Rainy season in Cambodia – more accurately known as monsoon – is called the green season for good reason. The countryside is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a bonus that it’s also low season so there are fewer tourists, prices are lower, and there are even more lovely laidback locals to welcome you.
I’m just back from hosting a three-week culinary tour in Vietnam – a very busy Vietnam that’s crowded with tourists, both foreign and local (it’s Vietnamese school holidays) – and I’m bewildered at how blissfully quiet it is here in Cambodia. From the dearth of tourists in Siem Reap, it’s hard to believe Angkor Wat was named the world’s top landmark by Trip Advisor users last year. If it weren’t for the Chinese tour buses, I’d forget the temples were down the road.
You see, it’s rainy season in Cambodia – the wet season that drenches Cambodia from May to October thanks to the southwest monsoon, which brings some 75% of the country’s annual rainfall. During the wettest months between July to September it can rain two out of three days, sometimes just for a couple of hours during the day, at other times, it feels as if it’s rained all night.
Rainy season also means it’s the low tourist season, but while it’s the wet season in Vietnam and Thailand as well, it mystifies me as to why that doesn’t seem to keep tourists away there. If we weren’t lucky enough to live in Cambodia, the sheer beauty of the country at this time of year would be enough to pull me here.
I find the monsoon season inspirational – which is partly why we hold our travel and food writing and photography retreats at this time of year. (Psst… we still have spots left on our September and October trips).
I always look forward to this time of year. I love the evening soundtrack the frogs and geckos make after rain, the freshness of air and clarity of light when the clouds clear to reveal the bluest of blue skies, and I adore the dramatic lightening storms that illuminate the darkest of nights.
Here are some more reasons why you need to visit during rainy season in Cambodia…
Rainy Season in Cambodia – Why You Need to Visit Cambodia in the Green Season
Cambodia is Breathtakingly Beautiful During Rainy Season
The rainy season in Cambodia is known as the green season because the countryside is clad in lush rice paddies. The forests and tropical jungles are flourishing with plant and birdlife and the savannah lands that are brown and bone-dry in winter have never looked greener. Rainy season in Cambodia is breathtakingly beautiful. Those images of iridescent emerald rice fields that entice tourists to Cambodia? Note that they are taken at this time of year. It’s a photographer’s dream here right now.
There Are Fewer Tourists Because Monsoon Means Low Season
The wet season is also low season. Aside from touristy Pub Street and Sok San Road and the perpetually busy Old Market quarter in the centre of Siem Reap, the city’s streets are virtually devoid of tourists. It makes for a much more local experience of the place. It means that instead of jostling with other tourists you can take time to engage more with locals and expats and get a better insight into how people live their everyday lives here.
Angkor Wat Empties of Crowds in the Rainy Season in Cambodia
There will always be a crowd around the lotus pond at Angkor Wat for sunrise and there will always be tourists exploring the temples in the hours immediately after – only during the monsoon period the numbers will be in the hundreds instead of high season’s thousands. My underworked tuk tuk drivers and guides have reported that Angkor Wat has been close to empty in the late afternoons while the remote archaeological sites have been completely devoid of tourists. Now is the time to visit, people…
The Wet Season Isn’t Always As Wet As You Might Think
It doesn’t rain nearly as much or as often in the rainy season in Cambodia as some would have you believe. There are still dry days with perfectly clear blue skies. Or overcast days, and that cloud-cover really cools things down. Myths abound about monsoon in Cambodia such as it rains like clockwork every day. While that was once the case, due to climate change in Cambodia that’s no longer true. You should still come prepared – bring a good quality wet weather jacket that won’t make you sweat, a fold-up umbrella and flip flops – but don’t let it deter you from coming at all.
When It Does Rain, It Well and Truly Pours. It’s Wonderful!
When it does rain, it well and truly pours and it’s wonderful. It’s part of the experience of monsoon season in the tropics. Yes, it can be relentless – a steady deluge that drowns out all other noise. Get caught it in it unprepared and you’ll get completely saturated, not just wet. The most torrential rains bucket down, cascading over rooftops and awnings, and flooding the streets that quickly transform into creeks, before the water subsides, disappearing into the drains and river as rapidly as it came. When that happens you’ll want to be on your hotel balcony or in a café or bar with a good vantage point from which to enjoy it.
And When It Rains, There Are Still Plenty of Things To Do
While rain can ruin a holiday elsewhere, life goes on as normal in the monsoonal tropics. You can browse markets, boutiques, galleries, and museums, do a cooking course or another kind of class, pamper yourself at a spa, eat and drink at Cambodia’s cool cafés, restaurants and bars, see a performance, traditional show or movie, and you can even go to the circus. We have lots more suggestions in this guide to things to do in Siem Reap when it rains and we’ll soon be adding similar posts for Phnom Penh and Battambang.
Everything is Cheaper During the Rainy Season in Cambodia
Flights to Cambodia are cheaper because it’s low season here and fewer people are travelling here. (That also means planes are emptier, which means you might have some free seats to sprawl out on, and the immigration queues at the airport also move faster.) Best of all for visitors the hotel prices are ridiculously cheaper during the low season than they are in the high season. That means you can experience luxury hotels at mid-range prices. Because restaurants, cafés and bars are quieter there are also more meal and drink deals and longer happy hours. Merchants in shops will hold sales and discount stock while vendors in markets will drop prices faster when you bargain.
Cambodia’s Smiling Laidback Locals Are Even Friendlier
Expats in Cambodia often joke that this is “really the land of smiles”, having a cheeky dig at neighbouring Thailand. Because we reckon Cambodians are the friendliest and most welcoming people in the world. They’re always happy and smiling, even when they are underemployed or out of work during low season when many tourist businesses, including major hotels, sadly fire staff. That they have more time on their hands means they have more time for a chat and laugh it seems, making it the best time for you to visit if engaging with locals is a priority for you when you travel, as it is for us. And there’s just something about the monsoon rain that’s magical and the comical situations it creates that more easily brings a smile to peoples’ faces. Have you booked your flight to Cambodia yet?
If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia, see our recommended accommodation: Siem Reap’s best boutique hotels and luxury hotels, and our pick of Phnom Penh hotels and Battambang hotels. Need help with that planning? Consider my bespoke itinerary service.
Have you been to Cambodia during the rainy season? How did you find it? Would you visit again in monsoon?