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Until recently, most American travelers to Cambodia would marvel at the vast Angkor Wat temple complex and then spend two or three days relaxing poolside in the nearby city of Siem Reap, before continuing their Southeast Asia itinerary in Vietnam or Laos. However, it is increasingly possible to regard Cambodia as a destination in its own right. The capital, Phnom Penh, is worthy of a day or two’s exploration; the exceptional river cruise company, Aqua Expeditions, offers journeys down the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to the Mekong Delta; and along a stretch of coastline known as the Cambodian Riviera — a nod to the country’s French colonial past — an increasing number of upscale resorts provide competition for beach properties on the Thai islands of Phuket and Koh Samui.
“Cambodia MapFrom our first stop at Shinta Mani Wild (read our review here), it is a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Sihanoukville, a port of nearly 150,000 inhabitants. The city itself is of diminishing interest to visitors, since it has become a major focal point of China’s developing Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese investment is transforming the harbor facilities and the highway system; the new high-rise apartment buildings are intended primarily for Chinese nationals; the casino business is burgeoning; and road signs in Mandarin are increasingly replacing those in Khmer. However, Sihanoukville still provides a point of departure for the Koh Rong Archipelago and other offshore islands.
Three years ago, we visited Song Saa, an idyllic 24-villa private island resort, located 45 minutes by speedboat from Sihanoukville, which became our 2016 Hideaway of the Year. (It remains a recommended property with a rating of 94.) On this occasion, we had opted to spend a few days at Six Senses Krabey Island, a 30-acre microdot, located 15 minutes by speedboat from a private jetty on the mainland. (The property opened in March.)
On a sunny day, skimming across smooth azure water, the boat ride was far too brief, and as we approached the island’s pier, I felt rather shortchanged. Still, the welcome was warm and the densely forested island looked intriguing. A golf cart took us up a steep hill to the resort’s main building, which houses an airy reception area, a sunset bar, AHA Restaurant and an ice-cream parlor next to a 90-foot lap pool. Formalities complete, we were driven to our Oceanfront Pool Villa Suite, one of 40 freestanding accommodations that are dotted all over the island.
It was immediately apparent that Krabey Island will not appeal to those who don’t like to be surrounded by trees. Most of the villas are hidden away in the forest, and many lack ocean views. Of course, if privacy and seclusion are your first concern, this may not be a drawback. Our own temporary home was accessible by a steep path — fine going down, less good on the way back up — and offered a partial view of the sea as well as a private path to an oceanfront boardwalk. A sizable deck, screened by tropical foliage, came with loungers, an umbrella and a partially shaded plunge pool; it provided an idyllically peaceful place in which to read and relax.