SONG SAA: A LITTLE RESORT WITH A BIG HEART by Maggie O'Sullivan
The temples of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat feature on most travellers’ bucket list. But here’s the thing: temperatures in Siem Reap can tip 40ºC in the hottest months, and, glorious though the temples undoubtedly are, visits involve an awful lot of slogging up and down steps. Our advice? Once you’ve done the temples, head south to the coast. From the port of Sihanoukville a speedboat will take you skimming across the aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Thailand to the virtually undeveloped Koh Rong archipelago. And it’s here you will find two tiny, verdant islands. Collectively known as Song Saa (the name means sweethearts in Khmer), this is Cambodia’s finest and most chilled private island resort.
Song Saa opened in 2012. Right from the start its Australian owners Melita and Rory Hunter were set on creating something more than just another ‘flop and drop’ paradise island. Certainly, it has all the requisites of a first-class resort – top-notch restaurant, a holistic spa and 27 fabulous villas not to mention pristine beaches, coconut palms and fringing coral reefs – but that’s only part of the story. The Hunters were determined their island would not only tread lightly on the environment, but would also benefit the local community. They set up a foundation which already initiated many local projects, including one dedicated to returning jungle and mangrove forests to deforested portions of the archipelago.
So, yes, you can while away the hours in your pool on your private sundeck. You can dine by candlelight in the over-water restaurant or take a yoga class as the sun sets. You can sip a sundowner with your feet buried in the warm sand, snorkel over the island’s reefs, spotting turtles, seahorses and tropical fish, or take a romantic trip to a nearby desert island.
But you can also engage with the community – go out at dawn with local fishermen, perhaps, or visit one of the resort’s agricultural schemes. When I stayed, local monks came and gave us a blessing in return for a donation (Cambodian monks play an important part in rural development and are completely reliant on alms). Another day found us clinging on to the back of a cart, bumping down a track to visit a local farm. The farm was a fascinating experience; the cart, hitched to a flatulent bullock, not so much.
Maybe it was the serene setting, maybe it was the surreal appearance of monks in a luxury resort, or just maybe it was all those candlelit sundowners on the beach, but I couldn’t help feeling there was something almost mystical about Song Saa. A stillness. A sense of peace. The perfect antidote, in fact, to the assault on the senses that is Angkor Wat. Add it to your bucket list.
Further information at www.songsaa.com