Cambodia’s first eco-luxury property, Song Saa, located in the south’s Koh Rong archipelago, is a Lightfoot Travel favourite. And for good reason! The villas are spacious and amongst some of the best we’ve seen anywhere, the clear waters are a snorkeler’s paradise, and the service is impeccable. We speak to Rory Hunter, founder of this stunning property, who tells us more about his desire to create a sustainable sanctuary as well as the community development projects he has set up for locals.
What made you choose the Koh Rong Archipelago out of all the other spots in Asia/Indochina to set up Song Saa?
We spent some time on the islands and fell in love with this remarkable tropical environment. The pristine beaches, rain forests and vibrant communities are truly unique. So when the opportunity to create something spectacular in this part of the world came up, we jumped. The decision was not simply about creating a luxury destination, it was with an understanding of the environmental and human challenges facing the archipelago and our desire to help.
We have heard lots about how you nurtured the eco-system before actually building the resort itself; tell us about this process? Did you run into a lot of problems with locals/red tape?
Probably the biggest challenge and greatest success so far has been the creation of a marine reserve, which is actually a first for Cambodia. We’re really proud of the work our team did on the establishment of a solid waste management facility in the local village of Prek Svay. We also initially did a number of total island clean ups, as well as extensive water clean ups prior to, during, and following construction. Coral, giant clams and starfish, among other marine life, were carefully relocated from areas where construction might have any chance of impacting them, and more than 100 artificial reefs were placed on the ocean floor around the island to encourage additional marine life to prosper. More than 150 trees were identified for conservation prior to construction, and the resort in many ways is built around these.
Is this your first venture into the hospitality industry? How are you finding it so far?
Yes, and it’s been a tearful, challenging and incredible ride. But our love for the people, the environment and the vision we have for the future of this community have made every single challenge worthwhile. We wouldn’t change it for the world.
What is the one activity you find guests most enjoy in terms of continuing this effort of rebuilding the ecosystem?
Our guests appreciate the opportunity to learn about the projects in the local community of Prek Svay. Our Sala Song Saa experience (which translates as Song Saa School) offers guests the chance to see what a real Cambodian village is like and understand the true importance of introducing sustainable income sources to these islands. They see how villagers are pursuing sustainable livelihoods on the land through the support of the Song Saa Foundation. They can explore the world of Khmer agriculture and herbal remedies. It’s through experiences like this that we hope our guests will gain a deeper understanding of the people, the environment and our vision.
Project Director Ben Thorne emerges from a dive with an armful of discarded fishing nets, painstakingly untangled and removed from the coral reef below. Ghost fishing is a serious problem in the marine environment. Discarded nets can continue to fish and smother and kill coral. Through waste management initiatives, educational workshops and reef cleans such as these, we are reducing fishing net discards and minimising their impact. We also are looking to support a community-led net recycling incentive scheme – stay in touch for updates! #SaveOurSeas #GhostFishing #Coral #Conservation #Fishing #Waste #Nets #Community #Volunteer #TMCP
What do you feel is the best part of your job?
Seeing our vision come to life through the people, who really are at the heart of Song Saa. We call ourselves the Song Saa Family and our guests often comment that they feel like a part of the family by the time they leave. That’s a tribute to the authenticity and commitment of our people.