For many of us travelling over Christmas is a dream, to escape the harsh cold winters and instead find ourselves on a pristine beach soaking up the rays! For us we have always fancied experiencing a Christmas abroad, but when we found ourselves on the road this year we almost forgot! After cobbling together a last minute plan we happened upon just that very dream image of a Christmas on a beach…it was perfect, and yet we were left with mixed emotions upon missing this day back home! Here’s our strange, beautiful and mixed up Christmas day surrounded by palm trees, the lapping ocean and sand between our toes (which Shorty despises by the way! Ha) Here is Christmas in Cambodia!
Christmas in Cambodia: A last minute plan!
Christmas this year just seemed to sneak up on us, of course, even in Asia there are Christmas trees, decorations and festivities, but life in general just keeps moving at the same pace. The heat and humidity, strange new culture we were surrounded by and the range of things to do in this region kind of made the Christmas trees here and there feel like strange and ironic examples of western imported culture rather than genuinely making it feel “Christmasy!” For us there is just something fundamentally wrong with it being 35c and Christmas, no matter how many fake snowmen you dot around you just can’t recreate that crisp, cold air and the twinkle of the lights in the long dark nights! But some how Christmas in Cambodia seemed to make up for that and was a perfect Christmas travel destination.
With all our travelling going on it almost slipped our mind that Christmas was coming up and really we had no solid plans. With our visa for Vietnam accepted we were almost temped to cross the border, but there was just something about Cambodia that made us want to stay and subsequently eat into our Vietnamese visa time! Stuck in Phnom Penh a night longer than we expected we were able to keep up with Hilditch/ Diggle Christmas tradition and catch the blockbuster at the cinema that Christmas Eve: Star Wars! Despite it being 8am instead of our usual evening slot we still made it before our bus down to Kampot… now we were really on the last minute and our hasty plan to spend Christmas on a beach was still up in the air! That is until we discovered Koh Tonsay where we would spend Christmas in Cambodia!
Heading down the coast from Kampot to Kep for Koh Tonsay Cambodia!
Kampot was a town we fell in love with almost straight away, the pastel shades of the crumbling french colonial architecture, the laid back traveller vibe, cafe culture, beaches, adventures, local culture and villages ticked every single box… as if we couldn’t love Cambodia any more! Be sure to keep an eye out on a full post about wonderful Kampot soon! But for now its all about spending Christmas on a beach!
But having arrived on Christmas Eve we had no time to spare in getting acquainted with Kampot straight away, it was time for operation Christmas on a Beach to commence with immediate effect! We would leave the delights of Kampot for the next few days! But for now we were headed further down to coast on our newly rented scooter, weaving our way through busy traffic towards the “sleepy” crabbing village of Kep, now full of families picnicking on the beachside and celebrating Christmas Day in their very own unique Cambodian way! It was indeed quite a cool things to experience Christmas in Cambodia!
The stunning coastline greeted us with a warm smile, the beating sun bouncing off the deep blue ocean as the wind sailed in our hair. Here it was about to happen: Christmas on a beach down on Koh Tonsay, this was where we would spend our Christmas in Cambodia!
Taking a local fishing boat over to Koh Tonsay Cambodia!
There are plenty of places in and around Kep and even Kampot we could have Christmas on a beach, but we wanted something extra special! Those around the mainland coastline were packed full of those enjoying the day off school and work and despite looking like they were having a great time, we wanted somewhere a little more sleepy for Christmas in Cambodia.
Having done some last minute research we discovered Koh Tonsay, or Rabbit Island just a short 20 minute boat ride over the shimmering azure ocean! However transport seems to be at the whim of the local fishermen whose traditional long boats we are using, they say a time and you buy a ticket, they generally turn up in the vicinity of that hour. It’s all fun and games until you realise you’ve spent half your Christmas day perched on a ferry port whilst being circled by blood thirsty tuk tuk drivers rather than spending Christmas on a beach!!! Well, it was only an extra 45 minutes but I like to add a bit of drama to the mix for our Christmas in Cambodia post!
The boat finally set off and given its condition I did wonder if we would make the crossing. Swinging from side the side the edges of the creaking blue boat came ever closer to the waves, rising high in the air and crashing back down as the driver rang out a roar of laugher and chomped down on his piece of Bamboo… we were all pretty damp by the time we ran a ground an uncomfortable distance from dry land, but it was an experience nevertheless! A traditional dismount off the sides and into the shallow waters ensued, some of the passengers were happier than others to oblige! Here we were finally able to spend Christmas on a beach!
On our return to the mainland we would find out that the long shallow seabed of this island is totally unsuitable for this type of boat. All the passengers were made to stand at the front and some even got out to help all the other fishermen push the boat off the sand, it makes you wonder why they don’t just build a pier, now I understand why they were 45 minute late for picking us up in the other direction! But its all fun and games and everyone is in a jovial mood and has spent Christmas on a beach!
Finding paradise on this tiny Cambodian Island
Christmas day was already turning out to be a day to remember but upon setting foot on the golden sands of Koh Tonsay we realised just why we had chosen this magical island for this special day. The wind blew gently in through the palm trees and the only buildings on the island were that of the traditional bungalows, apparently the electricity is switched off here every night at 10pm as is the simplicity that still exists here. Despite there being a few other revellers choosing to spend Christmas on this wonderful island there was plenty of the island for everyone to enjoy, I could hardly believe how quiet it was for Christmas day, obviously not so many people shared our enthusiasm for this bumpy ferry ride and random Cambodian island!
We decided initially to have a walk through the many paths on the island, heading into the jungle before coming out at a secluded and rocky beach for stunning views over the bay. By this point we were getting pretty warm! Heading back towards the soft sand of the main stretch of beaches we headed into the water to take a refreshing dip in the warm waters of Koh Tonsay, a perfect way to spend Christmas in Cambodia.
Over this end of the beach the only other people we shared the warm and shallow waters with were a father and daughter team of local fishermen on one of the beautiful traditional boats. Rather than being packed full of drunk backpackers or loud tourists here we found complete serenity, local life and beautiful surroundings, a perfect place for Christmas in Cambodia.
After spending quite sometime in the beautiful emerald waters that surround this remote island we needed some refreshment, but what to have on an island that is 90% palm trees? Coconut water straight from the source of course, and where better to sit back and drink it but on a hammock in the shade! Christmas day is seemed was the most relaxed it had ever been! Sipping the sweet juices of the freshly picked coconut is certainly a change to my Grandad’s famous “Snowballs” we would usually be drinking, but at least the temperature here roughly matches that of my Grandparents house: A furness anytime of year so it does have its similarities with Christmas on a beach!
Mixed emotions about being away for Christmas!
In the end our dream Christmas day was perfect, a wonderful ride down the coast before crossing the ocean to a secluded island, swimming in the warm waters and relaxing spending Christmas on a beach with a coconut afterwards! But somehow it just never actually felt like Christmas, sure there were decorations, we even brought hats, a few people were singing and everyone wished each other a Merry Christmas…but it all just felt kind of fake, like we were just pretending it was Christmas, it was all very surreal and a little bit funny…
That was until you realise that it is in fact the 25th of December, and all your family is gathered around in your Grandparents house just like they do every year….only you are thousands of miles away on the other side of the planet! Today of all days home sickness struck as the day worn on and messages started to ring through, the other side of the world woke up on Christmas morning and shared it on Facebook as our day was coming to an end. Despite the amount of fun we had had we couldn’t help the wave of sadness that washed over us, in reality this could have been any day on the beach and we almost felt like Christmas had passed us by, crossing our path at an unreachable distance. However a late night skype session in which we spoke to a total of at least 15 different people in 2 different cities made us feel a little closer to the action back home! More than anything we felt guilty about Dooku, our pug and baby, being without his parents on Christmas day! Wow, we miss our squish even if we did spend Christmas on a beach!
Travelling the world, backpacking through wonderful countries, having the most amazing adventures and seeing unforgettable things is what we live for. But sometimes, and especially around Christmas, it is those simple comforts of home you crave the most! These are the sacrifices we sometimes have to make, but we just wish someone could have invented a teleporter for this one day, however amazing the beach was!
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