Song Saa Private Island is the delightful creation of Rory and Melita Hunter, who poured their hearts, souls and eco-consciousnesses into the double-island resort. Immersed in the pristine tropical surroundings of southern Cambodia and the luxurious beachy-chic style of the overwater villas, the holistic wellness experiences are enhanced by friendly, intuitive service from the Song Saa “family”. A trifecta of healing retreat, blissful hideaway and sustainability pioneer all in one, Compare Retreats’ Expert Catharine Nicol visited the private island for a serene recharge of the body, mind and soul.
Song Saa’s two private islands are located off coastal Cambodia, with the nearest airport at Sihanouk International Airport (KOS). For those travelling from Phnom Penh expect a four-hour drive or a 40-minute internal flight. Alternatively, there are flights starting this July from Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) in Bangkok, Thailand, which will take 1 hour 40 minutes.
The taxi or car transfer (included) from the airport through Sihanoukville town to the port takes 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. From there it’s a 45-minute trip on the resort’s private speedboat into the Koh Rong archipelago and “the sweethearts” Koh Ouen and Koh Bong. Yes, you’re really getting away from it all.
November to July is mostly dry, while the rainy (or “green” season) brings cooler temperatures and lasts August to October. Year-round temperatures hover comfortably from just above 20C to just above 30C, peaking in April. The resort runs on “island time”, so while the pace is deliciously slow, they have also moved the clocks one hour ahead of mainland Cambodia to take advantage of lighter mornings and earlier sunsets.
Staying at Song Saa is a journey of discovery, of the island and yourself. Informal and endlessly charming, winding sandy paths weave throughout the leafy island and wandering explorations are rewarded with unexpected views with mini pavilions and ideal spots for quiet reflection. Song Saa is also a journey of conservation, with information and activities inviting guests to learn about the 100-hectare marine reserve, nearby Koh Rong’s village community and how luxury can comfortably coexist with sustainability.
On Koh Ouen, the main island, guests arrive at the pier to a warm welcome from members of the Song Saa family. At the south here, and ideal for catching the sunset, Vista Bar and Restaurant is across a wooden walkway, with inside dining and alfresco lounge areas for all-day food, snacks and drinks. From here, the path into the island leads past the main pool, watersports and discovery desks, and Driftwood Restaurant. This east side of the island is where you’ll find the mini beach too with loungers for sunning, while cabañas are secluded in the dappled shade behind the foliage.
At the north end of the main island, another sun-bleached wooden walkway leads to the Overwater Villas, and on to the smaller, wilder island of Koh Bong, while the Jungle and Beach View Villas are found in the secluded middle and west of Koh Ouen. The island’s interior is also home to the Song Saa Spa Sanctuary with its charming reception and super-spacious treatment villas.
Song Saa is a one-off: it feels intimate yet carefree, far from home yet cosy and comforting. And within this super-relaxed barefoot atmosphere, you can be as indulgent or as healthy as you wish, making it a very flexible destination.
Spacious and full of light during the day and delightfully atmospheric at night, the 24 villas on Song Saa are both environmentally constructed and beautifully designed. Made up of Jungle Villas, Beach View Villas, Overwater Villas (all in one or two bedroom versions) and one Royal Villa, expect soaring fragrant thatched roofs, linen-draped four-posters, L-shaped sofas and phenomenal trunk-style minibars filled with goodies, both snack and liquid.
Overwater Villas have a glass window for the ultimate sofa-view down into the turquoise water, while all are full of delightful touches: much of the art and furniture, for example, comes courtesy of repurposed wood, like the bath rack, which is a driftwood plank turned tea-light holder transforming a bath into a romantic experience.
Outside, decking with daybeds and alfresco showers look over private pools and either out to sea or into lush greenery, where you’ll likely spot a hornbill or two.
The amenities are Bodhi, Cambodia made and a delight to use, although the resort is working hard to replace the plastic bottles in which they are packaged. At present, the in-house water is also offered temporarily in plastic, due to an upgrade to the water system. The good news here is that the empty bottles are being repurposed by the enthusiastic staff for their new canteen.
The executive chef and his team create super-fresh, seasonal dishes from organic ingredients, as many as possible sourced locally and many from the island itself. There are lots of vegetarian and vegan options, and dietary requirements can be taken into account. Always informal and relaxed, with inventive cocktails and a substantial wine list, guests can detox or celebrate, or something in between.
Inventive options start at breakfast at Vista, where fruit is served on cold rocks to keep cool, and dishes span from Western-style continental goodies to local Khmer breakfasts like Cambodian noodle soup.
Lunch is a movable feast: return to Vista, or head to Driftwood Bar. The Ibiza-style hangout is all about the tunes, the breeze, sea views and the wood-fired pizza oven. The menu also offers spectacular tapas options like the sashimi and sushi plate, plus light western options like the Caesar salad. My favourite lunch was to order sashimi of the day from Driftwood, then barefoot it over to the one of the cabañas beside the main pool to eat while gazing at one of the best views of the island.
If you arrive at the resort on the speedboat sailing just after lunch, you’ll find a little packed lunch box of paper rolls and fruit waiting in your minibar, a delicious and super fresh snack as you settle in.
Destination dining happens in the evenings, with tables set up in secluded corners around the island. The beachside BBQ is a must, and Driftwood is ideal for a more relaxed, easy dinner. Alternatively, Vista Bar’s alfresco lounge takes the pace down for pre-dinner cocktails and selfies with the sunset, then move into the restaurant for sofa seating or romantic front-row sea views on the deck where white tablecloths gently undulate in the breeze.
The focus is on light and local, organic and sustainable, while the quality and presentation is fine dining. Freshly caught fish (from outside the marine reservation of course) is a popular choice, but there are also plenty of meats to choose from. Look out for dishes featuring the famous Kampot pepper sauce (Kampot is a few hours along the coast) and there’s a selection of local salts to choose from too.
Guests are asked to complete a “Personal Preference Menu” via email before their stay at Song Saa to outline their priorities and goals: do you want privacy or activities, what kind of diet would you like to follow, would you like a yoga mat placed in your room? My focus on wellness resulted in a tailor-made programme that spanned my three nights and combined spa treatments, spiritual experiences, adventure and environmental activities. An average day looks something like this:
06.30 Meditation on Koh Bong’s meditation rock
08.00 Yoga with Mana
09.00 Breakfast at Vista
10.00 Activity – kayaking in the mangroves (tide depending), Sala Song Saa tour
13.00 Lunch at Driftwood or by the pool
14.30 Spa treatment in a villa or a secluded spot on the island
17.00 Sunset drinks
20.00 Bioluminescence water tour or night spa
Sunrise is a daily highlight, whether you have the ideal view from your villa’s bed, daybed or pool, or need to head to another side of the island. It’s well worth it to walk the 15 to 20 minutes over to Koh Bong’s meditation rock. Follow leafy trails through virgin rainforest to the soundtrack of birdsong until you come to the shoreline and climb onto the meditation rock for the perfect place to welcome in the new day. (A little bag at the entrance to Koh Bong stands by to take any rubbish found to have washed up on the island’s shores, empowering every guest to do their environmental bit before breakfast.)
The monk blessing enhances any personal spiritual intentions for your stay. For me, the beautiful experience took place in a secluded pavilion beside the sea, where the sound of the waves combined with the chanting of the two monks as they delivered their Buddhist ritual of sound and spiritual healing.
Complimentary for all guests is morning yoga, which takes place beside the main pool with instructor Mana, also the spa manager. Mats are arranged to salute the rising sun reflecting on the ocean while Mana leads you through a variety of healing asanas beneficial for all levels. Meditation is also available on request.
The Song Saa Spa Sanctuary reception and villas are in the middle of the island, but treatments are available anywhere, creating what Song Saa calls their “spa with no walls”. Massages could take place in your room, in a beachside pavilion or by the pool, and treatments include body scrubs using Khmer ingredients like Koh Rong coconut oil massages for easing desk-weary muscles, and facials using more natural ingredients as well as Divine Ila products. A special experience is the Night Spa: gentle treatments designed to align with nature and the end of the day leading to a truly healing sleep.
There’s also an air-conditioned gym with a stunning ocean view, for those who prefer their fitness to be cool and measurable, with PTs on hand when required.
Naturally many of the activities revolve around the beautiful turquoise waters, such as snorkelling, paddleboarding, kayaking and sailing. There’s guided snorkelling, although you can take yourself offshore with masks and fins for an underwater look at the marine reserve. Bear in mind, it is still regenerating, and look out for inhabitants like the stunning silver slivers of light that is the local shoal of needlefish, but be careful of the sea urchins.
The Sala Song Saa tour explores the work of the Song Saa Foundation with a walk through Koh Rong’s Prek Svay village, which has benefited from their support in the form of the marine reserve, waste and recycling centres, education and infrastructure support. This is a must-do, and complimentary to all on the all-inclusive stay.
Song Saa was smaller, friendlier, and more charming than I expected, and I loved the informality of wandering everywhere with bare feet, the open friendliness of the Song Saa family and the anything-anytime philosophy.
The combination of wellness delivered by nature and the resort from dawn to beyond dusk resulted in three days of restful immersion in the blues and greens of the surroundings, hands-on healing from the genuinely caring therapists and spiritual healing and intention creation courtesy of the monks. I felt like a load had been taken off my shoulders and would have gladly spent many more days on the island. I would return to Song Saa in a Cambodian second — the mix of TLC given to guests and the environment, the inventive and healthy food and the lack of noise, light and urban pollution was an absolute tonic.
Guests are island-bound (other than trips to Koh Rong) while at Song Saa. The 45-minute speedboat journey to the mainland vetoes easy trips for alternative tours, restaurants and more urban experiences. So for those who find island life stifling, this isn’t the place for you.
The adventurous activities like the mangrove kayaking and the bioluminescence swim added a welcome touch of fitness and learning about the surroundings: the mangrove kayak tour is a putt-putt boat ride away, where Mr P guides you along the river and explains the eco-system while you immerse yourself in the flora and fauna of the underwater world.
The two-bedroom Royal Villa is phenomenal. The huge living space includes a kitchen that will make you green with envy, dining for up to 12, and a half moon pool with circular day beds. It’s the ultimate group or family home-from-home.
Ask for Maisie to take you on the Sala Song Saa tour. She lives and breathes the work that the Foundation are doing, is completely charming, and a total hit with the local kids who flock to her during the tour.
At the moment Song Saa doesn’t have a lounge at the port, so if possible time your arrival for the speedboat departure, as it’s not the most salubrious place to wait around.