Seasonal Planning for Cambodia Travel
Cambodia is a tropical country and experiences two main seasons, the dry and the wet. The dry season runs between November and May, and the wet season from June to October. Within these two seasons, there's also variation. December to February tend to be the coolest months, with an average high temperature of 79°F (26°C). Later in the dry season, the temperatures rise a few degrees, and the heat can make outdoor activities more challenging—except for lying on a beach. During the wet season, it doesn't tend to rain all day, every day, although the rains are usually heaviest and most persistent later in the season.
When planning a trip to Cambodia, it's important to consider what you want to do and experience, as the weather can play a big part in your enjoyment. Overall, the dry season is the best time to travel to Cambodia because the roads across the country are more accessible, the conditions are suitable for sightseeing outdoors, and the beaches are inviting.
However, if you can only travel in the wet season, there are positives. Highly popular places like the ancient city of Angkor and Angkor Wat are much less busy than during the dry season, and you may have some outer temples to yourself. It generally doesn't rain constantly, so you don't need to worry about getting utterly drenched if you time your sightseeing right (and carry an umbrella).
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Dry (Nov-May)||Clear weather; cooler temperatures||Lots of tourists at Angkor; higher prices (but relative)||Outdoor activities, general sightseeing, lake and river cruises (earlier in season), beach time||Angkor/Siem Reap, islands off Sihanoukville, Cardamom Mountains|
|Wet (Jun-Oct)||Few other tourists; good opportunities for photography; lakes and rivers fill with water and birdlife||Rain every day; mud, landslides and impassable roads; humidity||Sightseeing at Angkor without the crowds, city sightseeing and museums in Phnom Penh||Angkor/Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Tonlé Sap|
Dry Season in Cambodia (November to May)
The dry season is the peak season for travel to Cambodia. December and January are especially popular months because many travelers from Europe and North America escape the winter and travel during their winter vacations. Later in the dry season is considered the shoulder season as both temperatures and rainfall increase.
Cambodia's most popular attractions—essentially, Angkor Wat—can get pretty crowded at the height of the dry season. The dry conditions are excellent for touring this ancient city on foot or by bicycle. However, the Angkor complex is vast and extends far beyond central Angkor Wat. The further you go from Angkor Wat, the thinner the crowds are. Book accommodation in nearby Siem Reap well in advance if you're traveling during the dry season, particularly in December and January. The same applies to many other parts of the country, including Battambang, Kampot, Phnom Penh, and the coastal beach resorts.
Cambodia's beaches are very appealing in the dry season. The sea is clear, the sands white, and the skies will be clear. While the beaches on the mainland nearest Sihanoukville are getting rather developed, many off-shore islands offer a more low-key experience and accommodation to suit a range of budgets. Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem, Koh Ta Kiev, and Koh Russey (Bamboo Island) are particularly idyllic.
Later in the dry season, when temperatures rise, head to higher elevations in the Cardamom Mountains in western Cambodia to take a break from the heat. The mountains are covered in dense rainforests and contain wildlife sanctuaries, including the Phnum Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, home to monkeys, pangolins, and water birds, as well as tribal people. Visitors to the mountains can also enjoy boat rides on the Tatai River, hiking, and staying in safari-type accommodation.
Prices will also generally be higher in the dry season, but Cambodia is a very affordable destination at any time of year. Many locally run hotels and guesthouses will remain at a good value even in the high season.
Events in the Dry Season
Liberation Day, nationwide. On January 7, Liberation Day marks the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and honors the lives lost during their rule of Cambodia. It's a public holiday, with some business closures.
Lunar New Year, nationwide. Cambodians with Chinese or Vietnamese ancestry celebrate Lunar New Year in late January or early February. People gather with their families to eat, drink, and play games. It's not an official public holiday in Cambodia, though.
Khmer New Year, nationwide. Over four days in mid-April, Khmer New Year is Cambodia's biggest celebration. Expect quiet cities, festivities in smaller towns, business closures, and busy transport networks.
International Workers' Day, nationwide. Observed on May 1, this is a public holiday in Cambodia, and many businesses will be closed.
King's Birthday, nationwide. The current king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni, was born on May 14, so this is a public holiday in Cambodia. Many businesses will be closed.
Visak Bochea Day, nationwide. Cambodians are predominantly Buddhist, and this holiday celebrates the birth, death, and enlightenment of the Buddha. Many locals visit temples, light candles, and give offerings (the date shifts as it is held on the full moon of the sixth month of the Buddhist lunar calendar).
Royal Plowing Ceremony, Phnom Penh. This festival in late May marks the start of the rainy season and the time for plowing. Sacred cows plow a symbolic furrow outside the Royal Palace in the capital.
Wet Season in Cambodia (June to October)
The wet season is the low season for traveling to Cambodia, but that doesn't mean it's a bad time to visit—it just depends on your priorities. There will be fewer tourists at Angkor (and everywhere else), so this can be a good time to come if you'd rather avoid the crowds.
Earlier in the wet season is prime time to visit Cambodia's floating villages, which disappear when the water levels are too low. Homes and shops on high stilts can be found along the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers and around Lake Tonlé Sap. Take a cruise on a covered boat and then hop into a smaller paddle boat or canoe to get an up-close look at villages and floating markets. Ondong Rossey and Kompong Luong are attractive villages to stop at en route between Phnom Penh and Battambang.
It can be challenging to get around Cambodia during the wet season as some roads become flooded or washed out by heavy rains, especially in more rural areas. To avoid a long and possibly delayed overland trip between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, board a water bus across Tonlé Sap Lake and down the Tonlé Sap River. This service doesn't operate when the water levels are too low, but it's a good option in the wet season, and you'll see rural life on the water along the way.
The wet season is also an ideal time for checking out the attractions of the capital, Phnom Penh. Enjoy a number of indoor activities when the weather's wet, including the Royal Palace, the National Museum of Cambodia, shopping at the Art Deco Central Market, and dining in excellent restaurants. When the weather's fine, stroll along the waterfront and take in the views. In terms of costs, you might find some off-season specials at some more upmarket hotels, especially around Siem Reap. Avoid booking into a beach resort in the wet season, though, as sea and weather conditions aren't ideal in this season.
Events in the Wet Season
King's Mother's Birthday, nationwide. The mother of the king, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, celebrates her birthday on June 18, and Cambodia celebrates with her. This is a public holiday in Cambodia so expect business closures.
Bonn Pchum Ben, nationwide. During this religious festival in late September or early October, Cambodians make offerings to monks and the ghosts of their ancestors to gain good karma. If you're visiting a temple at this time, look out for the offerings of food, fruit, flowers, and money.
Constitutional Day, nationwide. This public holiday on September 24 (or the following Monday if on a weekend day) commemorates the proclamation of the Cambodian constitution in 1993. Expect some business closures.
Coronation Day, Phnom Penh. The anniversary of the coronation of King Norodom Sihamoni on October 29 is a national holiday, and the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is lit at night.
Birthday of the King Father, nationwide. Cambodians observe a national holiday on October 31 in honor of the birthday of the previous king and current king's father, Norodom Sihanouk. Expect some business closures.