloted by two teenaged boys took us on the thirty minute journey across the gulf to Koh Totang.
For this northeastern-bred American, the trip to Nomad’s Land was nothing short of spectacular: the turquoise water lapping at the boat, the lush green islands dotting the horizon, the palm trees lilting in the wind, the gray, weatherbeaten dock extending from the shore. We were greeted on arrival by proprietors Ariane and Karim (and Nomad, the somewhat bedraggled but friendly island dog) who welcomed us warmly, showed us to our bungalows, and filled us in on some basics.
Nomad’s Land is an eco-friendly guesthouse. In this case, that means minimal, solar-powered electricity (device charging hours are strictly observed, and the evening’s lighting is dim — don’t expect to stay up late here), composting toilets, rainwater catchment showers (complete with the occasional tiny fish!), and fresh, local food. The accommodations are minimal, but a step above the typical thatch-roofed bungalow. Lina and I shared the Fish in the Sky double overlooking the ocean — the porch outside was the perfect place to watch the sun rise — our friends’ bungalow had a fun little sleeping loft and second-story balcony. The food is delicious, the staff welcoming (when they aren’t all speaking French) and the island itself sublime. There are strategically placed hammocks all over the island — no need to worry about a shortage of relaxation.
There are no other services on Koh Totang — no banks, no restaurants, nothing. (Bring enough money to get there and back — and pay for your stay — to avoid having to sheepishly hit up your friends.) Just jaw-dropping sunrises, phosphorescent plankton, and the kind of simple fare that’s easy to serve up when you’ve got fresh ingredients from the mainland and the sea at your feet. During communal dinners, we ate some simple grilled squid, curried yellow lentils, and other earthy, uncomplicated but tasty fare. The breakfast fruit bowls, topped with toasted sesame seeds, are delicious. (The regular and Khmer coffee seemed to be instant, which was kind of a bummer.) Anchor in the can is imported from the mainland — we spent a lot of time in the comfortable beachfront lounge quaffing brews while gazing out over the water.
Nomad’s Land is a great way to spend a few days decompressing from the sweaty hustle of city life. (And if an ass-crunching car ride is not your idea of a great way to start a holiday, they offer pickups near Koh Kong and Sihanoukville as well.)
T: 855 11 91 61 71
Frances Duncan is a freelance interactive designer and content strategist — and the designer of the Move to Cambodia website.