I should start by saying that yes I am pretty lucky to be able to write this blog! Not many people have the opportunity to stay at some of the best hotels in the world, all on the same trip, and are able to call it ‘work’. However, Christmas came early this year as in November/ December I got to stay at both the Four Seasons in the Maldives – Kudaa Hura and Landaa Giravaaru, and Song Saa Private Island in the remote islands of Koh Rong in southern Cambodia. Whilst I am not able to choose an outright single best hotel (each hotel has its individual charms) I’m just going to say a few words as to why it’s worth splurging in either destination. Read on for my thoughts on The Maldives vs Song Saa.
Four Seasons Kuda Huraa
Only a 30-minute speedboat ride from Male airport, it’s very convenient for a ‘fly and flop’ type of holiday. Our experience began even before we reached the hotel -as we were chilling out on the speedboat, feeling like we had the best job in the world, we saw an amazing pod of dolphins. Incredible!
A relatively small island for the Maldives, Kuda Hurra feels compact, but perfectly formed. What makes this resort special is the incredible beaches, huge pool area, and the amazing service (oh the service – they are one step ahead of you all the time, but not in an intrusive way). Every time you sat down at the stunning beach you received a glass of water, cold towel and cooling mist spray. I got very used to (and now miss) getting our complimentary snacks on the hour, be it a frozen banana dipped in chocolate or cucumber mint drink. Although we didn’t get to experience it, Kuda Hurra also has amazing places to surf close by: you are taken out on a boat to catch the best waves. Something a lot of other islands can’t offer! The accommodation features all individual villas, of which we stayed in a sunrise beach villa.
Four Seasons Landaa Giravaaru
A 40 minute sea plane ride brings you to this stunning island in the Baa Atoll UNESCO world biosphere reserve. Renowned for its top notch dive sites, spectacular coral reefs, and large pods of Manta rays during May-November, this is a place is a dream for nature enthusiasts. It’s much bigger than Kuda Huraa , with most people choosing to leisurely cycle around the island to get from place to place. With a 2km natural sandbar and two huge pools there are plenty of spaces to enjoy outside of your villa. The trendy Sea Bar was one of my favourites, where every night they fed the local 1.5 m lemon sharks, proving to be quite surreal, but remarkable, dinner entertainment! Our villa was even larger than Kuda Huraa, despite staying in the lowest room category of beach bungalow with pool. There are at least 5 places in your ‘room’ to chill out, that’s what makes you feel so at home as soon as you’ve arrived.
Song Saa Private Island resort
A little trickier to get to, which ultimately makes it more special once you arrive, you’ll need to get to Sinhoukville (not our favourite place!), then take the 40-minute speedboat. On arrival, you’ll see two relatively small islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, which together makes Song Saa, or ‘The Sweethearts’.
This hotel is about true escapism and, dare I say, indulgence. We had breads, meats and cheeses waiting for us in our room, and immediately popped open a bottle of prosecco. Song Saa has a concept called ‘always included’- this generally means that everything that passes your lips, from food and drinks, is included in the price of the room, as is laundry, water sports, a pop-up cinema in your room, a sunset cruise… you get the drift. The true meaning of all-inclusive, you won’t find a wristband at Song Saa! With such a strong sustainability ethos, and the drive of the owners to help the local community, it’s easy to get swept up in the beauty of this little piece of paradise! I haven’t even talked about the villas yet, some of the best hotel quality rooms I’ve ever seen, each with their own private pool, some overwater like the Maldives!
So where to start on answering the questions The Maldives vs Song Saa? The Maldives are what they are: over the top, expensive, stunningly beautifully and, my goodness, relaxing. I’m not really the biggest beach person but I was never bored! I never really laid on the beach, as there was too much to do – kayaking, snorkelling, watching some turtles been released back into the wild, jet skiing and much more. The Four Seasons give you a weekly schedule on arrival, which tells you what you can do when. This was great as it never felt I wasn’t been told what to do but had options if I didn’t just want to read a book on the beach!
If you’ve ever stayed at the Four Seasons, you’ll know it’s all about the service. It’s difficult to fault any of the staff at either resort; they are genuinely happy and engaging. Some might find it a little much, but if I’m being honest I loved been looked after, be it someone coming to clean our room when we are having lunch, or bringing me a glass of water at the pool or simply asking how my day was. You know they’ve heard it all before, but still, you feel special everywhere you go. It’s the little touches they add that make your stay that bit extra special. For instance, Harriet is diabetic and when our waiter realised she couldn’t really drink sugary cocktails, he made them with sweetener instead!
Very broadly, I’d say Kuda Huraa is for an older clientele, with less walking distances between places and a very smooth transfer to the resort itself. Laanda is the trendier bigger brother, on a grander scale and more of a younger vibe.
So why go to Song Saa after raving about the Maldives? Probably the main reason is it is utterly unique within South East Asia- it is simply one of a kind. The owners are totally pioneering in building a different type of luxury resort, with true sustainability and a drive to make sure the local islands are not ruined or become a tourist attraction.
The food is unbelievable, as their head Chef Neil Wager has taken Cambodian cuisine to a new level with his Cambodian team of chefs. I haven’t eaten food like it in this part of the world. My friend Nicola was gluten-free and they catered to all her needs to such a high standard. Even though the island is pretty small, you can explore the next door island via a walkway, and there are plenty of boat trips to keep you occupied. Alternatively, you could just eat and drink in your villa all day! Although you’ve paid for it in your room rate beforehand, it’s difficult to capture how relaxing it feels to know that you don’t have to worry about money. You know in a day you’ll probably eat the equivalent of about USD600 if you were in the Maldives, making it honestly very good value for money.
So in summary – where to go – The Maldives vs Song Saa? I can’t answer that question because everyone is different, but the Four Seasons offers a relatively easy fly and flop, some of the best diving/snorkelling in the world, villas that are basically ‘perfect’ with service beyond anything you can imagine, or Song Saa if you want incredible food, to be somewhere totally unique, to help the local community whilst indulging, and for laid back service with a genuine smile.
Anyway as you can imagine, I’m pretty passionate about making sure my clients go to the right luxury hotel, especially at this level, so do give me a shout if you need some assistance or lots of information on the Experience Travel Group Cambodia website.