I wake to find the mosquito net billowing about me. I raise my head and see Hannah kneeling at the foot of the bed.
‘What are you doing? Why are you messing with the net?’ I’m half asleep still.
‘It’s not me, can’t you feel the wind?’ she sounds a bit harried.
It’s the middle of the night and I’m not in the mood to wake so I lie back down again, but a sudden crack of thunder over head forces me to open my eyes just as a sheet of lighting brightens the room to virtual daylight. Dazed I sit up.
There’s lighting on every side, huge bright sheets that seem very close. Claps of thunder follow the lighting with impressive speed and the wind whips up and up, faster and faster until it’s roaring around our ears and the net is whipping into our faces. The hissing sound of rain on the roof announces that the storm is well and truly here.
I’m fully awake now. We’re in the centre of a massive tropical storm and we’re sleeping in a tree house, some 10metres off the ground (the perfect lighting rod, I think to myself) and open on three sides to the elements.
It seemed idyllic when we arrived this morning. On a secluded bay on the island of Koh Rong, some 2hours by boat from Sihanoukville, we’re the only guests at this virtually new guest house; the owners, local girl Nuch Ros and her Turkish husband Bora Ozturk, are still building the restaurant and other bungalows.
We are also the only passengers on the boat overnighting here and when we step off onto the rickety pier by the tiny fishing village that calls this bay its home, we walk along a mile long curve of white sand bordered by turquoise blue sea to get to the cottages. The sky is a deeper shade of blue and the island itself a tropical green.
At the end of the beach we turn off into the undergrowth, following a faded path for another 100 metres and find ourselves on a smaller bay and at the foot of the tree house. There are 10 steps to the shower, which also has beautiful views of the seat, and another 12 to the bedroom. It is utterly peaceful; all we can hear is the soft rush of the sea as it runs in to greet the sand.
We spend the day swimming in the sea, lying on the shade in the sand and resting in the tree house. With sea views on three sides and high enough to catch the breeze it’s a blissful spot to lounge.
Nuch and Bora invite us to join them and their friend Srey Ra for dinner and we sit on the raised platform that serves as their kitchen, ducks, chickens and geese scratching around below, and eat fried rice, hot chips (cooked especially for our western palate) and the most delicious aubergine and beef dish. Thick as paste it is smoky, spicy and very moreish.
At 9pm the generator is switched off so we have an early night. The heat is astounding, 38C perhaps. There’s not a breath of breeze and the hot air sits on us like a heavy blanket. In the far distance the night sky offers a light show as lighting flashes across, sometimes in huge sheets, other times forks that connect the clouds and very occasionally a bolt that strikes the sea like a trident thrown by an angry god.
But now, some two hours later, the temperature has dropped, is dropping by the minute and the room feels almost chill. Our towels and bikinis, which were drying on the rail outside are billowing. I make a dash for it, lighting illuminating the way and rescue what I can. My bikini top and a towel have already blown into the night sky. The rain is pelting down and in through the windows. I'm wet and the edge of the bed is already damp.
We sit and watch the storm attack from three sides, thunder clapping directly overhead, lightening with a photo flash brillians. It feels as if we’re sitting in the clouds themselves. The trees around us sway and bend and thrash. The house creaks and it dawns on us that the tree house is new, it hasn’t yet survived a wet season.
‘Do you think it will be alright?’
‘Should we climb down?’
We giggle a little hysterically but sit tight. The house is sturdy and the storm is just a storm not a typhoon or cyclone. But up high, exposed, it feels first exciting, then nerve wracking and eventually tiring. When the wind finally lets up, an hour or more later, we crash into a relieved sleep and in the morning the island is as beautiful as ever.
The sea is crystal clear, the sky blue. We retrieve my bikini from the bushes nearby and spot the towel, high in a neighbouring tree then go for an early morning swim. We are the only people on the beach, virtually the only visitors on the island. It is a magical and peaceful paradise.
Later Nuch tells us that the island has been bought by an Australian consortium. There are plans for an airport and a large resort but these have been put on hold because of the global financial crisis. It seems churlish but I sincerely hope they never get it off the ground.