For a Southeast Asian island escape that’s culture-packed and Maldives-pretty.
Set the scene
Squint your eyes when strolling over Song Saa’s stilted overwater pathways, and for a fleeting second, it could feel like you’ve touched down on a Maldivian atoll. Palm trees leave shadowy patterns on the sand, azure-hued water glitters on the horizon, and kaleidoscopic fish – some as big as human newborns – glide under the glassy surface. And while beach-lolling is very much the main draw for the honeymooning couples and Asian weekenders you’ll meet here, Song Saa is more than just a pretty do-nothing spot. With charmingly ramshackle fishing villages across the bay and an in-house conservationist leading excursions around the resort’s marine reserve, there’s plenty of opportunity for a culture or nature fix.
In 2006, when travel around this part of the country was still at its infancy, Australian designer Melita Koulmandas (who was based in Phnom Penh for work at the time) spotted Song Saa’s twin islands during a two-week adventure around the archipelago. On Koh Ouen, the smallest of the two, she met a fishers’ family, who offered to sell her the islands for $15,000 and a bottle of whisky. After a months-long clean up — fishers from nearby Koh Rong used the islands to dump their trash — and several years of construction later, the Song Saa resort opened as one of the country’s plushest places to stay.
Each villa category plays into a different kind of tropical fantasy. There are stilted overwater villas with portholes for reef-peeping; oceanfront abodes that come with a private patch of sand; and hilltop hideouts ensconced in thick jungle. Each one is Crusoe-chic, with a jade-hued plunge pool out front, and rustic interiors from sun-bleached driftwood, art from salvaged metal, and four-poster beds with breezy linen drapes that billow in the wind.
Food and drink
A little note on your villa’s doorstep every morning will inform you about the dinner options of the day – whether that’s a Khmer-inspired feast at Vista, the resort’s stilted, thatch-roofed restaurant connected via a swirling wooden walkway to the island’s southern tip, or candlelit table on a platform near the beach. For something a bit more familiar, the toes-in-the-sand Driftwood restaurant specialises in fresh pizzas and sushi platters, alongside more inventive dishes such as banana blossom salad and chilled soba noodles in miso dressing. In line with the resort’s eco ethos, both restaurants source their produce as locally as possible – breads are baked on-site and even the cheeses come from nearby Kampot.
Instead of a central spa, there are a handful of seaside pavilions and jungle-clad ‘sanctuaries’ scattered around the two islands. They provide blissful settings for body wraps with local clay and seaweed, herbal compress marma-point massages, and treatments rooted in traditional Khmer reflexology. To make the most of the island’s wild setting, opt for a night spa experience.
After rampant overdevelopment in the 2010s, Sihanoukville, the jumping-off point to the Koh Rong archipelago, isn’t the kind of place you’ll want to spend much time at. But by the time the last casino towers have disappeared into the hazy horizon and the jungle-dripping hills of Koh Rong come into view, that haphazard urban jumble couldn’t feel further away. Song Saa’s private islets sit just a short boat-hop away from Koh Rong, the archipelago’s largest island, where stilted fisherfolk villages such as Prek Svay offer a fascinating peek into life along the Cambodian coast. There are kayaks and snorkelling sets available to discover the islets’ underwater surroundings, while the resort’s speedboats can whisk you to scuba-diving sites and set up picnics on Koh Rong’s honey-hued beaches.
Most of the staff hail from the surrounding area, and many only started their hospitality careers at Song Saa. So while service might not be white-glove sleek, the genuine friendliness and eagerness to please more than makes up for that.
Little ones will love it here. There’s a kids club (albeit somewhat dated), island treasure hunts, and plenty of excursions — local school visits, beachfront picnics, the works — that are fun for all ages. The restaurants serve kid-friendly nosh, and the shallow areas in the pool will deliver hours of splashy fun. A word of warning, though: none of the wooden walkways are fenced, so keep an eye on your offspring at all times.
With a B Corp certification under their belt, Song Saa delivers a textbook case of do-good hospitality. When Koulmandas acquired the island in 2006, she first set up the Song Saa Marine Reserve — a no-fishing zone around the two islands, which over the years that followed allowed fish and coral to thrive. The Song Saa Foundation followed in 2013 as non-profit organisation to protect the natural habitat and communities around the Koh Rong archipelago through sustainability workshops (waste management, mangrove preservation, etc.), healthcare facilities, and education programs.
Sandy pathways, stepping stones and the speedboat arrival will make getting around a challenge.
Anything left to mention?
Upon arrival, guests are asked to set their clocks one hour ahead of the actual GMT+7 time zone Cambodia is part of – Song Saa calls it ‘island time’, and has established this special time zone to maximise sunrise- and sunset views.
Price from: $1024 / night