Scuba Diving the Vietnam War’s last battleground, Koh Tang Cambodia

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Koh Tang today is mostly forgotten as the last battleground of the Vietnam War. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, it is 35 miles from the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. There are no memorials here, and I heard the distinctive sound of an AK47 ripping through a clip, poking holes in the sky fired in anger over a poker gamer; sometimes, today, you can still hear explosions.

Still, they are related more to poverty than to war, as desperate men risk their lives in a continuing battle to make money from a slowly decaying fishing ground that is systematically being depleted by the Vietnamese and Thailand fishing fleets, illegally fishing in Cambodian water for squid and shrimp mostly. Thankfully, the dynamite blasts are down to a trickle as the Cambodians are discouraging this at the higher levels, and it is starting to be enforced.

Underwater, there were no visible artefacts or evidence that the battleground was here. The USA MIA teams are still looking for a lost helicopter that was never recovered during the Mayaguez incident. Still, many here speculate that it was found long ago and, like the other submerged wrecks in Southeast Asia, was salvaged for the metals they comprise. The iconic helicopter of the Vietnam War, nicknamed “Heuys”, I have been told they are mostly aluminium, magnesium and titanium, which would bring a handsome reward to the salvager.

Today, Koh Tang is one of Cambodia’s best scuba diving areas, with several Sihanoukville dive companies running overnight trips to this large, uninhabited island group. Large fish like cobias and sailfish, as well as large schools of jacks, snappers and fusiliers, swim over the reef in large numbers as damaged reef sections are repaired by mother nature, with new coral colonies of “Euphyllia ancora” (a commonly known variety being stag horn coral) growing at a rapid pace. The fish stocks displaced start to recover.

The diving is good; there are no crowds and several large shallow sections, and the deep reefs have escaped damage, so ample dive opportunities are interspersed with the damaged coral beds. Cambodia’s most famous dive site is the Virgin Reef, which has never been wholly dived due to its large size. It is blessed with healthy fish stocks and fantastic coral gardens stretching hundreds of meters from the island.

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