The climate of Cambodia, indeed of the whole of South East Asia, is fairly complex. The general term, ‘’monsoon season’’ or ‘’wet season’’ often conjures up ideas of torrential rain and flooding. That does happen, just as it can happen in many other parts of the world but it would be wrong to think that it is the norm. In some cases, an afternoon shower is all that you will get each day, and that is hardly a reason to avoid the wet season. In addition, if you are booking a Cambodia tour package that covers the whole of the country, the wet season in one area is not the wet season in another.
That said, in general terms, the dry season runs from October round to April with the temperatures beginning to rise as the rain arrives in May, lasting until September. The average temperature variation is 24C towards the end of the year to 35C between March and June. Cambodia has a fairly uniform altitude, unlike some of its neighbours so there are fewer variations in some ways.
The dry north-east monsoon arrives in October and last for a few months. If you are think about a Cambodia holiday, then this is the peak season. If the day is hot, you can always go on your tours early in the day or from mid-afternoon. Some of Cambodia’s roads in remote areas can be fairly difficult if there is too much rain so during these months, there is little chance of your Cambodia tour itinerary being disrupted.
The south-west monsoon comes in May and lasts for around five months. Initially, the temperatures are high but the rain just in the form of showers. It does become more frequent from July onwards so travelling can then become more of a problem. However, the dust of the dry season will go and the countryside looks especially lush and attractive. If you think of Angkor, Cambodia’s most visited attraction, everything is green, the moats are full and the visitor numbers fall. Tonle Sap is at its best, and a boat trip on the lake and within the flooded forests are particularly special. Tonle Sap remember is around five times the size as the rainy season progresses than it is in the dry season, and appreciably deeper.
What can You expect at the main tourist places at different times of the year?
• Siem Reap, and nearby Angkor, is cooler and dry from October until the arrival of spring yet it becomes lusher through the summer, with afternoon showers the norm most of the time. The advantages of visiting in what is generally regarded as the low season, corresponding to the wet season, are fewer crowds and no dust. Remember also that an afternoon shower can be refreshing.
• Tonle Sap is the largest lake in South East Asia and it varies dramatically in size and depth throughout the year. There are some parts that are fairly inaccessible at times but if you travel there between July and December, you will be unlucky if you cannot get the best out of a visit.
• Battambang is not far away. The time to avoid here is usually September and October because heavy rain can make travelling difficult.
• Phnom Penh is the capital and as such has plenty of visitors all year round. Perhaps November to February are the popular months but there are more reasons for visiting Cambodia at different times of the year than the climate?
• The South Coast has the clearest water and the most hours of sunshine between December and April.
There is more to Cambodia than its climate and tourists wanting to really get to know the Country may have other considerations. Meeting the people and learning more about their daily lives provides a real appreciation of the country. It is Buddhist and many of its festivals are real occasions. There are three or four important festivals when you would get a real experience to add to the landmarks that are there all the time.
• New Year (Choul Chnam Thmey) is celebrated just before the arrival of the rains, generally April. The date each year is dependent on the lunar calendar and last three days. On the first day, the people give thanks to Buddha, lighting incense and candles. The following day, gifts are given to the poor and on the final day, all the statues of Buddha are washed with scented water, symbolising the washing away of sins.
• The Ploughing Festival is a month later with a traditional ceremony, often done by the King, of oxen ploughing the fields. The locals believe that success of the harvest will depend upon what the oxen eat as they are led, and the order in which they eat different foods.
• Ancestors Day (Pchum Ben) lasts 15 days in the 10th month of the Khmer calendar. Worship of ancestors is important throughout Indochina and during this period, pagodas are full of people paying their respects and making offerings.
• The Water Festival (Boun Om Touk) is on the full moon at the end of the rains in November. Villagers thank the rivers for the fish and the fertile land their waters produce. The Festival lasts three days and there are races, concerts and fireworks. At Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, huge numbers gather, into the millions, while Tonle Sap is another major venue that attracts huge numbers.
What’s a little rain if there are things to do in Cambodia that correspond with the rainy season? If there are logistical problems because the rain makes travelling difficult, then you should be cautious about planning an itinerary where the roads may be poor. Otherwise, Cambodia is a country that can provide a real experience all twelve months in the year. An experienced Indochina travel agent will happily provide advice and answer all your questions before preparing an itinerary full of the major highlights of any of South East Asia’s countries, singly or in combination.