Cenote Hunting in Cambodia

The day started with an AM taxi ride out to Kampot from Sihanoukville in Cambodia.  The trunk was full of SCUBA tanks and other required diving gear.  We were hunting for a water-filled cave in the jungle, after all.

Sandwiched between the driver and a Cambodian woman, with more gear and three grown men in the back, I did my best not do bump the gearshift and send us into reverse.  As the driver sped down the wrong side of the street to avoid slower traffic in front of us, I silently thought to myself that if we were to crash, I would be the first out the windshield.  As we narrowly missed clipping another cab with nine passengers, I felt a little less fear about our six.

Two hours later we arrived in Kampot, ready to trek to Cambodia’s version of a Cenote – a never-before-dove cave.

scuba diving kampot cambodia
Kampot. Photo by fusuma automatiko

First, we had to procure motorbikes.  Oh, and a guide.  That in itself took a few hours to sort out.  After all, we were on Cambodian time.  I hopped on behind Marcin, Dive Shop Cambodia’s resident dive master.

“Don’t kill us, Marcin,” I said to him as we started off.

He promised to do his best.

The trek started out innocently enough.  We rode through the town center and for the first time, I saw beautiful mountains in an otherwise flat Cambodia.  This must be the Bokhor Mountains I had heard so much about.

Suddenly, we veered off of the nice, paved road onto a sandy, wet excuse for a trail.

This was uncharted territory we were heading into, as evidenced by even our guide taking pictures of the trek with his phone.

We were going on nothing more than a rumor.  We were going on a hunch.

We drove through thick puddles of mud and every now and then, miniature bodies of water, surrounded by nothing but the occasional shack and the natural beauty that surrounds Kampot.  Whenever I felt the ride getting particularly bumpy, I let go of the back handles and held onto Marcin’s shoulder – capable moto driver that he was – my other hand always filming.  After all, I had to document this endeavor of sheer lunacy.

scuba diving kampot cambodia
Fishermen near Kampot. Photo by EyeofJ

Once we got to the point that the road was no longer any semblance of a road, it was time to continue on foot.  This part of the trek involved pushing aside vines, letting the bare-foot and shirtless guide in front of us hack away vegetation with his machete, and generally climbing hand and foot over rocks.

Once we reached the waterfall, I finally understood the meaning of the saying “it’s the journey, not the destination.”

We had reached a beautiful apex, complete with trees growing out of rocks, and evidence that very few others had reached this point in the jungle.  After all, there was hardly a trail.

We were sad to realize there was no underwater cave.  There was no Cambodian version of a Cenote for us to dive.  It was a heartbreaking realization, but nonetheless, we trekked where few have boldly trekked before.  That, in itself, was adventure enough for me.

We may not have discovered Cambodia’s first cenote, but we had one hell of an adventure. Big thanks to Dive Shop Cambodia for taking me on a trek that very few others get to experience.  In any event, we made up for the lack of cenote diving by taking two amazing dives off of Koh Rong, an island close to Sihanoukville.

That night, I dined on my fried beef luc lac, feeling that I had earned it during my day’s work.

Though I know the Dive Shop Cambodia keeps the dream alive to find a cenote, I enjoyed my time simply hunting for one.  My fingers are crossed that one day, they are successful.

For a better idea of what the journey looked like, checkout  my video at the top of the page.

Lead image by EyeofJ

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