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We woke up on day two of our diving trip with to the sounds of the ocean and the feel of the breeze blowing up between the floorboards of our over-the-pier dorm.

Kong Rong Samlom

Koh Rong Samlom was stirring to life, and the village hummed with activity.

Koh Rong Samlom

While we were slightly bummed over our lackluster experience with our first dive, we were tentatively excited for what was to come. We really wanted to see the things diving in Cambodia is positively known for, like nudibranches and seahorses. So we asked one of the seahorse experts from (MCC) to tag along with us and help us find one of these hard-to-spot creatures. Seahorses can be as small as a thumbnail and are extremely well camouflaged, so if you don’t know where to look you are likely to end up disappointed. To our delight, he said yes.

Diving Cambodia

We were off to a divesite called “The Corral” which is basically just an enormously large, shallow, sandy area that is home to high numbers of interesting marine life, including the diver favorite- the elusive seahorse. Clever naming, yes? (A corral is a home for horses, for those of you who didn’t have childhood equestrian obsessions). This is also one of the first sites in Cambodia to be protected, thanks to the work of MCC.

Diving in Cambodia

Descending a few meters into sand lacks the drama and excitement of flying down an underwater wall or into a blue hole. But almost immediately, I spotted one of my favorite out-of-this-world creatures, the , and I knew this was going to be fun.

Diving in CambodiaLook at that smooshed up face! I can’t get enough of these guys.

Seconds later we came across a vibrant horned It was one of the most colorful I’ve ever seen.

Diving in Cambodia

Since there were no coral structures or other topographical clues to follow, we simply went hunting through the sand in whatever direction we pleased. It was a sand safari. And our next find was one of the craziest things I’ve ever laid eyes on: an or Devil Stinger, that appeared to us to be an albino. This is a very venomous species, so obviously I decided to take an extremely close up photo.

Diving in Cambodia

Our next spot was on of the area’s claim’s to fame: an extraterrestrial looking nudibranch. These slug-like creatures come in many forms, and this one was totally new to me.

Diving in Cambodia

If we had called the dive at that moment it already would have been a success. I had to remind myself to keep checking my air and time because I just so giddy with excitement at being underwater in a way I can’t remember being in a long time.

I almost swam right over this nine-armed starfish.

Diving in Cambodia

When I stopped to take a photo of the dramatically lit scene, the subject got a bit camera shy and went flying across the sea floor faster than I have ever seen a starfish move. It was incredible!

Diving in Cambodia
Not long after, we spotted the juvenile version of the adult we had just seen. Look how tiny it is compared to my finger!

Diving in Cambodia

Mark and I were constantly banging our tanks trying to get each other’s attention over a new discovery. A new seastar! A new fish!  A new nudibranch!

Diving in Cambodia

Diving in Cambodia

In fact, I was starting to forget our main objective for this sandy dive when our friend from Marine Conservation Cambodia signaled us over excitedly. There is no way I would have spotted this seahorse on my own. This dive was  quickly becoming one of the best of my year and it wasn’t over yet.

Diving in Cambodia Seahorse

While we were mostly focused on and excited by the more unusual forms of marine life, there were also some good old fashioned fish kicking around.

Diving in Cambodia

Diving in Cambodia

Diving in Cambodia

I’m sad to say I can’t claim credit for this amazing shot of a transparent Anemone Shrimp, but alas, the camera was in Mark’s hands.

Diving in Cambodia

What follows is the sole example of marine debris that I saw on this dive. I must say, as far as marine debris goes, it’s fairly appropriate, no? The little fish seems to like it anyway.

Diving in Cambodia

Just as Mark signaled to me that he was low on air, a trevally the size of a human came out of no where and zoomed around us nervously. He was about a hundred times the size of anything we had seen on the dive so far and provided great amusement during our safety stop.

Diving in Cambodia

As we descended to the surface, I was smiling ear to ear. This was easily one of my top ten dives. Ever.

Diving in Cambodia

So how did Cambodia go from being another mediocre dive destination to something to rave about overnight? Easy: It showed us something different and unique to this country.

Diving in Cambodia

I encourage scuba enthusiasts traveling to South East Asia to give diving in Cambodia a try. Based on what I experienced, I would recommend asking to stay away from the reefs, which were sub-par, and ask to be taken to “The Corral” or a similar site.

Koh Rong Samlom

The actual diving was only a fraction of our experience with . The rest was the experience of visiting such a remote and beautiful island and visiting a village that maintains such a traditional way of life. Island Divers maintains a very close relationship with the Mai Pei Bei community, and it shows.

Koh Rong Samlom

We came to Cambodia looking for a dive shop with new and safe equipment, strong community ties, and insider knowledge of dive sites. Island Divers provides that and more at a reasonable price: $75US for a two dive day-trip or $165 for an overnight trip with four dives an optional night dive (we did a combination of these packages; staying overnight but only doing two dives).

As the boat drew back into Sihanoukville harbor, I was smiling once again. I had hoped to find something positive to say about diving in Cambodia; to, in my minuscule part, help encourage responsible dive tourism to a place that I love so much. What I found, well, it blew me right out of the water.

Sihanoukville Harbor at Night

Full disclosure: For the purpose of reviewing Island Divers, we received a 50% discount on our trip.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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29 Comments...
  • Dad
    December 15 2011

    These photos are extraordinary!!

    • Meihoukai
      December 15 2011

      Thank you! I’ve been so excited to share them 🙂 Hopefully we can take some great ones of you guys on a dive…

  • Adrian
    December 15 2011

    As always, I’m impressed with your photography, as many of the pictures look like they were from a magazine. Every time I read one of your posts, I close my eyes and imagine I’m on a foreign excursion. So jealous.

    • Meihoukai
      December 15 2011

      Thanks Adrian! Don’t be jealous… just go diving! 🙂 I happen to know you had a great instructor…

  • I don’t have words!!! Seriously. Beyond beyond beyond amazing. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Meihoukai
      December 15 2011

      Too bad I didn’t have these photos yet to include in my guest post for you! Glad you liked them though… just more evidence that you need to get to Cambodia!

  • Octavia
    December 15 2011

    Very nice underwater experience! Great photos, too. By the way, did you find Nemo?

    • Meihoukai
      December 15 2011

      Hi Octavia! It truly was an amazing experience. We didn’t find Nemo per se, but we did find his darker clown fish cousin 🙂

  • Roy patterson
    December 15 2011

    Amazing photos again Meihoukai!

    • Meihoukai
      December 15 2011

      Thank you Roy! Not hard with such amazing subjects!

  • ken
    December 16 2011

    Hi Meihoukai. Just happen to be sitting on Koh Tao island after a 24h trip from Siem Reap to get here and researching for good diving reviews around SE.A. as we’re not really “feeling it” over here for some reason. So the first hit was your article which you just seem to have published! 🙂 Thanks for the info I found it useful (though no longer in Cambodia) – and I know what an effort it is to maintain blog updated whist on the road, so well done. Will check if u have anything on Thailand/Malaysia/Indonesia yet.

    Take care & hope to bump into you en route maybe.

    PS: check out Philippines if u haven’t yet!

    • Meihoukai
      December 16 2011

      Hi Ken! Glad you found this useful and thanks for the tips! I actually live in Koh Tao and am here right now! Let me know if you need any diving advice, I can tell you the best sites and shops on the island if you decide to stay! Best of luck.

  • [email protected]
    December 16 2011

    Hi Meihoukai, i just couldn’t stop saying “wow wow, and again wow” while reading your post. I envy this part of life of yours, what an amazing experiences. i have shared your post on our Facebook (Facebook.com/cafedetourasia) if you don’t mind. i found it’s so useful, and very beautiful of course!! hopefully you should have new followers!!

    • Meihoukai
      December 16 2011

      Thanks so much for sharing! I really appreciate it. This was a memory I will always hold dear and I’m glad that came across in this post.

  • Fidel @IHarTravel
    December 18 2011

    I love your images from this dive. And wow, those animals are very camouflaged, especially the sea horse. That Indian Walkman looks scary. I would have probably ran out of air from screaming after seeing that fish.
    How was the water temperature there?

    • Meihoukai
      December 19 2011

      Hmmm, I’m not sure exact water temperature because we weren’t diving with computers, but I’ll say I’m glad I had a shortie wetsuit! Normally I much prefer to just wear my bikini, but I’m starting to realize that waters warm enough to do that in are few and far between.

  • Zoe
    January 14 2012

    Hi Meihoukai!

    I found your website after doing a google search on where to stay in Siem Reap. All your photos look great…do you mind sharing what camera you use?

    Thanks!

    (So envious of your travels around the world. I looked at your other destinations and reading your London posts made me a bit nostalgic – I have soft spot for London!)

    I just got my scuba license this past summer and am looking for places where I can use it…and I just might make a stop in Cambodia for some diving!

    • Meihoukai
      January 15 2012

      Hi Zoe! Most of these shots were taken with a DSLR- the Canon t2i (which also shoots HD video) and the canon 15-85mm lens. It’s my baby! My underwater shots are all taken with a Canon Powershot 1300 and the Canon underwater housing. I recommend both! And I also highly recommend diving in Cambodia… check my archives for my post about doing just that! (And feel free to email with any questions!)

  • Jason
    June 20 2014

    This post blew my mind. Nice that your dives in Cambodia went from lackluster to top-ten and not the other way around…provided you with some ammo for a great two-part blog setup as well, it seems.

    I am certainly more eager to give diving in Cambodia a shot than I was before reading this post. Also, the Angkor beer can and your comment about the fish seeming not to mind it reminded me of this article I read the other day:

    I’ve only ever seen one seahorse, a Japanese seahorse somewhere off of Koh Tao (Twins, I think). It was the first dive of my AOW course, and whatever skill we were supposed to be working on was abandoned when my instructor spotted this guy five minutes into the dive. We spent the next half hour resting our chins on our arms, watching the seahorse eat as we tried not to scare him away with our excitement-induced urine.

    • Meihoukai
      June 20 2014

      Interesting article! I think artificial reefs are a great initiative in the places I’ve personally seen them implemented. And nice one on the seahorse find! I’ve been lucky enough to see them all over the world but they NEVER get old.

  • Dave
    August 9 2014

    Like everyone has said, your photos are amazing. I would arrive in Cambodia to work at Island Divers in January 2012. My 7 months there were incredible. You are indeed correct about the corral and all the amazing life to see and not even be on a reef. It’s too bad the viz wasn’t great for you. From March to May of 2012, we had many 30 meter viz days and the abundance of fish at Corner Bar is amazing.

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2014

      Wow, 30 meter visibility is impressive! Glad to hear you have such good memories of your time in Cambodia — I do too! Happy days, and thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Cynthia
    September 26 2014

    Hey Meihoukai,
    I enjoyed reading this thanks for sharing! I’ve also read your other article about diving in Vietnam. I am planning to visit Vietnam and Cambodia this Jan and looking to do some dives as well. Can you give me any tips/advices/places and whether a live aboard is possibly worth doing?
    Thanks!!

    • Meihoukai
      September 27 2014

      Hey Cynthia! I’ve actually never heard of a liveaboard in Cambodia or Vietnam, I’m not sure if there are any. Neither is really a top rated dive destination, just a fun place to strap on your fins for a day or two while on your travels 🙂 I’d check out diving in Nha Trang, Con Dao or Phu Quoc in Vietnam and any of the islands in Cambodia. Good luck and happy diving!

  • Anya
    August 4 2015

    Hi Meihoukai,

    I’ve been planning a trip to Cambodia in October with my boyfriend (we’re both certified divers) and we’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about the diving, more bordering on negative than on positive. Your post here has me completely sold (your pictures and detailed descriptions are incredible) , but I had a couple of questions I was hoping you could help me with. Are there any specific sites (like you mentioned Corral) that were particularly good? And any that we should avoid? We’ll probably wind up doing about 4-5 dives. Are most of the dive sites shallow, or are there more that go deeper than 15-20 metres and are worth doing? I’d really appreciate any advice you could give us to make this a great trip!

    • Meihoukai
      August 5 2015

      Hey Anya, unfortunately I don’t think I can be much help here. (A) This was many years ago and (B) the only dives we did were the ones outlined in this post, so I can’t recommend or warn against any other specific sites. Basically, I put it all in the blog 🙂 Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

      • Anya
        August 6 2015

        Hey Meihoukai,

        Thanks so much for responding, anyway 🙂 I’ve read through all your Cambodia posts and the hotel recommendations were great too! We have a couple of months before we go, so I’ll scout around for more info. And I look forward to your next post!

  • Kari
    April 6 2017

    Hi there- Your pics are great and I love your sense of humor as you write. I am heading to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia this May and June. I am wondering when you were there and how diving in Thailand and Cambodia compare. Sites, sights and prices/packages.
    Kari recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 8 2017

      Hey Kari! Thanks for the kind words. This particular diving trip to Cambodia was in November. Overall, diving is much more popular and prevalent in Thailand. It’s a bit of a novelty still in Cambodia, at least it was several years ago when I made this trip. It’s worth a day or two of your time but I wouldn’t plan a full trip around it! Hope that helps. Happy diving!