Spa Spy: Song Saa Private Island, review

Song Saa Resort Cambodia
Credit: Song Saa Resort Cambodia

Our sleuth investigates the curative claims of wellbeing retreats worldwide. This week: the desert-island delights of the Song Saa spa, situated in Cambodia’s remote Koh Rong Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand.

Song Saa Private Island spans two tiny isles, Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, connected by a wooden footbridge. It includes 27 airy villas, each set in their own leafy private grounds.

Diversions - apart from the spa - include a first-rate restaurant set on a platform over the sea; laid-back, sandy-floored beach bar - wood-fired pizza is on the menu, along with a highly recommended barracuda club sandwich - an infinity pool voted one of the world's 10 best; a water sports centre and white-sand beach fringed with palms. 

View from the terrace of the master villa

The spa 

There is no central spa: therapies might take place in airy treatment villas (an ultra-luxe take on traditional Cambodian fishermen's huts, which cleverly blend in to the lush, jungly surroundings), or on a wooden deck set on stilts over the shore. 

The deck where the outdoor couples' massage took place

Guests can choose between à la carte spa treatments from the extensive list (spanning Ila facials, massages and traditional Khmer healing practices using therapeutic local herbs) and three different types of programme - refresh, rejuvenate and revive - each emphasising mental, physical and spiritual wellness. The programmes last from five to seven days.

Each holistic programme tailors diet, physical activity and spa treatments to your specific needs. You might start the day with sunrise yoga, fuel up on gluten-free blueberry pancakes and green tea in the restaurant, then follow breakfast with stand-up paddle boarding - and relax in the afternoon with a Manipura massage (hot poultices are placed on the chakra and marma points to restore energy to the body) and a facial. 

The symptoms

Spy has been mountain biking around the temples of Angkor Wat (temperatures inland reach the high 30s) for three days and is grimy, grumpy, aching and generally hot and bothered.

A picnic at neighbouring Koh Rong island Credit: Markus Gortz

The prescription

After a consultation with the spa manager, a bespoke three-day programme is devised (Spy doesn't have time for the full five-day treatment), designed to smooth out stiff limbs and rejuvenate dry, sun-stressed skin. The prescription includes: a couples' massage (enjoyed on a breezy deck overlooking the sea); a holistic pedicure, involving a Himalayan salt foot scrub and the most meticulous paint job Spy has ever experienced;  a bespoke facial and a night-time bathing ritual (candles, lotus flower petals etc). 

The procedure

On arrival at the jungle villa for the first treatment (a three-hour scrub, wrap and massage), Spy is given a Borrower-sized scroll, tied with red thread, which reads: "The only way to deal with the future is to function efficiently in the Now." Hmm. Something to ponder during the hours to come...

After an incense stick is lit and a gong sounded the treatment begins. It incorporates an invigorating scrub using those Himalayan salt crystals, a  firm massage to iron out knotty muscles (using soothing hot poultices) and a detoxifying wrap to deeply purify the pores. Spy, blissed out, falls asleep twice before showering off the mud to reveal skin that is unrecognisably smooth.  Spy is most definitely functioning efficiently in the Now. The masseuse (tiny, with hands of almost freakish strength) also did Spy's hair for her in a very fetching crown braid at the end. 

A therapist prepares for an ocean-side treatment

Over the course of the next few days, Spy also enjoys a bespoke facial, involving incredibly finely ground crystals, and the application of electric currents. These are supposed to stimulate collagen to tighten up saggy jowls and drooping brows. Spy's facial muscles react strongly to the currents and a great deal of involuntary twitching and gurning ensues: think Jim Carey at his most manic. The effect, though, is noticeable: Spy looks refreshed and her complexion is smooth and even. 

The feel-good factor

It's a small island, but feels practically deserted, even when almost full - perfect if you're longing to disconnect. The villas are very private and beautiful: incredibly luxurious  (the huge four-poster bed makes you feel like you're swaddled in a cloud) but understated.

The view from the bath

All of the floors in the villas were made using recycled housing materials from Thailand and Cambodia; there are sculptural driftwood pieces dotted about the resort; the bases of old oil drums have been made into chandeliers; huge orchid troughs fashioned from driftwood. Think pared-back stealth wealth rather than outrageous bling. 

Bathrooms (rain-forest shower; huge bath with view over the decked garden, private infinity pool, beach and sea beyond) are generously stocked with Aesop products and strokeably soft robes.

Inside the villa, with views out to sea

You will be well fed at Song Saa: both the setting (the main restaurant is set on a breezy platform accessed by a narrow path across the sea) - and the feasts that emerge are top-notch. Stand-out meals include the tasting menu on the final night, which included zingy barramuni ceviche and pillowy squid ink gnocchi with charred scallops and fennel, followed by Goan-style lamb curry with coriander paneer. The flavours are fresh and vibrant; the spicing punchy but spot-on. 

And this place isn't just feel-good, but do-good too: the resort has been blazing a trail for sustainability in the area since it opened in 2011. Owners Rory and Melita Hunter set up Cambodia's first marine reserve to safeguard the islands’ reefs and, since then, aquatic life (including shoals of needlefish, barracuda, dugongs, seahorses and a rainbow of tropical fish, easily spotted from Spy's breakfast spot) surrounding the islands has multiplied. 

The Hunters also established the Song Saa Foundation to work with local communities on neighbouring islands: do try to visit the school set up by the foundation. 

The verdict

Song Saa makes the ideal post-temple pit stop: just the place to re-charge and bliss out after the heat and dust of the mainland. A longer stay, however, would offer the opportunity to make the most out of the spa, watersports and excursions offered and to explore the larger islands nearby, using Song Saa as your base. 

Song Saa is by no means cheap, but offers something more interesting than pure luxury: the chance to explore an area little touched by tourism; a resort which strives for a reciprocal relationship with its stunning, but threatened, surroundings. Go, before the big luxury chains arrive. 


Song Saa ( offers rates from £620 per person based on double occupancy and including all meals and speedboat transfers from the mainland.