Welcome to Robbie Vincent: as I see it issue number one. I have often been asked to share my travel experiences, so expect to visit nice places around the world and get some help on deciding whether top middle or low dollar cost spend is worth it. And what about some great jazzy soulful rhythms to enhance that experience. I have some great ideas.
As the cold winds blow we are off on two islands trips. One hot and sunny, the other in the UK and blessed with those cold winter winds.
Song Saa Island off the coast of Cambodia.
Think Robinson Crusoe smothered in the very best of luxury. After a city stay in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penhn (centre of grisly recent events in the killing fields which wiped out a generation) it is hard to believe just five hours away is a tiny secluded island just waiting to help you escape the real word.
With just 27 luxury villas and two battery operated golf buggy carts overcrowding is never a problem nor is finding a parking spot as there are none. Rory and Melita Hunter, who own and run the island, are quite rightly proud of everything island life has to offer to their top dollar paying guests. They are just as proud of everything they have been able to put back into the local community through their Song Saa Foundation.
Sipping a cocktail of your choice (Song Saa is food and drink inclusive) the evening peace is only broken by the sound of the antiquated fishing boats that are held together by string, leaving Prek Svay village on Koh Rong one of the few inhabited islands in this Archipelago. Members of the Song Saa Foundation have to maintain the co-operation of local fishermen in supporting marine protection projects so very low on the list of priorities is any move to persuade them to upgrade their boats and buy expensive environmentally friendly engines.
A visit to the village is a must as it is an opportunity to see how action speaks louder than words. (Yes this was a Chocolate Milk track from the 70’s). Help with agriculture, improved education for children and adults, sanitation with a composting toilet system and health projects which included doctor dentist visits to this truly isolated spot.
Song Saa supports the Pack For A Purpose,a charity that encourages us all to use space in our luggage to carry things like school support supplies. With the help of staff at the excellent Raffles Hotel in Phnom Phen (more about this hotel soon), I harvested a box of pencils, maps, recommended books in English, rulers and so on. Armed with my box, Barnaby Olson a Marine Biologist and Director of Conservation on Song Saa Island, escorted me on a visit to the Prek Svay village school. This was my first experience of a school playground full of water buffalo, which also would of have enjoyed the floods on the mainland I had to travel through.
It made me wonder what a country that had bowed to Health and Safety excess and banned skipping ropes at school would make of these wonderful beasts tied by rope to a school playground. The children loved them and my wife’s sandals too. Covered in shiny stones they were a big hit. Left outside the school doors we found a small boy too young to go to school wearing them with that big Cambodian smile on his face. Barnaby, by the way, is a product of Hull University and his enthusiasm for the conservation works is infectious.
With encouragement from people like Barnaby, and a well connected banker from Germany who happened to be on holiday, an international children’s charity had turned a tiny, corrugated iron roofed school into, for this part of the world, a state of the art centre of learning.
My box of school goodies were welcomed with a collection of wonderful Cambodian smiles and those smiles are just the best in the world. If you wonder how pristine school uniforms can look extra smart look no further than this school.
What about the holiday side of life on Song Saa? The food is excellent, when team leaders are running the show. My wife and I stayed with some management on holiday and really noticed the all round improvement on their return. Go for island location dining, it is great fun. On the beach, with an open fire, by the pool with feet in the water, and so on. Over water villas, with the option to eat in your room, the service is as good as it gets. The fridge is always full and if it’s not there someone will get it.
If you must, there is a small gym, but my advice is to avoid it. Even with air con at full blast and cold towels and water to bring you round, I think it is a huge stuffy oven.
The speed boat ride from the port at Sihanoukville to Song Saa takes 30 to 40 minutes but even for those without sea legs it is not that bad.
Scuba diving is available at extra cost, as is speed boat hire. Paddle round this small island in a free to use kayak but don’t sit outside my villa making me feel like a tourist attraction, as this is against the rules.
COSTS: High Season one bedroom Jungle Villa expect to pay around £1000 per night. Two bedroom overwater villa around £2000 and a bit. Tour operator’s packages cheaper. Worth It: Yes for a special experience.
Music recommendation. Favourite cocktail at sun set with villa sound system making the best of Red Sky from Pat Metheny album We Live Here.
If this is all too much for you Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem Island have back packers who share very basic wooden bungalows on the beach for £6 or £7 a night. No speed boat delivery trips no running water or electricity all the time and a night visit to the loo could well include some of the local wildlife joining you. You pay your money and take your choice. It’s Song Saa for me.
Cold winter winds with a warm welcome in the next issue.