It is in the archipelago of the Koh Rong Islands and described as an "eco-luxe escape spread over a pair of pristine islands [Koh Ouen & Koh Bong, connected by a footbridge] in a self-made [one million square meter] marine reserve". I never knew being 'green' could be this classy. Albert II, Prince of Monaco, is funding the expansion of the marine reserve.
The drive from Phnom Penh was far from pleasant. It took almost 5 hours, with lots of trucks, bikes and roadworks.
Speedboat Transfer to Song Saa Private Island
You leave from Sihanoukville Port Gate 1. There are boats at 10:30am and 4pm and the journey takes 35 - 40 minutes.
The day before I was told the 4pm boat was leaving at 5:20pm instead, because of a delayed flight bringing other guests.
The port is a bit grimy but the staff were so warm & friendly. It is a fun, bumpy and exhilarating trip on a luxury speedboat.
We were given fresh fruit 'canapés' and cold towels before we set off and offered beer or soft drinks. I got a beer but it was so bumpy I gave up trying to drink it and, instead, chatted to the charming English couple, who were the only other guests, and enjoyed the salt spray. What a contrast with the trip from Phnom Penh.
Arrival at Song Saa Private Island
When you arrive you are struck by the dazzling beauty. The main island is smaller, and more picturesque, than I expected, with thatched stone villas in the jungle/rainforest & along the water front. The resort only opened in March 2012.
The green of the waters of the Gulf of Thailand, and the white powder beach, take your breath away. Song Saa is Khmer for 'sweethearts' (because of the two islands) and the Koh Rong archipelago is said to be what Thailand was like 30 years ago (with most of the islands still uninhabited),
Douglas, the General Manager, was there to greet us on behalf of Australian Founders Roy & Melita Hunter. We were given cold towels and welcome drinks as he warned us about sea urchins, told us the island operates one hour ahead of Cambodian time and explained the 'straws' in the drinks were made of a bamboo type product grown by local farmers. The mantra of the place is "luxury that treads lightly".
On the way to my Ocean-View villa various 'sights' were pointed out (eg the main infinity pool, the dive centre etc).
With a four-poster bed, Moroccan lanterns, indoor & outdoor showers etc you could not complain about my villa. It was tastefully designed with incredible attention to detail, this is eco-chic at its best.
Everything is made from 'upcycling' (creative reuse) of materials from old fishing boats, driftwood etc. The design of the island is a balance between rustic/raw and luxurious. However, inside the villas they are just luxurious, with the most beautiful 'mini bar' I have seen in a hotel.
Outside the villa had its own infinity private pool, private beach and views of the South China Sea/Pacific Ocean.
I was told the Over-Water Villas are great at sunset; my Ocean View villa good for sunrise; and the Jungle Villas have perfect views from the hilltop.
Drinks with the General Manager
I then rushed over to Vista's Over-Water bar where Douglas explained he had been interim General Manager, at the owners request, since late last year. He owns a hotel consulting firm based in Hong Kong.
We then had one of the most interesting hotel discussions I have had for years, barring my one with Four Seasons Founder, & Chairman, Mr Sharp.
I spoke about my work for Coyles Hospitality and we discussed the fact Four Seasons run the best resort hotels in the world, Sofitel So & their designers etc.
I also pointed out Song Saa Private Island's new 'bed & breakfast' option caused confusion when all the websites talking about the resort refer to it being an 'totally all inclusive'.
The hotel discussion made up for the fact that problems with the resort's boats, and weather conditions, meant I did not get to go swimming with the bioluminescent phytoplankton.
Dinner in Vista Restaurant
You can see where this restaurant gets its name from, with 360-degree views of the Gulf of Thailand etc. It is a breezy restaurant that serves Khmer favourites & Western food and is the island's fine dining restaurant.
Douglas said the resort would pay for my dinner but I was disappointed to sit down and learn it was an "Ocean BBQ' set menu.
We started with an amuse bouche of a fried vegetable cake with mustard sauce, rich and delicious. Next was cream of tomato soup with truffle oil. While I love truffles, I do not think they work well in cream of tomato soup.
Then there were a succession of BBQ dishes. Some were good (eg prawn brochette with 'Khmer' sauce; the sautéed potatoes with butter & parsley) and some less so (eg baked barramundi fillet with lemongrass & soy sauce).
The fact it was so dark you could not really see the dishes, and some were not hot, did not help.
However, watching the moon, while listening to the flying fish, made it a special evening and the staff were so cheerful and friendly you could not moan to them about anything.
High winds woke me during the night and I was awake to watch the sunrise.
After a pampered bath, I ordered breakfast in my villa. This was included in my high rate.
I got the Khmer noodle soup with seafood. This was the most stunning soup I have seen in Vietnam or Cambodia but I found it bland and uninteresting.
Luckily I had also ordered cheese, the charcuterie and Norwegian smoked salmon and they were all perfect. I ate this outside watching the waves crash.
Main Infinity Pool
Then I went to swim, and work on www.sifrew.com, in the main infinity pool. The private pool at my villa was smaller than at Four Seasons resorts in Bali & Thailand and not possible to swim in comfortably.
There were two staff on duty at the pool to give out towels and I was surprised they did not do more. At Four Seasons Doha they provide frozen grapes & clean your sunglasses; at Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok they provide an endless supply of 'freebies' & an ice cream cart; at Four Seasons Hong Kong they bring sunscreen & chilled water etc. I think Song Saa Private Island should do more to make time at this pool 'an experience' for guests (eg chilled bottles of water would be a start). It would also make it more interesting for their staff.
Next I had a walk around the islands, appreciating their magical quality even more.
After this I was shown around a two bedroom Over-Water villa. It was more like a home than holiday villa, with a large kitchen area in the sitting room. Its bathrooms, and private pool, were breathtaking.
On the way there you noticed how worn some of the villas' thatching is and I was told the resort will be closing for three weeks in September 2016 for a major refurbishment to deal with issues like this.
Lunch in Driftwood Bar
I decided to give food on the island one last chance by having a pizza in Driftwood Bar as my final meal. They have their own pizza oven.
This bar has a wide selection of infused vodkas and I chose lemongrass. I asked if they could use it as part of a cocktail but they said a shot would be better. I got one but it is not what you really want, at lunchtime, on a hot day.
My Parmigiana pizza was OK but nothing special. I got the Prosecco, that was part of my welcome gifts, and had a glass of this with it.
Going Back to 'Reality'
My speedboat back was at 2pm. The staff gave us a touching farewell and the high winds meant the journey back was even more bumpy, and so we were not even offered drinks.
🐻🐻🐻🐻 (4 out of 5 ‘teddies’) - Song Saa Private Island is more stunning than its photos and the young Cambodian staff are understandably passionate about the place & brilliant. However, the hit & miss food, lack of luxury 'freebies' by the main infinity pool and the price I paid lost it a 'teddy'. You do not object to ludicrous prices at places like the Four Seasons George V in Paris because everything is incredible. My tips: if you can, fly to Sihanoukville; wear sunscreen on the speedboat; and get a cheaper rate than me by booking Song Saa Private Island as part of a package.