Life is Sweet
Song Saa is not your run-of-the-mill exclusive private island. Where it has become fashionable for upscale hotels to tout sustainable and eco friendly credentials (just as seasonal and local have become a mantra for restaurants), the husband and wife team behind Cambodia’s first luxury coastal resort walks the walk as well as talks the talk.
As you settle into your villa at Song Saa (the name is Khmer for sweethearts) you’ll notice some of the very stylish interiors are more than meets the eye. That lamp shade is made from a recycled oil drum and that wooden stool from a reclaimed fishing boat…. Co-owner and designer Melita Hunter also sources textiles from an artisan weaver in north west Cambodia who is teaching their skill to land mine survivors.
Wander over to the beach side Discovery Centre and you’ll be able to book a trip to rest of the archipelago where you could take part in an art class or gardening workshop with local school children.
Or you could do nothing at all. Guests can choose to be as involved or not as they like, safe in the knowledge that Melita and Rory Hunter have set up a Foundation to help the local community and improve the environment. They’ve established Cambodia’s first marine protected area and introduced a waste management programme to the archipelago. Future plans include bringing 30 doctors from the US to vaccinate the local community and introducing visiting holistic practitioners such as nutritionists and acupuncturists to the villagers as well as the resort guests.
Philanthropy aside, you can be as exertive or lazy; sociable or reclusive as you choose here. Kayaking and hiking expeditions to and on the neighbouring island are offered (you are rewarded with a beach picnic at the end). And there’s a communal swimming pool and beach (which also houses a thorough looking water sports centre).
When I arrive by speedboat, a 45 minute journey from the mainland, I see one couple take out a sailing boat and another snorkelling but all that looks like too much effort to me. I head back to my Ocean View villa for a book-reading laze on the terrace and maybe a dip in the plunge pool.
The Over Water villas on stilts are the star attraction here but the Ocean Villas have more outdoor space with a terrace, sala and a little patch of beach. The hilltop Jungle villas provide an elevated view of the water but the real rock stars are the two bedrooms in any of the categories which have curved infinity plunge pools. Very cool.
There is no real need to leave your villa – all meals can be delivered to your room and the mini bar (inclusive in the price as is the food) is restocked daily – but you’ll probably be tempted to visit the Vista Bar. Reached by a long, curving wooden bridge that’s lantern lit by night (you may want to watch how many cocktails you imbibe for the journey back), it’s a thatched roofed, open sided part restaurant and part lounge that’s in business from breakfast right through to nightcaps.
The food here is delicious whether it’s Khmer (fish amok, beef curry, Song Saa fried rice) or Western (fantastic French toast or baked eggs and chorizo for breakfast) and beautifully presented. As much as possible, the ingredients are sourced locally.
Up the hillside is the Spa Sanctuary. While there’s no central area with heat rooms and what not the sanctuary is about to increase in size to four treatment rooms with some 55 new therapies being introduced.
When I leave the spa after my final treatment, not only are my sandals placed ready but a gorgeous flower is position between them. A nice touch.
After two nights I’m not ready to leave Song Saa, you’ll want to stay at least three nights here and most stay four but a week would not be too long. Reluctantly I make my way to the jetty to board the speedboat and a chauffeured BMW waits on the mainland to drive me to Phnom Penh airport. Sweetheart, I miss you.
UPDATE: The Song Saa Foundation has now launched four day philanthropy tours, Journeys of Change, bookable from this month (July) through October 2014 where guest will be able to contribute to the sustainable future of the people and places of the Koh Rong archipelago.