A speedboat whisked us 007-style to our private island of Song Saa (the Khmer translation of “sweethearts”), twin isles otherwise known as Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, in Cambodia’s southwest Gulf of Thailand. As Song Saa’s Maldivian-style overwater villas loomed closer, we were greeted by smiling staff armed with cool face towels and chilled welcome drinks; customary of Cambodia’s genuinely friendly service. Word of Song Saa’s exclusivity attracted the likes of billionaire Lakshmi Mittal within just weeks of opening. With villas costing from a grand a night, and the launch of new helicopter transfers, you can see why. But Song Saa is also built on strong ethics, literally – constructed using locally-reclaimed wood and building materials, and set in a protected marine reserve and local fishing village community.
Room for romance
Song Saa’s setting is so romantic that the couple modelling for the island’s brochure got spontaneously engaged within a few days on the picture-perfect island. The five-star island has Overwater (suspended on stilts), Ocean-view (with their own patch of beach) and Jungle villas set at varying heights. All are designed by co-owner Melita Hunter with vaulted timber ceilings (an orange Buddhist scroll blessed by local monks hung from ours), four-poster muslin-draped beds, recycled flotsam and jetsam sculptures and boho-chic bathrooms featuring a dugout bath and indoor and outdoor showers. I was also thrilled by my jet lag-busting fresh coffee machine and in-room iPod generously loaded with thousands of chill-out tunes.
Song Saa’s laidback vibe continues at the aptly named beachside Driftwood Bar, decked with rustic furniture, trendy jars for coffee mugs and homemade liqueurs in hand-labelled bottles. English Head Chef Neil Wager (whose pedigree is Seychelles’ North Island, where Wills and Kate spent their honeymoon) has created an array of exotic pizzas such as Khmer prawn-and-Kampot pepper served straight from the bar’s woodfire stove. Our most memorable meal was on the powder white sands of Five Mile Beach, a half-hour speedboat ride away. Here staff waded through the clear aquamarine water bearing hampers on their shoulders before laying out cushions and a heavenly gourmet picnic in the shade of elegant parasols.
Day trips & pamper time
The Sanctuary spa on Song Saa comprises two separate villas facing the ocean’s lapping waves, plus the island offers snorkelling, kayaking and private speedboat trips if you fancy getting out and about. At least a day trip or two in Siem Reap, home to epic Angkor Wat temple and haunting tree-festooned temple of Ta Prohm featured in Tomb Raider, is a must. The most romantic hotel for taking a break from these famous temples is the Orient-Express’s traditional Khmer-style La Residence d’Angkor. It has a top-notch Kong Kea Spa, where I had a decadent two-therapist body massage timed in perfect unison (a couple's massage is also available in the double spa suite). The daybeds flanking the lush rectangular hotel pool were perfect for sleeping off jet lag – some were doubles so you could cosy up together. A romantic waterside dinner à deux serenaded by a traditional Cambodian dance show (hosted on alternate nights) added to the magic.
Helicopter transfers now operate four times a week from the capital Phnom Penh to Song Saa (November to March). Cazenove + Loyd can arrange helicopter rides to wonderful if remote temples like Banteay Chhmar from Siem Reap. Even private candlelit temple dinners for exclusive wedding parties can be arranged, with advanced booking. Song Saa’s all-inclusive policy covers your meals, well-stocked minibar, free laundry, speedboat transfers, a 15-minute foot ritual, international phonecalls, use of kayaks, sailing boats, snorkel gear and 24-hour overwater gym.
Taking part in a blessing ceremony by local Buddhist monks. You can be blessed, or renew your wedding vows either on Song Saa itself or at the local Buddhist temple situated on a tiny island with its own private jetty.
We didn’t love
The staff boat that revved up regularly in front of the jungle villas and beside the Driftwood Bar disrupting the peace and privacy from our terrace, an otherwise stunning decked area with a natural water plunge pool.
Cazenove + Loyd offers seven nights from £3,245pp. Based on four nights at the exclusive Song Saa Private Island Resort (full board) and three nights in Siem Reap staying at La Residence d’Angkor (B&B). Includes return international flights with British Airways, internal flights and transfers and a private guide in Siem Reap, cazloyd.com, tel. 020 7384 2332.