Post temple-hopping up at Angkor Wat, zip south and treat yourself to an indulgent Khmer private island retreat
Islands with rugged coastlines, pearly bays and thick primitive jungle meet luxury villas, transformative spas and inspirational environmental and social initiatives. This is ‘The Cambodian Riviera’, the new destination for escapes to luxurious private island resorts off the Sihanouk Coast.
Foresighted owners Rory and Melita Hunter were the first to fall for the Koh Rong archipelago, creating eco-luxury, double-island escape Song Saa; 24 stunning villas with thoughtful healing experiences and pioneering CSR. A 45-minute speedboat trip and guests alight on Koh Ouen island, where sandy paths lead between the soaring-roofed villas, mini beach, romantic pool and overwater and Ibiza-beachy restaurants. A gently curving bridge takes guests to the undeveloped second island, Koh Bong, for forest walks and boulder meditations. Locals lead trips kayaking mangroves, priests chant blessings, night swimming sparkles with phosphorescence, but nothing beats trips over to Koh Rong’s villages to see first hand the community work of the Song Saa Foundation.
A 15-minute speedboat trip from the mainland and you’ll alight on 12-hectare Six Senses Krabey Island. Sunshine dapples through jungle onto colourful birds, clouds of butterflies and 40 contemporary, high-tech pool villas. Wake up for sunrise swimming and kayaking from the bijou beach, then stroll the coastal boardwalk to the breakfast buffet of healthy and indulgent treats at Aha Restaurant. A few steps from the main pool, the ice cream parlour offers cool temptation, or head up to the apex of the island to Six Senses Spa and the Alchemy Room to learn DIY scrub mixtures before your treatment. As the sun starts to set it’s time, bask in the light with a cocktail at Sunset Bar, before heading to Tree restaurant and the Khmer tasting menu.
Alila Villas Koh Russey may be the next-door island, but it swaps jungle for a kilometre of glorious tree-fringed beach. Step from your sleek ocean villa’s pool decking over lawn to the squeaky sand and warm sea for peaceful swims and fun on the swings skimming the surf. Relax during meditation and yoga under the ancient banyan tree, before smoothie bowl and quinoa bite breakfasts at Horizon Restaurant overlooking the main pool. Lunch is casual Khmer and international eats at the charming feet-in-the-sand Beach Shack as you refuel before windsurf or SUP sessions. Try a Khmer cooking classes or escape to Spa Alila, before it’s time for a cold one at the Shack and French-Khmer cuisine back at Horizon. Catharine Nicol ◼
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© This article was first published in Feb-Mar 2020 edition of World Travel Magazine.