I recently enjoyed a wonderful holiday in Thailand (home to my favorite hotel in the world: Soneva Kiri) and the Kingdom of Cambodia. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Etihad Airways Airbus A380 First Class Apartment from Paris to Abu Dhabi
- Review: Etihad Airways Dreamliner B787 Business Class from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok
- Review: Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, Thailand
- Review: Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang, Cambodia
- Review: A visit to Angkor Wat, Cambodia
- Review: Alila Villas Koh Russey, Cambodia (today)
- Review: Bensley Collection, Shinta Mani Wild, Cambodia
- Review: Cathay Dragon Airbus A320 Business Class from Phnom Penh to Hong Kong
- Review: Cathay Pacific First Class Boeing 777 from Hong Kong to Frankfurt
Today (20 May, 2020): Review of Alila Villas Koh Russey (Cambodia).
Sublime natural beauty abounds on the enchanting island of Koh Russey, a tropical jewel blessed with stunning coastlines, dramatic headlands, powder-sand beaches and tropical forests, framed by the emerald waters of the gulf and the azure sky. Designed in harmony with these spectacular surroundings, Alila Villas Koh Russey is an ecological escape infused with Khmer culture and charm, where privacy, nature and local hospitality take center stage. The property offers 62 spacious rooms & villas, a stylish spa, two excellent restaurants, and wide array of activities and excursions.
Alila Villas Koh Russey features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury hotels in Cambodia.
Have you ever stayed at Alila Villas Koh Russey? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Alila Villas Koh Russey is located in the Koh Rong archipelago, an idyllic stretch of coastline in the Gulf of Thailand. Known as the Cambodian Riviera – a nod to the country’s French colonial past – the islands of the Koh Rong Archipelago are picture-perfect, both on land and underwater. With beautiful sandy beaches, turquoise waters and emerald rainforest, the region is also opening up to tourism and an increasing number of upscale resorts – including Allila Villas Koh Russey, Six Senses Krabey Island, and Song Saa – provide competition for five star beach properties in Thailand (although none comes close to Soneva Kiri, my favorite beach resort in the world).
- The resort is located on its own private island, which is called Koh Russey, meaning Bamboo Island in Khmer. The tropical island features a stunning coastline, dramatic headland, golden sand beach and a tropical forest, and is destined to be the new heart and lifestyle soul of the new Cambodian Riviera. The hotel’s jetty on the mainland (Ream) is accessible by private speedboat, only 15 minutes away. From Ream, several options await from taxis, local tuk tuks, motorbikes and bicycles, to get to town or to the airport. The journey from Sihanoukville International Airport to the hotel’s mainland jetty and welcome pavilion takes 20 min by private car.
- The property’s modernist design is a mix of concrete, slate and glass pavilions, which rise discreetly from the lush greenery and are virtually invisible from the sea. The clean decor draws from a key motif of local Khmer culture: the krama. The latter is a traditional Cambodian garmen used as a scarf, for decorative purposes and even as a hammock to lull young children to sleep. In the public areas, the motif manifests as latticed doors and pixelated ‘murals’ of cubes. It is at its most spectacular in the lobby’s striated façade, with lines of running timber creating delightful spatial layering and allowing integrated lighting to dramatize its geometry.
- Alila Villas Koh Russey features 62 sleek accommodations, comprising a mix of 49 rooms and 13 one- and two bedroom villas. During my visit, I stayed in a one bedroom beach villa, which featured a living & dining area, a large terrace with private plunge pool, a bedroom with kingsize bed, and a bathroom equipped with double vanity, expansive rainforest shower and deep soaking, freestanding bathtub. The villa’s teak floors, contemporary furnishing and large floor-to-ceiling glass doors created a Zen-like ambience. This delightful simplicity extended to the sleekly curated decor, with woven silks, colourful Cambodian Ikat cushions, and dark volcanic stone.
- The property features a large infinity pool, which is located next to the main restaurant. Overlooking Koh Russey’s copper-sand beach and the blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand, the pool is laid out in black tiles, which adds to the overal modernist design feel of the resort. One end of the swimming pool extends into a series of water ponds, which mimic the silhouette of the famous Angkor Wat temple, although that shape can only be appreciated from a bird’s-eye perspective (drone). There are several elevated terraces around the pool with chic comfortable sun loungers and stylish umbrellas, where guests can lounge the day away.
- The resort’s best selling point is its picture-perfect golden sand beach, which is shaded by iron wood and native coconut trees. The beach – which is completely private since there’s nothing else on the island – stretches for 1.2 km (0,7 mi) and faces west, allowing for some great views of the sunset. The beach is the main advantage that Alila Villas Koh Rossey has over its two nearby competitors Senses Krabey Island and Song Saa Private Island, since the latter two resorts (which offer a more refined product) don’t have a real beach: Six Senses Krabey Island focuses on a rainforest experience while Song Saa Private Island is an overwater sanctuary.
- For foodies, there are two specialty restaurants, both of them serving terrific cuisine.
- Horizon is the main restaurant and overlooks the pool, beach and sea. It serves à la carte breakfast (with a daily changing menu) and moutwathering dinners with an emphasis on French and French fusion fare. The tasting menu by resort’s extremely talented executive chef – German-born Bjoern van den Oever – is an absolute highlight!
- The Beach Shack is a place for guests to kick back and enjoy Khmer cuisine, seafood and light dishes on the sand near the sea. An excellent buffet is offered two nights a week.
- The resort’s design has been endorsed by EarthCheck, an Australia-based organization that has certified Alila Villa Koh Russey’s areas of environmental sustainability, as well as carbon dioxide emissions. Most of the island’s natural foliage has been preserved, with the low-density structures accounting for just 15% of the 60-acres of lush grounds. Other sustainable features include villa systems that automatically adjust lighting and temperature when occupants enter or leave, a fishing exclusion zone around the resort to preserve the marine environment, and a special nursery which aims to protect more than 20 species of trees indigenous to the island.
Those looking for wellness and rejuvenation will love the beachfront Spa Alila, offering classic Spa Alila holistic treatments that nurture mind, body and soul. Signature treatments include Khmer healing techniques and local ingredients such as virgin coconut oil are used to reflect the resort’s locality. There are five treatment rooms in total and experienced therapists as well as charming, well-trained locals administer the remedial massages and scrubs. Other spa facilities include a well-equipped fitness center and a private yoga room where guests can enjoy complimentary daily yoga and Tai Chi classes.
- The property is managed by Alila, one of my favorite small luxury hotel brands. The hallmark of Alila (part of the Hyatt Hotel Group) is the combination of innovative design and crafted luxury in unique locations, set apart by personalized hospitality, private spaces and bespoke journeys. Alila means “Surprise” in Sanskrit, which suitably describes the refreshing character of its boutique hotel properties. I have previously stayed at two other Alila properties, which I loved as well:
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Alila Villas Koh Russey is an excellent beach resort, with a terrific private island setting and outstanding restaurants, but it is not perfect and here is why:
- Cambodia is plagued with an overwhelming amount of debris and rubbish that washes up onto its shores, which really says a lot about the atrocious state our oceans. Unfortunately, Alila Villas Koh Rossey has not been spared this fate. Although the resort staff tries hard to clean the beach at several intervals during the day, this is a never ending job.
- Although the resort is less than two years old (it opened late 2018), quite some signs of wear and tear are visible, both in the public areas and in the accommodations. For example, the villas have teak floors, which show scrape marks from previous stays (despite rigorous maintenance).
- The resort is a mix of villas (13 in total) and more modest rooms (49 in total), hence why I think the name of the resort – Alila Villas Koh Russey – is misleading as most guests will end up in the concrete blocks of rooms and not in the (much more) expensive villas. Note that most of these rooms are set back behind the resort’s public areas and overlook buildings and the beachfront pavilions (don’t expect uninterrupted sea views).
- The hotel’s own transportations are the only means to get off the island and/or to get to Sihanoukville. Boat trips are complimentary during set times (arrival and departure). Otherwise, it’s a $25 USD charge per person for trips to the mainland. But you’ll be tempted to stay on the island anyway as there’s nothing to see in Sihanoukville (unless you are a fan of big casinos catering to mainly Chinese tourists).
- The resort’s minimalist and sleek urban design tries to impress guests, but it does not create a very sophisticated nor refined decor in my humble opinion, especially when compared to Alila’s other ultra-stylish resorts such as its Uluwatu property in Bali. The design lacks a true wow factor and feels more four than five stars. There also some design faults, which have not been addressed yet by the hotel’s management, such a steps around the pool and restaurant which are not lit at night (and waiting for an accident to happen).
- Room rates are inclusive of the a la carte breakfast. Although guests can order whatever they want from the menu, a variety of fresh fruit juices are charged at $6 USD per juice (except for the juice of the day, which is offered on a complimentary basis). During all my years of traveling, it’s the first time I stayed at a resort where the breakfast does not include juices (and frankly, I did not like this rather frustrating hotel policy).
- The resort gets mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, especially about the service. However, I visited the property after a new management was appointed by Alila, with experienced Alila staff being flown in from Bali, and service was definitely very good, regardless of a few minor hiccups.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 8/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 8/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 8/10
- Value for money: 8/10
- Overall experience: very good 8,4/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Alila villas Koh Russey (and/or receive many free perks).
- Room tip: the villas at the property are more impressive than the rather underwhelming rooms, and come with direct beach access and a private plunge pool.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The weather in Cambodia is dominated by a tropical monsoon climate which means there are three main seasons: a cool, dry season between November and February (which is the best time to visit); a hot, dry season from March to June; and a rainy season from July to October. Expect daytime temperatures to be in excess of 30 °C (86°F) throughout the year (with the possible exception of late December and early January, when it’s a bit cooler). The two periods April to May and September to October are characterised by high, almost untolerable humidity. The southwest monsoons arrive between May and October bringing unsettled, cloudy conditions and, for many, this is a welcome respite.
HOW TO GET THERE
The hotel staff welcomes guests at Sihanouk International Airport. From there, it’s a 10-minute drive through the Cambodian countryside to the mainland jetty where guests board the hotel’s boat for the short, 20 min crossing to Koh Russey Island.