Song Saa: The private island luxury resort you can’t miss in Cambodia
A private island in Cambodia? Huh?
I thought the same thing when I was looking up where to stay for my 9-day trip exploring the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Of course I knew I had to see the iconic Angkor Wat, whose thousand-year-old temples make up the largest and arguably the most impressive religious monument in the world. But, being the beach-addict that I am, I desperately wanted to explore the Cambodian Coast, and experience the islands that I had been hearing so much about lately – the islands that were being called the next Thailand and deemed just as beautiful as Bali but still so undiscovered. I had to get there.
I had seen a few mesmerizing pictures of Koh Rong on Instagram, with its perfectly deserted-island-vibe beaches, so I knew that was one of the top spots to go on the coast. Koh Rong Island looked like nothing but beach bungalows, crystal-clear aqua water, and coconuts. Sign. Me. Up.
But when I started researching where to stay in Koh Rong, I was a little at a loss. Despite being a stunning, exotic Southeast Asian island, there weren’t many options. (More proof that Cambodia is on the brink of becoming the world’s next big destination, but is still relatively undiscovered). I found a few beachside bungalow-type guesthouses that you could stay in at incredibly reasonable prices (anywhere from $15-$80 a night), a couple hostels, and very few hotel options. I knew one of the beachside spots could be fun for a couple days living the deserted island dream, but, let’s be honest, I can only go so many days without good AC and good wine– I was looking for something a lot more luxurious.
And then I found Song Saa Island.
The white-sand, sun-soaked, five-star answer to all my Jetset Cambodian vacation planning prayers.
Located just off the coast of Koh Rong, on an island all its own, this private island paradise resort seemed too good to be true – like somewhere I could only dream of.
Somewhere where the beaches are pristine, the infinity pools drop into endless shades of blue horizon, the hospitality and service is world-class, and everything from the five-star food, to the water activities, to the cocktails and wine, is all-inclusive. Yes… that’s right, I said all inclusive. And we’re not talking cheap-resort-in-Cabo all-inclusive (although, don’t get me wrong, I love a good Club Med), we’re talking 5-star, world-class, luxury all-inclusive. We’re talking freaking private island all-inclusive. Yes, on Song Saa, you may have to pay for the luxury you’re getting in the cost of your room, but you won’t have to touch your wallet your entire time on the island. In fact, you won’t have to put your shoes on either.
After all, the motto on this fine-sand island is “barefoot luxury”, and it’s incredible.
How to Get to Song Saa
To get to the island, we flew directly into Sihanoukville, which is about 3 hours away from the capital Pnomh Penh (So you could technically fly into there as well and find ground transportation between the two).
In Sihanoukville, Song Saa will arrange a transfer for you to take you from the airport to the port, where Song Saa’s luxury private speedboat will be waiting, complete with eager attendants offering us cold towels, waters, sodas and Angkor beers to make your 45-minute journey to the island as easy as possible.
Stepping into paradise, and setting your clocks to “Island Time”
The first thing we did when we set foot on the island was set our clocks to island time. That’s right- Song Saa operates on its very own time zone. Which is fitting for it feeling like a whole other world. It’s only an hour different from Cambodian mainland time, but “island time” is designed to align your body & mind with sunrise and sunset, tailored so that you won’t have to miss a single epic, cotton-candy-colored sunrise breakfast or sunset dinner throughout your entire trip. It also helps to get you into that sublime, mega-relaxed mindset… urging you to forget about everything that exists outside of the beautiful island utopia in front of you.
What makes Song Saa so special
Song Saa is a paradise unlike any other, it’s transporting. Everywhere you look, you can’t help but be in awe — this is the resort of your dreams you didn’t even know to dream of. It’s a place that you didn’t know could exist in real life. Everything is almost too perfect.
It isn’t ever crowded and is serenely quiet all the time, creating a romantic, relaxed vibe throughout the whole island. The island has only 24 villas, meaning, at Song Saa’s greatest capacity, you are one of maybe 40-something guests on the entire ISLAND. Which makes you priority number one for all of the Song Saa staff.
The attentive, yet unobtrusive, service is unlike any other I’ve ever experienced, as the staff seems to anticipate your every need before you even have a chance to ask for it. They’re graciously at your beck and call for anything and everything you should want or need while on the island, but they’re unnoticeable unless you need them. They want you to enjoy the island as if it’s your private island, but with all the amenities that make it your perfect trip.
The whole thing feels a little like heaven, and you’ll have to pinch yourself every so often to convince yourself it isn’t just a dream.
Should you not want to completely disconnect (because let’s face it, you’re going to want to Instagram every single part of this island), even the wifi here works better than my wifi at home. (Yes, on an island in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand- don’t ask me how they do it, but they do). Song Saa makes sure that nothing is short of perfection for your entire stay here.
Five-star dining at Song Saa
The food at Song Saa is the best you’ll find anywhere in Cambodia. Much of it is farm-to-table, and grown right on the island in the “chef’s garden”. Even their sea salts are hand made on the island! The seafood is fresh and so delicious, (I had poolside sushi and sashimi at least once or twice a day) and even the pizzas are to-die-for for those times you just feel like a little tropical ‘za.
In-villa dining is provided around-the clock should you want it, and dinner is adorably called ‘destination dining’, and served in a different surreal location around the island each night, so you can experience everything from a moonlit dinner on the sands of the beach to a candlelit one in their restaurant, to a romantic meal beneath the stars by the pool. Every menu is different, and is delivered to your door in a message-in-a-bottle style scroll each day.
After all, this is the hotel has earned such honors as a Top 20 Resort in Asia by CondeNast, The Top Resort for a honeymoon in Asia, Australia, or New Zealand by Brides Magazine, a top 10 Resort in The World award by Traveller’s World Awards in 2016, and a Top 100 Best Hotels in the World by Town & Country. It is one of the very best in the world, and deserves every accolade.
The Villas at Song Saa
Let’s talk about my favorite part of my experience at Song Saa – the villas. Song Saa features 24 villas in total, a few jungle villas, overwater bungalows, and ocean-view villas. Each spacious villa is intricately designed in a beautiful modern-island-bungalow (or should I say jungalow ) theme, and features its own private villa pool, which makes an all-too-perfect setting for your long, relaxing island days.
You can’t go wrong with any of the villas. The overwater bungalows boast the ability to dive straight into the ocean off of your deck, but the ocean-view villas have their own private sand beach, and provide a little more space for eating and relaxing at the villa with their 230 square meters. The jungle villas may not be ocean-front, but they are ocean-view, and are nestled in the lush rainforest . Or, if you plan on bringing the whole family, you can splurge for the Royal Villa- a 2-bedroom stunner featuring a huge private infinity pool over the ocean, a beautiful terrace, a kitchen, and a spacious dining area to ensure indulgent island living and complete off-the-grid seclusion. This is the villa I imagine Beyonce stays in when she visits Southeast Asia.
Activities at Song Saa
When you arrive, the staff gives you a long list of activities you can take part in during your time at Song Saa, ranging from activities you can do around the island, like paddle-boarding, kayaking, sailing and snorkeling, to more adventurous waterfall hikes, sunset sailing trips and bioluminescent snorkeling (the water surrounding the island lights up with plankton at night, making for a surreal night-snorkel to remember).
On the island, they offer cooking classes and afternoon tea-making, where you can learn about Khmer traditions and have a relaxing afternoon sipping on freshly brewed teas and snacks made in the garden for you.
You don’t need to sign up for any of these ahead of time, just let the staff know what interests you, and they’ll make sure your itinerary is as booked (or as unbooked) as you want it. There’s plenty of activities to keep you busy, but it’s also easy to spend the whole time poolside in your villa if that’s your island vibe.
Monk Blessings on the island
Definitely don’t miss out on the incredible opportunity to have a monk blessing while on the island. This beautiful ritual is performed by three monks from the local village, who travel to the island just to perform the intimate ceremony. The blessing is a Cambodian buddhist tradition that dates back to ancient times and the meaning of a monk blessing is to protect the blessed from harmful spirits and to balance energies, bringing you peace and happiness into the future. At the end of the blessing, you’ll receive a red woven bracelet from the elder monk, which is something you’ll notice often on locals and tourists alike in Southeast Asia, a representation that they’ve been blessed by a monk. It is a beautiful cultural experience and one of the many ways that Song Saa transports you to a spiritual calm and balance… something that we can all use on vacation.
Song Saa’s Commitment to a Better Cambodia: The Song Saa Foundation
Aside from the gorgeous luxury bungalows, endless water activities, top notch all-inclusive food & drinks, and absolutely dreamy sunrises and sunsets, there is another part of this magical paradise island that really stuck with me, and that’s their commitment to building a brighter future for Cambodia through the Song Saa Foundation.
Many five-star resorts come into a developing country like Cambodia with only their own interests and goals in mind, not making an effort to do their part in making the country they’re stepping into a better place. The Song Saa Foundation, on the other hand, is dedicated to doing just the opposite.
Through countless conservation and humanitarian initiatives that are at the heart of their mission, Song Saa is able to bring fresh water filters, medical care, and educational programs to the villages of neighboring Kho Rong Island, and has pioneered lasting programs for initiatives like trash clean up and marine conservation. In fact, they’ve created Cambodia’s first marine preserve in order to protect the island and promote sustainable fishing in the beautiful waters. And, unlike most resorts that are largely staffed by ex-pats, Song Saa has made it a priority to partner with the local villages to foster a partnership in tourism, hiring around 80% of all their employees from Cambodia, and largely from the local villages. This creates a wonderful opportunity for those in the villages to pursue careers in tourism, which is a hugely prestigious career path in Cambodia (those in the tourism industry tend to make as much as doctors or lawyers in Southeast Asia).
Song Saa has been recognized for its efforts by National Geographic as a leader in sustainable tourism, and has received numerous awards for eco-tourism and sustainability by publications like Travel & Leisure. They are funded through donations, grants, and volunteers, and even offer incredible, meaningful volunteer opportunities while you’re on the island, such as their monthly Boat of Hope missions, should you choose to take part, which give you the opportunity to add an incredibly rewarding experience to your time at one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are also longer programs run by the Song Saa Foundation for those interested in creating an entire trip out of volunteering. If you can’t make it to the island but still wish to donate to these dedicated conservationists and humanitarians that are making a real difference in the developing country, please check out the Song Saa Foundation donation link here.
I consider myself very lucky to have found Song Saa. But, like so many experiences in Southeast Asia, I can’t help but feel like it found me.
Rooms range from around $1000-$1800 a night at Song Saa, and you can book here.
What’s your favorite hotel of all time? I’d love to hear in the comments below!