Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia bordered by Thailand on its Northwest and bordered by Vietnam from its Eastern tip all the way to the South and has been part of the tourist trail for a long time. Famed for its iconic temple complex Ankor Wat, the largest religious monument in the whole world and a testament to the glory of the forgotten Angkor empire.
Aside from Ankor Wat, the warm hospitality of the Cambodian people is a draw for travellers and Cambodia offers an insight into its tradition, culture and people through hundreds of authentic experiences, despite its development being primarily focused on the tourist sector and significant growth in the number of tourists in the last few decades, Cambodia has still not lost any of its authentic charm.
But did you know that Cambodia boasts some fantastic diving? As a lesser known diving destination it is often ignored by divers travelling through Asia, but for divers in the know, there are so many hidden gems to uncover! Cambodia’s islands boast an array of diverse marine species and you can find great muck diving sites to uncover hidden seahorses, pipefish, hundreds of colourful nudibranch and a vast selection of small critters for those with a keen eye! There are also bigger creatures such as a number of species of sharks which can be found cruising the coral reefs around Cambodia’s many islands.
Join us in our guide to the best diving spots in Cambodia where we will tell you all you need to know: from how to get to some of the best far-flung sites, where and when to go and what to see when you’re there!
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How to get to Cambodia
Cambodia is part of the well-trodden tourist path through Asia and this means that it is an accessible and affordable destination for all kinds of travellers, from backpackers to luxury lovers. There are two international airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Riep, it is also easily accessed from Vietnam, Thailand and Laos by land and has many entry points along its vast borders.
For those travelling by air, it is advisable to book your trip through a major Asian transport hub such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand where there are frequent and affordable flights, before hopping on a low-cost airline such as Air Asia to Cambodia’s airports.
Before your trip to Cambodia, you can submit an application for the online E-Visa for approximately 32 euros, alternatively you can opt for a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival at either of its major airports. For your visa, you must have a valid passport with an expiry date of no less than six months after the end of your visit and two recent passport photographs as well as a small fee. Be aware that the 30-day visa begins from the date of issue, not the entry date!
Aside from the visa, it is recommended to take malaria medication as there are areas in the countryside which are affected by malaria-ridden mosquitos. There are no required specific vaccines required for entry into Cambodia.
The best time to dive in Cambodia
Cambodia is ideal for diving because you can dive any month of the year! The country has great weather and though conditions vary from one site to another and it is wise to check the conditions when planning your diving holiday, the peak season for diving is in the months between November to May. It is also known as the dry season, and from December to May you also have a greater chance to encounter migratory whale sharks, as this falls into their period of migration. This is the most recommended period of the year to dive in Cambodia if you’re searching for breath-taking visibility, windless days and calm seas.
The temperature underwater ranges from 20°C to highs of 29°C throughout the year meaning its ideal for short wetsuit diving.
Visibility varies depending on weather conditions and you can find anything from 15m to 40m visibility at its very best during the dry season. The far-flung islands of Koh Tang and Koh Prins is where to go if you’re seeking the sites with the best visibility and the four-hour boat trip means that you’ll be sure to be diving in some of the most unspoilt and pristine dive sites in Cambodia.
The best diving spots in Cambodia
Koh Tang is renowned for its great diving and far-reaching visibility, and despite being four hours by boat from Sihanoukville’s main port you will not regret your decision to dive there. Famous for its colourful corals and staggering visibility reaches up to a staggering 40 metres, Koh Tang is a great choice for divers seeking deeper dives than most of the sites around Cambodia. Here you can explore Cambodia’s diverse marine life with many distinctive nudibranch species, various small critters, triggerfish, stingrays, octopi and barracuda to spot during your dive.
Suitable for divers of any level, this island is the ideal site for beginner divers and is the place to go to escape from the hustle and bustle of Sihanoukville. Check out some of the best sites for divers such as Giraffe Lookout, Explosion Reef, the Three Beras and Sting Ray Alley. Don’t forget to check out Koh Tang underwater at night as the reef comes to life in the beam of your flashlight and you may come across octopi, lurking barracuda and scuttling crustaceans hunting on the reef under the cover of darkness.
Check out Scuba Nation Dive Centre for their daily trips to the different islands and also host overnight diving trips which will allow you to dive Koh Tang at night. Two day dives start from around €86 per person, including two dives and all equipment.
Koh Rong Samloem
One of Cambodia’s most beloved diving destinations, Koh Rong Samloem Island is a gorgeous dive site for macro creatures, here you will find the small stuff in the shallow seas around the island: scorpionfish, seahorses and small stingrays. Koh Rong Samloem is reputedly one of the best places to learn to dive in Cambodia and is famed for its good visibility. It is only 40 minutes from Sihanoukville on a speed boat, or 2 hours by slow boat!
Some of unmissable sites include Nudibranch Heaven, which from its namesake you may deduce that it is perfect for spotting colourful and diverse nudibranch; Cobia Point where curious Cobia are drawn to divers; Rocky Bay for a shallow dive with plenty of macro marine life to discover and also Victoria’s Secret Garden which is Koh Rong Samloem’s best hidden gem.
Check out Koh Rong Saloem’s diving schools situated on the island itself such as Ecosea Diver and Cambodian Diving Group.
The larger island above Koh Rong Samloem is another favourite dive site for those visiting Cambodia, though it has a reputation as a “party island”, it is also well-renowned for diving. Koh Rong has it all, to cater to everyone from novices to advanced divers. Koh Rong is a short distance from Sihanoukville and offers has all kinds of dives from shallow reefs suitable for beginners, to some deeper sites as well as drift dives for more advanced and experienced divers.
The island shares dive sites with Koh Rong Samloem, so you can travel to them either from Sihanoukville or from either island. Unmissable sites include Buddha Reef, Khmer Garden and Back Door, a site which consists of massive underwater boulders which is inhabited by small reef fish.
Koh Rong diving operators include the highly-recommended Koh Rong Dive Centre which can organise daily diving trips from €73 per person for a two tank diving trip.
Another favourite and highly-acclaimed dive spot in Cambodia is the impressive Condor Reef, a well-known site due to its dramatic landscape under the surface which varies from rectangular boulders to walls and arches, inhabited by many marine species including turtles and reef sharks, as well as the occasional whale shark cruising by. Visibility can also be amazing and can reach up to 40 m on good days in high season!
For wreck divers there are plenty of incredible 350-year-old wrecks to explore and penetrate including Chinese junks! It still draws treasure hunters from far and wide with the temptation of a discovery of golf and porcelain bounty! Some of the finds date back to 1660 and even ended up in the Phnom Penh National Museum. Sometimes undetonated bomb shells may be discovered on dives and it’s important to remember not to touch anything!
The tiny island of Koh Kon is nestled in between the islands of Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong, it is host to a wealth of species of seahorses and other macro critters such as Indian Walkmen and octopi. To make the most out of this often overlooked dive site is to go with an experienced keen-eyed guide who will be able to uncover and point out a number of creatures that you probably would never be able to spot by yourself. This is also a great place to go night diving.
Koh Sdach Archipelago
Another of Cambodia’s best kept diving secrets is the Koh Sdach archipelago, a group of 12 small and mostly uninhabited islands. To dive here you must travel to either Koh Totang or Koh Sdach and stay there as a base for your diving expeditions. Koh Sdach is a fishing villages which is inhabited by friendly locals that have Southeast Asian backgrounds, such as Thai or Vietnamese.
Come here to explore some of the most unspoilt and secluded diving spots in Cambodia. The perfect time to visit is in the high season between November and May. Explore Koh Sdach’s underwater world with the boutique Octopuses’ Garden Diving Centre. They also provide laid-back budget accommodation for divers who wish to stay on the island. The sites are shallow and ideal for beginner divers.
Another far-flung Cambodian treasure is Koh Prins, which consists of three islands: the main island of Koh Prins, Naked Island, Koh Moan or Chicken Island. The dive sites are teeming with colourful corals and nudibranch, triggerfish, large solitary barracuda and between December and May you might be fortunate to encounter the majestic whale shark cruising past the islands on its migratory route!
The journey to Koh Prins takes around five to six hours from the mainland but is the perfect place to explore if you want to get away from the crowds and dive unspoilt and uncrowded dive sites.
Koh Prins’ unmissable dive sites are Shark Point, Anemone Garden and the Drop Off. Anemone Garden is an ideal shallow site for beginner and inexperienced divers and its colourful reef is a great place for your Open Water course dives, but it is also a great place for night dives for more advanced divers, when the sun sets you can spot moray eels hunting in the darkness, as well as small cat and bamboo sharks hidden in crevices.
The more advanced sites include the Drop Off which is a wall that plunges to 30 m and also Shark Point may even reward you with the prospect of encountering the amazing whale shark, though year round you have a good chance of seeing reef sharks. Though it is remote, plenty of diving shops offer trips to Koh Prins from Koh Rong is the Scuba Nation.
With a name like Shark Island what more could you ask for? The name says it all! This great site is only a short distance from Koh Sdach and is a great place if you want to dive with the harmless black-tip reef sharks. There is also a chance of encountering bull sharks or even a whale shark if you’re lucky! Due to its remote location out in the ocean, the site has great visibility all year round. It is also a seamount with a big bird population so it can be quite noisy topside with cawing seabirds perched atop the rock!
This site is a deep dive and is suited to more experienced divers or divers with a number of dives under their belt. It can be prone to strong currents.
You can dive there from Koh Rong, island diving operators such as Octopuses’ Garden offer daily dive trips to Shark Island.
Koh Ta Kiev
For excellent diving a short distance from Sihanoukville, head to Koh Ta Tiev. This dive site is untouched and unspoilt and is only an hour’s boat ride from the mainland. The island is wild and full of lush jungle with beautiful long stretches of beach. Explore the wonders of Cambodia’s Ream National Park which is home to some astounding marine life and colourful reefs. This is a rewarding macro diving site to spot gobies and pipefish and a destination to escape from the crowds.
Diving operators based in Sihanoukville organise daily trips to explore the world beneath the surface around Koh Ta Kiev.