The 27 hour journey from Los Angeles to Song Saa Private Island was a small, inconsequential price for admittance to paradise. It began with a red eye from Los Angeles to London where I settled for a few days before making my way eastward to Hong Kong and eventually southbound to Phnom Penh. At this point, I’ve lost all sense of time and am mentally preparing for the a 6 hour van ride to the coastline to catch the final stretch – a 40 minute speedboat bound for paradise.
‘Song Saa‘ means ‘the sweethearts‘ in Khmer, a local nickname given to the two tiny remote islands that the resort inhabits in the Koh Rong Archipelago off the coast of Cambodia. A simple overwater recycled wood walkway on stilts connects the two. One island contains 27 luxurious jungle and overwater villas, each equipped with indoor and outdoor showers, spacious bathtub, central AC, WiFi, filtered water, a well-stocked minibar and private dip pool. The other, a nature trail and soon, an expanded spa experience.
I disembark the Song Saa speedboat and am greeted with a cold towel, fresh juice and a warm staff welcome before being escorted down the sand path to my overwater villa. As we review the amenities, I make no effort to hide my wonderment. A glass floor near the lounge shows the colorful schools of fish swimming through the clear, turquoise water. Outside, a private salt water dip pool overflows into the gulf where colorful fishing boats bob up and down in the distance.
While the name “luxury resort” often implies a certain material extravagance, I prefer to think of Song Saa as an experience. The activity center has a variety of amenities available. Guests can grab kayaks, paddle boards and snorkels, schedule a boat tour to the local village on the neighboring island, schedule a spa treatment, take a night-time dip in bioluminescent waters, watch a movie al fresco under the stars, enjoy morning yoga on the platform deck or plan an unforgettable picnic on a secluded white sand beach. Many of the staff members are locals boasting warm smiles, charming accents, and an unparalleled eagerness to make your experience unforgettable.
Song Saa is a revolutionary resort in its region and of its kind, therefore it was important for Australian founders Rory and Melita Hunter to set the right example. When they first came across the sweetheart islands in 2005, the beaches were buried in litter washed ashore from the nearby villages, which at the time lacked proper waste management resources. In 2008 when construction for the resort commenced, Rory and Melita simultaneously established the Song Saa Foundation to preserve the delicate nature of the region and establish a system for waste disposal. The foundation is home to Cambodia’s first marine reserve and is an advocate for sustainability in the Koh Rong Archipelago.
As a younger, ecologically driven crowd takes note of Song Saa’s example, I truly hope that their motto ‘Luxury That Treads Lightly‘, will help pave the way for a sustainable future in tourism.
Far worse than the journey there, was having to say goodbye. The staff congregated on the jetty to wave as the island grew smaller with distance. It seems appropriate with a nickname like ‘the sweethearts’ to quote Pico Iyer who said, “the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” Even today, I can still feel the sense of undiscovered magic from the island – a magic that will inevitably draw me back again.
Bottom Line: Rates appear daunting at first, but keep in mind that all meals, drinks and transfers are included. It’s an experience worth saving up for.