While many visitors come to Cambodia for its fascinating history and culture, divers will be equally enchanted with its aquatic offerings. This south-east Asian nation may only have a small stretch of coastline on the Gulf of Thailand, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in underwater diversity.
If the idea of diving off tropical islands and exploring largely untouched reefs teeming with marine life appeals, then a Cambodia diving holiday is a perfect choice.
Cambodia offers a range of environments to suit divers of all experience levels. Diving tours start from the beachside town of Sihanoukville. From here, divers can take a day trip to one of the coastal islands, or get waterlogged with a few days on a liveaboard.
Numerous islands lie off the coast of Sihanoukville, with boat trips taking about two hours to reach the closest sites. Sites further offshore tend to have better visibility, fewer divers and more chance of seeing large pelagics. Here are some of the best sites on offer diving Sihanoukville.
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Saloem diving
About two hours by boat from Sihanoukville, these two islands are surrounded by dive sites. Koh Rong can be reached by ferry from the mainland, with services running twice a day. From here, you can dive with one of the shops on the island. Dive trips also operate direct from the mainland.
Most of the diving happens off Koh Rong Saloem, with several sites on its western and northern sides. Visibility ranges from 5 to 25 metres, averaging around 10 metres. Top sites include:
Named after the regular visitors here, the underwater cliff face drops quite steeply from shore to a depth of 18 metres. Cobias (kingfish) grow up to 2m long, and somewhat resemble grey reef sharks. These curious creatures will often accompany divers who are exploring the colourful corals lining the cliff. The site often has a current and is usually a drift dive.
With a maximum depth of about 10 metres, you’ll get plenty of time here to explore the corals and abundant marine life. This site boasts abundant macro-life, including nudibranchs, pipe fish, crustaceans and juvenile fish.
For lovers of the ‘naked gill’, this site is for you. The reef here falls away gradually from the shore to about 10 metres, and is also home to cuttlefish, pufferfish, moray eels, rays, octopus and schools of damsel and parrot fish.
Large barrel sponges abound along this reef, which edges away from the shoreline to a maximum of 17 metres further out. Divers will be delighted to find scorpionfish, lion fish, shrimp and crabs hiding inside the sponges. They might also encounter cobia, barracuda, and swirling schools of yellow goatfish and parrotfish.
Koh Kon diving
Koh Kon is a smaller island tucked between Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, with four dive sites. Visibility ranges from 5 to 25 metres, averaging around 10 metres.
Koh Kon West
Rocks at the water’s edge here slope away to a sandy bottom in around 16 metres. From the shallows, there is a proliferation of dazzling coral and fish life. This site sports brightly-coloured coral, anemones, sweetlips, snappers, box fish, large parrot fish and schools of yellow goat fish.
Koh Kon South
Coral reef extends from the shore to a shallow sandy bottom at around 9 metres, graduating to a maximum of 14 metres to the west. This site also has an abundance of anemones and fish life. It’s best known for night diving, with blue-spotted stingrays, moray eels, and bamboo and cat sharks out on patrol.
Koh Kon East
This shallow site has corals down to around 6 metres, and is a good dive for seahorse sightings. It also has large sandy areas where divers might spot various invertebrates.
Koh Kon North
This deeper site has rocky outcrops dropping to around 16 metres, and coral bommies further out, featuring marine worms and nudibranchs. Divers are likely to encounter schooling trevally and fusiliers, as well as sea-bass, barracuda and large parrot fish.
Koh Prins diving
Koh Prins is situated about 5-6 hours by boat from the mainland, and about 3 hours south-west of Koh Rong Saloem. It is comprised of three small islands. Being further offshore, visibility is better, ranging from 10 to 30 metres, and averaging 20 metres.
Around December and again in May, whale sharks come through this area. There are eight dive sites around the islands, varying in depth from 10 to 40 metres. Some of them are:
The Drop Off
This spectacular wall dive on the north-west of Koh Prins drops to over 30 metres. Schools of fish, including yellow goatfish, jacks and barracuda, swarm around the rocky wall. Currents though the area make this an exhilarating drift dive.
Located between Koh Prins and Koh Moan, this site goes from 6 metres down to 14 metres, with a plethora of brightly-coloured anemones and fish life. Night divers will often come across electric blue-spotted stingrays, bamboo and cat sharks, and moray eels.
Moray Eel Parade
Also between Koh Prins and Koh Moan, this site is a sandy-bottom dive at depths of 8 to 20 metres, with coral bommies jutting up from the sand. The site gets its name from the variety of moray eels found here, including white-eyed, hexagonal and white-mouthed morays.
This site, to the north of Naked Island, starts with a field of anemones at about 5 metres, with rocky outcrops to a maximum of 30 metres. Black-tip reef sharks are often sighted at a cleaning station, and whale sharks visit in December and May.
To the south-east of Naked Island, this site with rocky underwater formations usually has excellent visibility. It is recommended for more experienced divers, and is sometimes done as a drift dive. Eagle rays are often spotted here (hence the name), with whale sharks also visiting this site.
Koh Tang diving
Like Koh Prins, Koh Tang lies further offshore, requiring a boat trip of four to five hours from the mainland. The remoteness means fewer divers and better vis, making it well worth the trip. Average vis is 15 metres, and ranges from 10 to 30 metres. There are numerous dive sites around the north, west and south of the island, including:
This reef formation lies in 6 to 18 metres of water, between Koh Tang and a small island to the south. Large fields of staghorn coral to the north of the reef give way to coral bommies and rocky outcrops to the south. The staghorn coral provides a nursery for a variety of juvenile fish species, giving the impression of an ‘explosion’ of colour as they mingle with other marine life. This site has some of the best visibility in the area, and lucky divers might encounter titan triggerfish.
This popular site is named for the cave formations in the cliff on the shore— a tall one flanked on each side by slightly smaller ones. Starting in around two metres with colourful corals and abundant marine life, the dive drops to a sandy bottom at 16 metres. Schools of batfish often follow divers, who might also spot schooling trevally and barracuda over the sand.
Also popular, this site is named because of the shape of a tree on the cliffs overlooking it. Hard and soft corals abound here, with colour and life in abundance. Macro-lovers will enjoy spotting the varied species of nudibranchs and marine worms, as they hover amongst the schooling trevally and visiting cobia.
Sting Ray Alley
This rocky site is a haven for sting rays, which are visible during the day, and more so at night. Other marine life, like octopus, scorpionfish, cuttlefish and crustaceans are also found here. Further out into the bay, small off-shore reefs appear below 25m.
Condor Reef diving
Considered by many to be the best dive in Cambodia, this reef lies well offshore, about 90 minutes west of Koh Rong. The site is very exposed, and only accessible during high season. With a depth of 10 to 40 metres, Condor Reef offers excellent visibility, outstanding underwater scenery, and the potential for encounters with reef sharks, turtles and whale sharks.
The unusual aquatic architecture includes enormous rectangular rocks, which form terraces, mini- walls and at least one archway, causing some to speculate about whether they’ve found Atlantis. If that’s not enough for you, the site contains relics from ancient Chinese junks that met their end on the reef. While most of the old cargo has been salvaged, divers can still see porcelain, the remains of an old junk. and even undetonated bombshells.
The site is suitable for beginners and experienced divers, although the boat ride can be a bit lumpy.
The warm tropical waters of Cambodia are an ideal place to learn to dive. A variety of options are available, so whether you just want to try diving as part of your Cambodia holiday, or become a certified instructor, there’s a course here for you. Open Water Diver training packages cost around US$380.
There are numerous diving schools in Sihanoukville, and one on Koh Rong Samloem.
Cambodia dive packages
Cambodia is one of the cheapest places in the world to dive, with double boat dives available for around US$95, including full equipment rental, dive guides, breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks.
Packages for diving Koh Rong are available from US$295 for three days and two nights, including transfers from Sihanoukville, island accommodation, six dives, equipment rental, dive guides and lunches. Longer packages are also available for similar prices.
For divers who can’t get enough, go under for longer on a liveaboard trip. Overnight packages are available from US$220, including five dives around Koh Rong, full equipment rental, qualified dive guides, dormitory sleeping and all meals. Similar packages to Koh Tang are US$275, and US$325 for Koh Prins.
Quality of operators can vary, so do some research to ensure you’re happy with what you’re paying for.
The low down on going under
Depending on the area and time of year, vis can range from 5 to 35 metres.
You can kiss the thick neoprene suit goodbye, with water temperatures remaining around 28 to 30°C year-round.
With its tropical climate, Cambodia stays warm throughout the year, although it has two seasons. The northeast monsoon season extends from December through April, bringing sunny, dry weather. Temperatures peak from February to April, which can get as hot as 40°C. Temperatures remain high in May and June, and the start of the southwest monsoon can make for sticky conditions.
The winds shift into the southwest monsoon from May to November, bringing the rain that peaks in September and October.
Cambodia is busiest in December and January, with dry weather and lower humidity levels – but expect to see bigger crowds and higher prices.
With its hot and sunny weather, sunburn and dehydration are the greatest risks with diving in Cambodia. Practice sun safety principles—stay in the shade (many boats will have a shaded canopy), wear a hat and UV protective clothing, and apply sunscreen frequently.
Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and steer clear of excessive alcohol when you’re going diving. You’ll enjoy it better free from a hangover.
The closest hyperbaric chamber is in Thailand.
Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh and Siem Riep all have international airports. From Phnom Penh, there are several bus companies that run to Sihanoukville, in addition to taxis, and a train that operates on weekends. By road, the journey is three to four hours (depending on traffic and the amount of lead in your driver’s foot), and seven hours by rail.
Khmer is Cambodia’s official language, but English is frequently spoken in tourist areas. Currency is the Cambodian Riel (KHR), but US dollars are accepted in most tourist areas.
Accommodation in Sihanoukville ranges from luxury beachside resorts, to budget guesthouses, and everything in between, so you’re sure to find something to suit your taste and budget. Koh Rong also has limited accommodation.
The combination of topside attractions and the diversity of diving opportunities make a Cambodia diving holiday one you can be forgiven for wetting yourself over.