Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
Two small islands, named ‘Song Saa’ or the ‘Sweethearts’ lie like ink droplets in the Koh Rong Archipelago. Song Saa is an idyllic island hideaway with its own time zone and pace of life. Discovered by Rory and Melita Hunter on their honeymoon sailing adventures around the area, they wanted to create a sustainable luxury escape that would transform this part of Cambodia and benefit the local community and environment.
Arrival on the island is by boat from the mainland, passing the larger island of Koh Rong, you get your first glimpse of Song Saa. The wooden pavilions suspended over the sea hint at the rustic luxury that defines the property. On landing your first desire is to kick off your shoes and sink your feet into the powdery white sand and crack open a coconut. Barefoot is the best way to wander around this lush tropical paradise, and is a style that encapsulates their laidback chic and eco ethos.
Shaded sandy pathways meander between the villas, restaurants, spa and hidden enclaves on Song Saa. There are different style villas, up the hill in the jungle, suspended over the sea or little private beached oceanfront. Tropical modern mixed with an eclectic bohemian styles create a clean yet warm space in the villas. Reclaimed wood from the local fishing boats and local sustainable timbers are used throughout carrying onto the decking outside creating a linear living space between the interiors and nature.
The interiors by Melita Hunter blend understated elegance with desert island chic to create the perfect haven for your stay. Wake up from the softest oversized beds and dive straight into your pool, soak in a huge terrazzo bath in the modern Moroccan bathrooms and feel free to explore the island or simply slip into the motto of the island ‘do as little or as much as you want’. The serenity of the sea, the passing of the local community and shaded pagodas create a feeling of complete relaxation. Meals can be brought to you and starlit dinners in your pool or a pop up cinema screen with popcorn elevate a ‘night in’ into an everlasting memory.
Secluded spots and sanctuaries are dotted around the island on the beach, pool area and shaded by tropical trees. A large infinity pool is a place to unwind and stare across the azure ocean. To discover this beautiful seascape there is a diving and water sports centre for scuba diving the nearby reefs, kayaking or grabbing a snorkel to explore the dazzling house reef bustling with tropical parrotfish and even turtles. A quick hike across the bridge between the two islands and through the lush hilled smaller island will bring you to an outcrop of rocks that you can leap or lumber off for some amazing snorkelling and sparkling shoals and rainbows of fish.
Two restaurants are a few steps away and with everything included in your stay you are at leisure to stop for lunch or a glass of wine on a whim. The Driftwood Bar is on the beach and serves a sophisticated mix of fresh sushi, from local fish, and fusion dishes as well as pizza’s and Mezze. Its a relaxed setting with coconut palms above and sand below your toes. Fishing boats sail past from the local villages that provide fresh seafood and organic produce for most of the dishes on the island. Dinner is always a special occasion and personalised little notes to invite you to a bespoke dining experience.
One night is a fresh seafood barbeque under the stars of grouper, prawns and calamari accompanied by cold dry sparkling wines. From your table on the sand you can hear the waves gently lapping but walk back through the water and the natural phosphorous mirrors the thousands of stars above you between your toes. This magical affinity with nature infuses every part of your stay. Fine cuisine balanced with healthy nutrition is integral to the balance between the body and the bio system that is part of the Song Saa philosophy.
Wellbeing is integral to your stay here and a visit to one of the sanctuaries for a spa treatment is essential for the holistic experience of the island. Treatments can be taken in the shady pagodas by the sea or small villas in the jungle to draw from the energy of nature and provide a more tranquil environment than a set spa facility. A fusion of traditional techniques drawing on ancient Khmer, Ayurveda and healing techniques, such as chakra rebalancing, have been combined to create rebalancing and serene experience.
The two hour Marine Flora Immersion draws on the abundant mineral rich waters around the archipelago. Enjoy a revitalising facial or deep Ku Nye massage followed by a wrap in rich in locally farmed sea lavender, sea lettuce, bio plasma and seaweeds to tone and deeply moisturise the skin with natural nutrients. A prayer and blessing is given to each person as part of the ritual, connecting mind, body and spirit. Stepping away from the stereotypical spa experience allows the traveller to create their own inner journey on the island.
As days draw an end it is time to head over to the Vista Bar & Restaurant. Purple hued sunsets infuse the stilted natural wood structures as you swing on suspended beds as fishing boats putt by. Watching the coming and goings of the villagers is part of the daily comings and goings on the island. The boats are not allowed within a hundred metres to maintain the coral reef and fish stocks. This symbiotic relationship between the community and the island is supported by The Song Saa Foundation and is intrinsic to the beliefs the island was built on.
The discovery centre for the Song Saa Foundation (www.songsaafoundation.org) is located in a small cabana near the dive centre. Guests who are interested in the philanthropic projects established by The Hunters can visit the diverse initiatives that are supported on Koh Rong and beyond. One of the most striking features in the centre is the wall of hope. The latest pride of the funded village school is a young girl who has won a full four year scholarship at Phnom Penh University. The foundation aims to create an integrated three dimensional approach for sustainable development of the sea, people and land through education and community participation. Emma and her team will give you a guided tour of this friendly and bustling Cambodian fishing village.
In 2006 The Hunters vitally established the first marine reserve in this area and in Cambodia to both conserve fish stocks and the coral reef ecosystem, as most people’s livelihoods are tied to the sea. The reefs are continuously monitored for biodiversity and research conducted in ways to preserve the reefs. Luckily this area has been spared the dynamite and cyanide fishing of other parts of South East Asia. Education and sustainable fishing methods are vital through cooperation with the local fishing community.
Working on the land with the local community is just as important from plastic collection and recycling, to composting and permaculture. In 2011 the Song Saa Sustainability Centre was established to educate and let people interact with these methods. The villagers provide many vegetables to Song Saa Private Island. They work in association with medical programmes to check the villagers, and work with international foundations, such as the Monaco Foundation that is remembered fondly as a pretty tough volleyball match with Prince Albert and the local villagers.
Song Saa Private Island is a unique and alluring eco escape for global nomads who really need to escape it all, but at the same time have it all. It combines luxury with simplicity, sustainability, spirituality and philanthropy to create a haven for discerning travellers.
Photos Courtesy of Electra Gillies & Song Saa Private Island
Words by Electra Gillies