Step out of your luxury pool villa onto a kilometre-long, palm-fringed white sand beach where swings-for-two skin the turquoise surf. No, it’s not an Instagram #wanderlust dream, but Alila Villas Koh Russey on the Cambodia Riviera. Alila’s signature design mixes contemporary architecture with environmental consciousness and Khmer characteristics with outstanding spa and dining options, and it’s all found on a tropical island just a 15-minute speedboat ride from the mainland. Compare Retreats Expert Catharine Nicol explores this tropical island paradise, the wellness beach retreat and its extensive spa programme…
Within the Koh Rong archipelago, Alila Villas Koh Russey is set on the southwest-facing beach of Russey (Bamboo) Island. Just off the country’s Sihanouk coast, it’s an easy ten-minute drive to their mainland jetty and lounge from Sihanoukville International Airport, followed by a 15-minute speedboat trip, champagne in hand, before the transfer ends at the resort’s private pier.
The resort is set on the southwest of the island, tucked into a bay backed on to the island’s natural foliage. The tropical locale brings high season dry and warm temperatures from November to July topping out in the 30s in April, while rainy season runs from August to October. (The rainy or ‘green’ season is a great time to book a wellness weekend.)
Upon arrival at the pier, staff place a karma (Khmer scarf) around your neck in greeting. A short stroll takes you to the stunningly designed Arrival Lounge and a few celebratory gong strikes to set and cement an intention for your stay, before your butler’s in-villa check-in. The staff are smiley and charming, and English levels are mostly excellent.
It’s a bijou resort: your fellow holidaymakers are likely to be couples and families, but it never feels busy. The short journey through the grounds to your room doubles up as a resort tour. You’ll walk through Horizon restaurant with its generous alfresco seating, get a sneak peek at the beautifully designed infinity pool with its mini-army of loungers, and skirt behind the yoga studio, Spa Alila and Beach Shack Grill and Bar.
Taking the ‘inland’ route, rather than barefooting across the sand as I did most days, makes the villa arrival and views over your plunge pool and lanai towards the beach that much sweeter. The beach, over a kilometre long, is the beating heart of the resort, providing a constantly changing view (and romantic double swings for Insta heaven), while setting the Alila tone of organic and natural rather than groomed and perfect.
Making the most of its tropical location, the resort holds regular outdoor cinema screenings and occasional pop-up partnerships to showcase local Made in Cambodia products. The resort eschews plastic water bottles, is currently completing its own bottling plant and is set to join the brand’s food waste programme soon.
Water sports are on offer all day, like kayaking, SUP and windsurfing, while fishing and night trips to see the phosphorescence can also be arranged. Cook-offs teaching Khmer dishes happen in-resort, while cultural trips zip guests back to the mainland where Ream National Park, Kampot and Kep are popular visits.
The two-story 50 pavilion rooms are stacked in one building and are beautifully designed, with garden views and terraces or balconies overlooking the beach. There are also 13 villas ranging from one or two to four-bedrooms.
The flat roof villas come in one and two-bedroom categories and offer garden or beach access. The piece de resistance is the Beach Estate with four bedrooms, with stunningly luxurious yet simply designed living and dining areas, ocean-facing decks and a secluded position on its own at the head of the beach.
Contemporary and chic, yet delightfully chilled, the one-bedroom villa I stayed in had a spacious open plan feel, flowing from the living to bedroom to wardrobe and bathroom areas; the stone shower and freestanding tub area are set off to one side.
Designed in wood and restful natural tones, other than the local textiles and silks, the colours come from the view. Light, white curtains bookending floor-to-ceiling windows frame your personal tropical playground of a generous plunge pool with loungers, alfresco living sofa and table lanai, and sandy path to the beach. While this compromises on the privacy, the views and open access to the beach more than makeup for it.
Every meal at this resort is an experience, starting with the a la carte breakfast featuring refreshing smoothie bowls, crunchy quinoa bites or Cambodian soup noodles, alongside conventional dishes and juices. I recommend the lemongrass and ginger tea, and the coffee is excellent. Light lunches steer guests towards salads and fresh fish, whether international or Khmer-style. More sophisticated dinner dishes showcase innovative French techniques fused with local ingredients like scallop ceviche or Koh Sramaoch snails with crispy eggplant.
Every meal can be eaten alfresco (weather depending). Overlooking the tiers of water features, infinity pool and tree-lined beach, Horizon’s terrace is the place to sit for breakfast and an iced coffee any time of day. The Beach Shack has a sit-up bar for bartender interaction, and tables on the sand for that casual, Ibiza feel, lazy Khmer-influenced or comfort meals taken with toes in the sand.
Ice-cold drinks can be sipped here or lounging beside your own private plunge pool. Alternatively, head back to Horizon before the sun dips behind the peninsula to witness the lights glow on and the atmosphere transforms into one of balmy romance.
Alila’s ‘Hire Local, Grow Local, Eat Local’ commitment means the F&B team grow some produce in the resort’s fledgeling organic garden, while they work with local suppliers—70% of their veggies are sourced locally, burrata and organic eggs too—to keep the food miles down and local economy humming too.
During my full-day spa retreat, the chefs curated a wellness breakfast, lunch and dinner for me, and special requests are always welcome whatever your chosen dietary regime. With an emphasis on Asian specialities, gluten-free and lactose intolerant guests have many options without going off-menu.
While at Alila Koh Russey, I took part in a full-day spa experience, which was an amazing marathon of wellness activities that started pre-breakfast and lasted post-dinner, with pool dips and sea swims in-between, of course. The programme followed six main areas to organise its activities: Awake, Stretch, Unwind, Refuel, Beautify, Style, Savour, and Dream.
Awake, as the name suggests, began the moment I awoke to a cup of ginger and lemongrass tea with a few pieces of local fruit on the terrace at Horizon, starting off the day with a blissful pause and tea-savouring meditation.
Stretch had me join a group morning yoga class, with instructor Mohit’s lessons following the needs and levels of those keen enough to wake up early. With a gentle warm-up through an energising few series of asanas and a little chanting, you find yourself working hard and reaping the benefits with loosened muscles and a clearer mind afterwards. I also got to try his guided meditation under the resort’s ancient banyan tree. All of this took place before the second half of Awake: breakfast, which was a light refuel thanks to a super delicious smoothie bowl breakfast.
07.00 Beach swim
07.30 Awake: tea and breakfast at Horizon
08.00 Stretch: yoga with Mohit
10.30 Unwind: Asian fusion massage and bath
12.30 Refuel: healthy lunch at Beach Shack
15.00 Beautify: Alila facial
16.00 Style: manicure
18.30 Savour: sunset with healthy dinner
20.00 Dream: acupressure foot massage
Next was Unwind, which took places in the spa. Therapists welcome guests with menu explanations and a precautionary Alila skincare skin test if you’re having a facial. There are just a handful of treatment rooms, each showcasing the signature clean lines and natural materials style of Alila, and beautifully trained therapists. I enjoyed a relaxing Asian Fusion massage of Khmer techniques, pressure point and stretching to ease muscle hot spots and encourage energy flow, borrowed from the dry massage tradition. The delicious coconut milk bath to rehydrate and moisturise the skin meant I emerged into the light of the day fragrant and relaxed.
A little nap later, Refuel at the Beach Shack served up a tasty prawn, salad and sorbet lunch, washed down with a local coconut. And then it was back to the spa for Beautify, a facial using Alila Living skincare’s deliciously fresh products layering cleansing, retexturing and then moisturising and protecting onto my complexion.
Style came next, adding a spa manicure, and then after a little more downtime and some non-alcoholic cocktails beside my plunge pool. I strolled along the beach to Horizon for Savour, a delicious grouper poke dinner. I snuck in a naughty crème brûlée. Sorry Chef!
Finally, one last thing before bed: Dream. A 30-minute reflexology foot massage that eased me towards sleep in the villa’s incredibly comfortable bed.
The day-long wellness was beautifully curated, with just enough downtime between events. I slept incredibly well afterwards. It was a full day of activity that certainly delivered on relaxation and left me feeling pampered and reset.
Spa Alila is a blissfully cool, secluded calm space within the resort. If you’re looking for a place to hibernate and aren’t set on spending every day in the sun, the rainy season is ideal for a wellness stay.
The arrival: Ibiza tunes, with crisps and cookies, Alila Living amenities (refreshing face mist, sunscreen for the speedboat trip and mozzie spray), plus a super nice driver with great English.
The beach: the perfect jogging ground, swimming pool, playground, restaurant venue, backdrop. No two moments look the same with the clouds and sun sweeping across, the sunrises and sunsets bookending the day, the soothing sound of the waves…
Don’t miss Mohit’s chanting. His voice is rich and powerful, bringing the mantras he’s chanting to spine-tingling life. If it’s not included in your programme, make a special request for his guided meditation under the banyan tree.
Your flip-flops are your friends. It’s tempting to wander around sans-shoes your whole stay, but the stone floors and steps get hot under the sun, so bring your Havaianas.
The beach villas come without privacy. So no skinny dipping—at least until the sun has gone down…