It’s the common view that Cambodia will never attract as many people as Thailand can for whatever happens to be the topic in hand. In the case of diving, Thailand is once again considered to hold the upper hand, to which we say, they can have it. Cambodia may certainly have a less active scene and more difficult conditions, but that is part of what’s so great about it.
The best time of year to go diving in Cambodia is December to April, when the dry season and currents mean that visibility is at its best. July to September tend to be the windiest and stormiest months, which will effect visibility, though it is becoming harder to predict and pinpoint this phase. That is not to exclude the rest of the year, when conditions might be less ideal than the dry season, but when you’ll also get more of that gorgeous ocean all to yourself, which leads us nicely to one of the great charms of diving in Cambodia.
In Thailand, you can barely let out an air bubble without it bursting off another diver. The sea is simply teeming with them, bobbing about the place like overgrown, hungover sardines getting in your way. Cambodia on the other hand offers some of the cheapest diving in the region, in waters that are very short on divers, yet bursting with a rich marine life with coral reefs and a high diversity of species.
The waters off Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloen offer a top launching pad for beginners with good, shallow waters and light currents. Under the waves lies a busy world full of small, colourful coral fish, like clown fish and angel fish, seahorses (provided you’ve been blessed by the sea gods), plenty of migratory fish like barracuda, bamboo sharks and stingrays, and legions of micro-life such as nudibranch (magical, colourful slugs), and shrimp.
Heading out to the islands further offshore, Koh Tang and Koh Prins, with their deeper, clearer waters and visibility up to 30 metres, are excellent for more experienced divers who may be rewarded with sightings of whale sharks, as well as eagle rays, barracuda, sting rays and leopard sharks. According to The Dive Shop, a blue shark was sighted out here a few years ago. Cambodia doesn’t offer much in the way of wreck diving, but there are two off of Koh Tang at 30 to 40 metres.
For those wishing to take their PADI course, the slightly tougher conditions are an advantage say the dive shops since they will conspire to make a better diver out of you. The number of dive and trainings centres has multiplied in the last few years, but they seem to be carving out their own oceanic spaces, so that you need never see any other divers than the ones in your boat, unlike Ko Tao for instance.
Scuba Nation offer PADI and National Geographic Diver courses that include equipment rental, meals and accommodation. They also offer refresher courses, instructor training and fun dives. Scuba Nation do their training in a pool so it’s a good choice for nervous divers. Most of their dives are off Koh Tang and Koh Rong Saloem. As at the time of writing, Scuba Nation has the only dive boat in Cambodia.
The Dive Shop offer PADI and National Geographic Diver courses as well as a variety of specialist courses from a private beach on Koh Rong Samloen. They also organise multi-day trips to Koh Tang.
Eco Sea offer PADI and SSI training. If you’re on a budget, SSI training is less expensive than the PADI courses. (PADI and SSI training are the two largest scuba certification bodies in the world — the systems are mutually compatible. PADI is slightly more expensive generally because you retain your course materials.) Eco Sea do all of their dives on Koh Rong Saloem where they rent bungalows and hammocks to divers.
Koh Rong Dive Centre has been operating from Koh Rong since 2012 and offers a wide range of courses from fun dives to divemaster, and including a coral reef conservation awareness class.
Adventure Diving with Claude is the diving outfit associated with Chez Claude, and the one that more serious divers seem to favour. They have been in business for more than 10 years and offer trips to seven Cambodian islands.
Scuba Nation: Serendipity Beach Rd, Sihanoukville. T: (034) 933 700, (012) 604 680; www.divecambodia.com
The Dive Shop: Serendipity Beach Rd, Sihanoukville. T: (034) 933 664; www.diveshopcambodia.com
Eco Sea: Serendipity Beach Rd, Sihanoukville. T: (034) 934 631, (012) 654 104; www.ecoseadive.com
Koh Rong Dive Centre: Serendipity Beach Rd, Sihanoukville. T: (034) 934 744; www.kohrong-divecenter.com
Adventure Diving with Claude: Phoum Kom Penh, Sihanoukville. T: (034) 934 100, (012) 824 870; www.claudecambodge.com