Where luxe meets eco

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Uninterrupted sunset and sunrise views are a given at Cambodia’s Song Saa Resort. Whether from your mooching position at one of the five-star eco-resort’s 27 villas, hovering above the ocean at the Vista Restaurant & Lounge Bar or feet in sand on one of the pristine private beaches. But this location wasn’t always an obvious choice for a tropical beach holiday – at least not if you required a plump Ploh pillow under your head and a roof over it.

Back in 2006, before the elaborate thatched huts and a kitchen serving world-class Cambodian cuisine (fresh, sustainable and locally produced, of course), the two isles of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong in the Koh Rong Archipelago that became Song Saa were part of 25 undeveloped islands (all virgin rainforests, tropical reefs and silky white beaches) that captured the hearts of Australians Rory and Melita Hunter when they were exploring the area by old, hired fishing boat.

“Think Thailand 40 years ago and you get a good idea of the magic and mystery one has when exploring the Koh Rong Archipelago for the first time,” muses Rory. That is: unspoilt. The magic and mystery remain, thanks to the couple’s vision of luxury tourism that treads lightly. They were sensitive in the building of the resort over the two isles, and continue to be eco-responsible in its running.

Signs of reuse, reduce, recycle abound, if you know where to look. The workstations? They are made from discarded 100-year-old Cambodian beds. Feature columns, bases for vanity units, stool, tables and sculptures? They’ve been transformed from local driftwood. “We even put the call out to buy all the old fishing boats that had been left up the estuaries rotting and beyond repair,” says Rory. “By buying them off the locals and hauling them out of the rivers, we were not only able to use them for beautiful panelled art, but environmentally we were able to stop the effects of the paint leaching into the rivers.”

Rory and Melita also set up Song Saa Foundation, an independent NGO, that is responsible for both Cambodia’s very first marine reserve and a collaboration with the International Medical Relief, a medical outreach organisation, to complete a series of health clinics across the Archipelago. And they’re currently working on raising funds to launch The Boat Of Hope, where a traditional Cambodian fishing boat will be transformed into a mobile teaching and learning centre – the aim is to take a message of sustainability out across the Archipelago.

In recognition of these accomplishments, Rory was awarded the title of Young Global Leader 2015, alongside 187 astounding young leaders (including WordPress founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg and CEO of Kickstarter Yancey Strickler)

Joining the Forum of Young Global Leaders, Rory says, is less a personal accolade and more an incredible opportunity: “We are no longer forging ahead in isolation, but are among other likeminded thinkers, business professionals and leaders, whose inspiration, support and assistance is invaluable in expanding our outreach and growing every aspect of what we do.”

Glass gets to know the man behind the eco-luxe escape with serious environmental credentials. There’s exercise at dawn, an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep respect for his surroundings.

Have you always been eco-conscious?
My mum and dad brought both my sister and I up to be very socially minded (my sister is a refugee advocate in Australia) so we always had a deep respect for our surroundings. It wasn’t until exploring the Koh Rong Archipelago nine years ago and finding the islands that are now Song Saa that a spark awakened inside and I started to really look at how I could incorporate a social mission into the work I do.
What excites you most about your work?
I’m chomping at the bit to work out how to scale the business, the philosophy and the approach over the coming years, while building our team and sharing with them the entrepreneurial experience to create something innovative, something exciting and something we can all be proud of.

Run us through a typical work day.
A typical day (work or otherwise) starts out with some form of exercise at dawn – either running, surf skiing or cycling – leaving early enough to make sure I can be back in time to, along with my wife Merita, take our son Naryth to school, after which we head into the office, often with our dog Jackson.

As we only recently moved to Hong Kong, our team over here is quite small, though growing fast, so I make sure to spend time with the senior team both in HK and back in Cambodia via Skype, understanding their areas of focus, whether there are any road blocks and how I can be of support.

A large part of my day is spent on emails, either communicating with the team or with partners, though I try to confine this to an hour or two in the morning and the same in the afternoon. I also spend a lot of my time meeting potential new partners in Hong Kong, who can potentially be a part of the Song Saa story going forward and who can help us on our journey. The old adage of surrounding yourself with people who can help you get to where you’d like to go is something I’m a firm believer in.

Which of your character traits make you a perfect fit for the work you do?
I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’m excited about creating things and looking at new ideas to solve old problems. I’m driven by a desire to make a positive impact on the world and do great work in the process – commercially, creatively and philanthropically.

What’s next for you?
The next few years will see us focus on emerging destinations and fragile environments both within Cambodia and other parts of emerging Asia, such as Myanmar, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Future developments will be built on the same triple bottom line model of environmental protection and social responsibility alongside world-class luxury.  The community and conservation work of the Song Saa Foundation will be an integral part of each resort as they develop.

by Natalie Egling

For booking information at Song Saa Resort, please go here

About The Author

Glass contributing travel editor

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