Unless you were an adventurous backpacker, braving the bumpy seas for the beach huts on Koh Rong, a sleepy island off the quiet town of Sihanoukville, there was little reason to come this far south in Cambodia—indeed, most travelers to the kingdom still just make tracks to Siem Reap to see the ancient city of Angkor. However, the region’s unexplored charms are starting to turn heads, with a select few high-end resorts leading the way. At the forefront are island resorts such as Alila Villas Koh Russey, a wonderful Khmer-inspired beach escape.
Savor the Khmer design
Apart from a brief shimmering period in the 1960s, when the kingdom’s exciting ‘New Khmer Architecture’ was heralded as a guiding light for other Southeast Asian cities emerging from colonialism, Cambodia has not exactly led the way design-wise. That’s why the arrival of Alila Villas Koh Russey is so exciting, a modernist beach retreat that draws inspiration from local objects, like the checked pattern of the ubiquitous kroma scarf, or the interwoven nature of buildings and nature—a smart, contemporary take on the traditional Khmer wooden house.
Embrace all things water
You’re at the end of a thin peninsula on a small island a 45-minute boat ride off the coast of Cambodia—essentially, you’re surrounded by the ocean, so embrace it. This starts with the picturesque infinity pool that cascades down from the Horizon restaurant towards the sandy shore. Close by you’ll find the thatched-roof water-sports center, from which sun-kissed staff stand ready to set you off on a stand-up paddle board, kayak, or snorkel trip. It’s possible to do the latter right off shore, with a fish-filled coral reef in the shallows at the bay’s south end.
Support green Cambodia
Originally from Bali, the Alila brand has a strong emphasis on sustainable tourism. On Koh Russey this translates into a 70-30 ratio of greenery to development, glass water bottles in the rooms, designing low-impact buildings that contour with nature, and implementing soil erosion plans. It also extends to community outreach programs on the mainland, which address environmental education and waste management schemes. While no development is perfect, at least by staying here you know you are playing a part in supporting green ideals.
Enjoy the great outdoors
All of the rooms here make the most of the abundance of nature, by offering indoor-outdoor spaces. In the Pavilions this extends to private garden terraces (first floor) or breeze-cooled patios (second floor), while if you do need to retreat indoors, the floor-to-ceiling windows still showcase the jungle surrounds. Meanwhile, the Ocean and Beach Villas—the distinction is closeness to the sand—up the stakes by adding a plunge pool, grass lawn, and outdoor sala. Indeed, no matter what room type, there’s no escaping the green views of your island home.
For the bountiful harvest
The poolside restaurant Horizon is your go-to for resort dining, with the glass-fronted folding doors usually open so you can enjoy the pleasant sea breeze as you tuck into your meal. In the sun-filled morning, the menu consists of a buffet of homemade croissants and Danishes, fresh fruit smoothies, and both healthy and delicious a la carte options including egg white omelettes, and organic sausages.
For dinner and sunset drinks, a short walk down the sand takes you to the Beach Shack, and its Khmer seafood grill given a sublime Caribbean twist.