….or 14 if you count the dogs.
Or infinity if you count the ghosts….yes that’s right, ghosts. The Cambodians are a deeply superstitious people and ghosts are as real to them as things like Brexit or the possibility of Donald Trump becoming leader of the free world very soon. The island of Koh Totang is apparently so riddled with unruly spirits, explains Karim, the founder of the island’s only hotel, that he has had certain staff members from the local community insist on traveling to work by bamboo raft, the long way round, rather than use the forest path.
While there are plenty of ghosts, as well as some sneaky rats who steal your soap at night, resident chickens who are sticky beaks in all senses of the word, and resourceful spiders keeping watch over our bungalow, there’s also no wi-fi, running water or electricity….so is this purgatory or paradise? If the thought of not updating your Instagram hourly has you despairing for the welfare of your followers, then surely the former. But if your batteries need more recharging than your iPhone 6, you can plug right in here, to Nomad’s Land (named after Karim and his partner’s pet pooch whose battle-scarred face has literally rendered him the island’s top dog.)
After three months on the road, we needed a little break from sightseeing, traveling, eating out, navigating foreign cities, checking into yet another hotel, haggling for taxis/tuk-tuks (first world problems, right?). So putting up our feet and parking our weary little souls at Koh Totang, in one of Nomad’s Land’s five only bungalows, couldn’t have come at a better time.
Life at Nomad’s Land involves doing as little or as much as we choose, but all in tune with the rhythm of the ocean. When we inadvertently open our eyes at 6am, we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our bed to see a heart stopping sunrise, and when we go to sleep at night, it’s to the hypnotic, cathartic, continuous thunder of crashing waves.
The sea is ever present thanks to the open air buildings designed by Karim in which nature is the driving force and central feature (especially the bathroom which makes use of a bucket shower and sawdust toilet. Bath time will never be so unusual, refreshing, natural or memorable as it is on Nomad’s Land!)
There are many ways we choose to fill our day on this tiny island: swimming, snorkelling, fish spotting and day dreaming off the pier, kayaking as far as we dare around the island, and walking the several paths to the other beaches. You can also traverse the whole island if you can muster the stamina and determination against the high, imposing rocks (Phil managed about half way, I didn’t make it a quarter!). Plus, you can try to read your way through the substantial library in the lounge, starting and never ending a game of scrabble, napping in one of the many hammocks, the list goes on! How you’ll ever do it all is a wonder!
And eating of course, which involves meandering over to the common area and seeing what’s being served. Banana pancakes and Moroccan-spiced eggs for breakfast, noodles and fish rolls for lunch (with an ice cold mango shake of course), and surprises for dinner – fish tacos, Thai curries, Asian veggies with cashew nuts, and more. It’s always a pleasure to take your seat at the dining table and see what grub is up, always fresh and healthy, and always accompanied with a chat amongst fellow guests, cold beer, and maybe even a card game that goes into the wee hours.
(I must mention here that every silver lining has its cloud. Koh Totang is paradise for sure and the team have made Nomad’s Land an astonishingly pleasant and comfortable place to stay where the lack of modern luxuries is barely noticeable. But nothing is perfect. While they work hard to keep their beach clean, there is a plastic invasion problem on the other two beaches thanks to the mountains of rubbish in the sea that wash up daily. Karim says he has attempted to clean it before but new crap just washes up again the next day. This is a global problem that’s bigger than Nomad’s Land and bigger than this blog post – and why Nomad’s Land offers a refillable water bottle and unlimited filtered rainwater for $2 – but I just wanted to mention it seeing as some miserable people felt the need to include it in their Trip Advisor reviews of the place. The whole problem certainly makes you think twice about the amount of bottled water you purchase when traveling. We are struggling to keep this to a minimum at hotels that don’t offer drinking water refills, and we are always really grateful to the ones that do. OK, rant/philosophical moment over!)
Five days here goes surprisingly quickly, even though you soon get into a state where you don’t know our care what day it is. Rather poetically, we and the others are the last guests of the season, and after 10 years it is Karim’s last season ever before handing over officially to new Australian owner Nicole. There is something of a last day of school feeling as we say our goodbyes, with everyone heading back to the mainland except for us. We aren’t ready to give up island life yet so we are heading across the water to Koh Sdach to stay in the Yvone guesthouse, run by a mad Frenchman and his Cambodian wife (they are not online, so Karim booked it for us and got us across in his boat).
Our bungalow here is a wooden shack on stilts directly above violently crashing waves and five minutes from the buzzing village, and Didier and his stepsons do a mean seafood feast delivered straight to our balcony.
I’m not sure about the ghost situation here but as we hike to the other side of the island to find the secluded snorkelling spot on our hand drawn map, we encounter one hilarious obstacle after another: a deserted resort guarded by mad barking dogs with no obvious path around them, thigh high fallen trees covered that we must amble across and huge spiders blocking the trail with never ending sticky webs. It’s all part of island life. And we love it, ghosts and all.
Note – the easiest way to get to Nomad’s Land is to get a private car from Phnom Penh that takes you to the small village opposite Koh Totang where you can get a boat transfer to the island. The management will arrange it all for you in advance and will add the cost to your bill.