Tropical Cambodia experiences two main seasons: the wet and the dry. Each of these seasons is divided again into hotter and cooler periods. May is during the hot period of the dry season, and both rain levels and humidity increase before the wet season begins in June. Average temperatures are slightly higher than earlier in the year but cooler than the previous month; for example, Phnom Penh's May average is 86°F (30°C). You can also expect some rain in May, but not yet at levels that are likely to affect travel around the country.
Cambodia is not a large country, but there is some variation between the temperatures and climate in the mountains, the lowlands, and the coast. Temperatures in the highlands of the Cardamom Mountains or the Dangrek Mountains are cooler than on the lower-lying plains, where most of Cambodia's towns and cities are, including the capital, Phnom Penh. Schedule sightseeing activities for the early morning or evening to avoid the midday heat.
Crowds & Costs
May is shoulder season for travel in Cambodia. The increasing heat, humidity, and rainfall mean fewer travelers visit Cambodia than earlier in the dry season. This is an advantage if you want to see the country's highlights (namely, the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site) but aren't fond of crowds or jostling for space. You might also snag good deals for more upmarket accommodation in May. However, it's worth remembering that Cambodia is an affordable destination for many travelers, and smaller, locally run hotels and guesthouses are generally not expensive, even in peak season.
Where to Go
The northwestern Cambodian city of Battambang is a favorite fixture of many country tours, thanks to the variety of sights and activities available there. In and around Battambang, you can check out colonial-era French buildings, the Battambang Provincial Museum (with artifacts from local temples), the 11th-century Ek Phnom Pagoda and the well-preserved Wat Banan, and rural rice-producing villages. Battambang is known as the rice bowl of Cambodia, so touring the villages around the city is a must.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What to Do
Head to a Cambodian beach to take a break from May's heat. There are several islands off the southwestern city of Sihanoukville, and Koh Rong is undoubtedly a highlight if you want to really chill out. The sands are bright white, the sea turquoise and clear, and there are opportunities to explore the coastline by boat. To try something a little unusual, swim with bioluminescent plankton after dark. Just take a dip in the ocean at night, and see the sparkly bioluminescence illuminate the water around you.
Although rather heavy, visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, or the Killing Fields at various locations throughout Cambodia are a sobering insight into Cambodia's not-too-distant past. Seeing what Cambodians have been through within living memory can give travelers a different perspective of the people and their culture. Travelers with young kids will probably want to skip this.
Events in May
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.
Traveling to Cambodia in May? Check out these great itineraries
Highlights of Cambodia: Siem Reap, Angkor, Phnom Penh, Koh Rong & More - 15 Days. This 15-day tour of Cambodia brings you to the wonders of Angkor, Phnom Penh, the heritage town of Battambang, the pristine natural beauty of the Cardamom Mountains, and the tropical island paradise of Koh Rong.
Active Highlights of Cambodia: Siem Reap & Phnom Penh - 8 Days. Make memories on this active 8-day tour that combines Cambodia's most iconic highlights with off-the-beaten-path excursions. From Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, you'll trek through the little-seen trails and temples of Angkor and hike to the sacred peak of Phnom Kulen, as well as visit the floating villages of Tonlé Sap.