Rainy season in Cambodia – also known as the monsoon season – is called the green season for good reason. Everything is lush and green and the countryside is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a bonus that it’s also low season so there are fewer tourists, the pace of life is slower, prices are lower, and the lovely locals are even more laidback and ready to welcome you.
It’s the start of May, the month that the dry season ends and rainy season starts in Cambodia. We just had our first torrential rain overnight and the first frog-and-cicada soundtrack of the monsoon season to lull us to sleep. The plants on the balcony definitely won’t need a water today.
It’s already quieter here in Siem Reap than it has been in the recent, busy, stupidly-hot, dry, high season months. The locals are more chilled, in part due to the heat. But soon it will very gradually start to cool, from scorching to sultry, although the humidity will remain.
It’s hard to believe that the UNESCO World Heritage listed Angkor Wat temple and Angkor Archaeological Park are just 15-minutes down the road and yet there are so few tourists around, because, in our opinion, this is by far the best time of year to visit Siem Reap and the spectacular Angkor temples that are in the ‘backyard’ of this charming riverside city.
Rainy season in Cambodia is the most beautiful season. The country is drenched from May to October thanks to the southwest monsoon, which brings some 75% of the country’s annual rainfall. During the wettest months of September-October it can rain two out of three days, sometimes 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 in those countries. 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.
As a creative person, I find the monsoon season more inspirational – which is partly why we used to hold our travel and food writing and photography retreats and culinary tours in Cambodia and Vietnam during rainy season. I write more during monsoon. I also cook more, inspired by the beautiful produce. And now I’m starting to draw again.
I always look forward to this time of year. I love the evening soundtrack the frogs and geckos make after the rain, the freshness of the air and the 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.
Below you’ll find lots of reasons to visit Siem Reap during the rainy season in Cambodia and with the latest update of this monsoon guide I’ve added a section on our pick of the best Siem Reap hotels to stay in during the rainy season.
Rainy Season in Cambodia – Why You Need to Visit Cambodia in the Green Season
Why you need to visit Cambodia and most importantly Siem Reap and Angkor Wat during the rainy season in Cambodia.
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. By the end of May, the forests and tropical jungles will be flourishing with plant and birdlife, and the savannah lands that are brown and bone-dry in winter will 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 during the wet season. It’s a photographer’s dream here from now through to November.
There Are Fewer Tourists Because Monsoon Season is Low Season
The wet season is also low season. Aside from the Angkor temples, touristy Pub Street, the backpacker areas, and the perpetually busy Old Market quarter in the centre of Siem Reap, the city’s streets are almost devoid of tourists during the quietest months.
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. (If you have to travel to Cambodia during high season, see our guide to how to visit Angkor without the crowds). It’s only during the monsoon period the numbers of people will be in the dozens or scores instead of hundreds and thousands.
The underworked tuk tuk drivers and tour guides I know have already been reporting that Angkor Wat has been close to empty in the late afternoons, while Cambodia’s remote archaeological sites have almost been devoid of tourists. Now is the time to plan a visit to Cambodia, 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.
You should still come prepared – bring a good quality, breathable wet weather jacket that won’t make you sweat, a fold-up umbrella to carry with you at all times, and cheap flip flops in case you need to walk through ankle-deep water – just don’t let the rain 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 sometimes seem relentless – a steady deluge that drowns out all other noise.
Get caught it in it unprepared and you’ll get completely saturated, not just a little wet. The most torrential rains truly bucket down, cascading over rooftops and awnings, and flooding 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 with a glass of something. The lovely verandas of the traditional wooden houses at atmospheric Sala Lodges and intimate and exclusive Maison Polanka are perfect for savouring the rain. Both are set amidst lush tropical gardens so you can count on a balmy breeze and a post-storm soundtrack of frogs.
The high-floor rooms of retro-chic Viroth’s have spacious terraces which are wonderful for watching approaching storms transform the blue skies to slate-grey, while the covered patios of the rooms and villas at Templation offer views of the enormous pool so you can appreciate the power of mother nature when it’s really pelting down.
Alternatively, settle into a café or bar with a good vantage point from which to take it all in. The wet season weather is a big part of life in Southeast Asia and it should be savoured.
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. We don’t let a little rain stop us from doing anything – or a lot of rain for that matter. Otherwise people would do nothing for six months of the year!
You can go shopping, explore the many markets, browse galleries and museums, do a cooking course or another kind of class, get a massage, pamper yourself at a spa, eat and drink at Cambodia’s cool cafés, restaurants and bars, see a performance, traditional show or a movie, and you can even spend a night at the circus (no animals!).
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 guides for Phnom Penh and Battambang.
Everything is Cheaper During the Rainy Season in Cambodia
Flights to Cambodia are cheaper during the monsoon because it’s low season 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, Siem Reap hotel prices are ridiculously cheaper during the low season than they are in the high season. That means you can stay in luxury Siem Reap 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 Friendly Laidback Locals Are Even Friendlier and More Chilled
Expats in Cambodia often joke that Cambodia 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.
Cambodians are always happy and smiling, even when they’re under-employed or out of work in the low season when many tourist businesses, including major hotels, reduce staff hours and even let employees go.
That the locals have more time on their hands means that they’ve even more relaxed than usual (which is something for such laidback people) and they have more time for a chat and laugh, making it the best time for you to visit if meeting locals when you travel is as much as a priority for you, 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 trip planning? I offer a bespoke itinerary service when I have time.
Published 20 July 2017; Updated 1 July 2023
Have you been to Cambodia during the rainy season? How did you find it? Would you visit again in monsoon?