The Myths About Monsoon in Cambodia. Floating Village, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

The Myths About Monsoon in Cambodia

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Myths about monsoon in Cambodia don’t seem to be going anywhere, despite the inconsistency and unpredictability of the weather due to climate change. Barely a day goes by when I don’t hear someone say “it rains like clockwork every afternoon”. It doesn’t.

The Myths About Monsoon in Cambodia – We Dispel A Few

The continual pitter-patter of rain on our rooftop here in Siem Reap has stopped, the geckos are no longer seeking shelter inside, and the green frogs that graced our steps night after night have gone. The wet season has ended and the rains have stopped, but the myths about monsoon in Cambodia don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Afternoon Rains Do Not Fall Like Clockwork in Cambodia

Guidebooks, magazine articles and websites covering the climate in this part of the world typically generalise on the subject of the weather here. You’ll read countless times about how the monsoon rains arrive like clockwork each afternoon. They don’t. This is one of the biggest myths about monsoon in Cambodia.

We’ve now experienced three full wet seasons in Cambodia and while it’s true that it’s more likely to rain in the afternoon, it frequently rained in the morning, the middle of the day, the evening, and overnight. Sometimes it didn’t rain at all for a day or two, while at other times it rained relentlessly for three days.

It is true, as weather charts attest, that it does rain more in the afternoon than the morning, however, nothing runs like clockwork here in Cambodia, particularly the weather!

Seasons Are Not Limited to The Wet and The Dry

High season has well and truly kicked in. It reliably begins in December, coinciding with the start of the dry period. Although sometimes November can also be dry. We recently did a tour where the guide, having recited the same old script far too many times, told our group how Cambodia has two seasons, the wet and the dry, and the wet had ended and the dry started. Tuk tuk drivers will tell you the same. It’s a bit more complex than that. Yes, this is one of the other popular myths about monsoon in Cambodia.

Most websites state that the wet season lasts from May to October, bringing with it 75% of the annual rainfall, while the dry runs from October to April, with a dry and cool November-January period and a scorching April. In fact, October can be one of the wettest months in Cambodia, and November can also be wet. In November 2013 much of Cambodia was underwater from floods that affected 21 provinces from September through November.

The free Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide by Canby Publications goes some way in better explaining the nuances, identifying four seasons: December-February, cool and dry; March-May, hot and dry; June-August hot and rainy; and September-November, cool and diminishing rain.

According to data gathered at the Siem Reap weather station at the Angkor International Airport, in Siem Reap the the wettest month in 2013 was September, when it rained for 77% of the month, and after that October, then July, and then August. There was very little rain in May, although there were more thunderstorms than other months, and the rain diminished in late June-early July, and there was also brief lulls for periods in August and early September.

Northern Australia’s Six Seasons – Understanding Cambodia’s Seasons

Our experience of the weather in Cambodia reminds me of the weather patterns of the monsoonal north of Australia, which has a similar tropical savanna climate, six main seasons and two transitional mini-seasons as identified by Australia’s northern indigenous peoples, who have been observing weather patterns for 50,000 years.

There, Dhululdur is the pre-wet season from October to November; Barra’mirri is the growth season, December to January; Mayaltha, the lush flowering season, February to March; Midawarr, from March to April, the fruiting season, which includes Ngathangamakulingamirri, the two-week harvest season in April; Dharratharramirri, from May to July, the early dry season; and Rarrandharr, from August to October, the main dry season; while the period known as Burrugumirri, from July to August, is identified as the time when marine life such as sharks and stingrays give birth.

Having said that, because there are so many indigenous tribes in Australia, especially across northern Australia, who are living in different areas with different micro-climates, along with different languages and dialects, there are also different seasonal calendars.

In the Northern Territory’s Katherine region, for instance, the Jawoyn people identify the seasons in their area slightly differently: Jiorrk, from January to February is the main part of the wet; Bungarung, from March through to mid-April is when the last of the rains fall; Jungalk, from mid-April through May is the early hot dry; Malaparr from June to August is the cooler middle-dry time when burning of the land takes place (a preventative measure against bushfires); Worrwopmi in September and October is the hot and sticky early build-up; while Wakaringding in November and December is the build-up, marked by brooding thunderstorms, when the first rains fall.

If you’re interested in learning more, see this piece on The Lost Seasons on the ABC site and the Indigenous Weather Knowledge project on Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology site. There’s more insight here too on Climate in Aboriginal Australia.

While the months when different weather cycles occur obviously differ between Australia and Cambodia, Australia being in the southern hemisphere and Cambodia in the northern hemisphere, indigenous Australians’ more nuanced understanding of the seasons have more closely reflected our experience in Cambodia.

The Only Constant is Inconsistency and Unpredictability

If there was one constant here in Siem Reap, and in Battambang and Phnom Penh where we have also spent a lot of time during the wet season, it’s the unpredictability of the weather. As a photographer, Terence is constantly checking weather websites so we know when to schedule activities and photo shoots. Never has he spent so much time looking at storm patterns and never have I made and changed plans as much as I have during the last six months.

What surprised us most was how quickly the weather could shift and wouldn’t settle in as we’d envisaged it might. There were days where it would rain like mad for half an hour then the clouds would pass and the sun would come out and a gorgeous afternoon would unfurl. In some cases it could be raining heavily in one part of the city and in another the sun would be blazing.

I’m not sure which days I liked more, when we woke to grey skies and heavy rain and had to walk in ankle deep water to get anywhere, only to be pleasantly surprised when it cleared in the afternoon to reveal a perfect blue sky, a clarity of light that reminded me of early spring in Sydney, and swimming pool weather. Or those late afternoons when we would watch in amazement from our balcony as slate-grey clouds dramatically rolled in, quickly blackening the sky.

The Downside to Visiting Cambodia in Monsoon

For travellers, the unpredictability of the weather means that it’s a gamble to visit during monsoon. If you’re on a tight schedule and have just a few days in Siem Reap then you’re going to be very disappointed if it rains the entire time, ruining your temple plans, despite there being a lot of other engaging indoor things to do. See Some Things to Do in Siem Reap When it Rains for ideas.

The rain makes the temples very slippery and sometimes there is so much water around, some may not be accessible at all. At times there is no way to avoid being ankle- or even knee-deep in water so leave your best walking shoes or hiking boots at home. Each night you’ll be scraping mud off your soles and wiping splatters from your clothes.

Then there are the floods. Heavy rain that started in Cambodia in the third week of September and continued throughout October and November this year – not receding until the end of that month – caused flooding in 21 provinces. The floods affected 1.7 million people, resulting in around 150,000 people being evacuated and almost 200 deaths. You can read about that here.

Most of Cambodia’s cities are set on rivers, and when the water peaks they inevitably flood the streets, forcing tourists to stay in their hotels or leave town. The flooding can be so bad in places that roads are cut off completely, requiring detours that could add many hours to a trip or, if you visit remote temples, stranding you completely.

In October-November this year, the usual 2.5 hour journey by car between Siem Reap and Battambang stretched to seven and eight hours. It’s December and it’s still a slow journey overland between the two cities and from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh as the roads are damaged from the rain with colossal pot holes everywhere.

The Monsoon Season is the Gorgeous Green Season

One of the myths about monsoon is actually true! If you’re a budget traveller or a slow traveller, however, with no fixed schedule and all the time in the world, the wet season is a wonderful time to visit. We absolutely love it.

The countryside is lush and the rice paddies are an incandescent green. Farmers fish in their flooded rice fields and kids play in the water and catch frogs. Butterflies flutter about and geckos and frogs are in abundance, making music at night.

There is water everywhere, moats and pools prettily reflect the temples, while the water on the sandstone and laterite bricks enhances their colours, making the most intricate details on decorative carvings and bas-reliefs stand out. The lime coloured moss and lichen that dapple the temples is also more pronounced.

In practical terms, accommodation is plentiful and rates are as low as they’ll get. You can get five-star hotel rooms for the price of a four- or even three-star, a three-star can come close to high season one-star prices. We spent two months while we searched for an apartment at a lovely mid-range hotel for which I was able to negotiate budget rates. There were some days when there were no other guests and we had the property entirely to ourselves.

The restaurants are empty and the streets are quiet, especially in Siem Reap, which can get uncomfortably busy during high season. Best of all, there are no crowds at Angkor Wat during the dampest months and we often found ourselves alone at other temples. Bliss.

Tips for Visiting Cambodia During Monsoon

Research the weather before you book

Do some thorough research well ahead of time so you know what you’re getting yourself into to determine which season is right for you. I’ve found the Travel Indochina (now Insider Journeys) site’s weather posts to be the most detailed of any when it comes to describing weather in different regions of Cambodia, as well as Vietnam and Laos. Also look at historical weather patterns – I like how they’re presented on, which is easy to use.

Use Weather Underground

Check the 10-day forecasts on Weather Underground to see how weather will change throughout the day. We’ve found this site to be the most accurate weather site, and Terence uses many websites, continually comparing them on a daily basis so he can plan his photo shoots.

Be prepared

Bring quality walking shoes with good grip so you don’t slip when exploring the temples; leave the white runners at home, as they’ll be brown by the time you leave. Flip flops are best for the city streets. A quality wet weather jacket will get used but you might find it too steamy; you can buy cheap light ponchos ($1-2) and more durable ones ($10) at the local markets, along with cheap hats and umbrellas. Zip-lock bags, sold in supermarkets here, will keep tickets, money, phones, and cameras dry.

Be flexible

Try to build additional time into your itinerary so you can extend your stay if you find you arrive and there are three days of rain but it’s going to be clear the day you plan to leave. When you’re here, check the weather forecast before you go to bed and when you rise and have contingency plans for activities to do indoors in case of rain. (See our ideas above.)

Book last minute

There’s no need to book flights and hotels well ahead of time. There are plenty of hotels and we recommend booking accommodation at the last minute, which is when you’ll find some fabulous deals.

Book local

There’s no need to book tours from home before you travel during wet season. Book when you arrive and use local tour companies so you can be sure the money is staying in the community. Visit the travel company’s office so you can discuss options and whether it’s going to be possible to change a tour date at the last minute if it rains.

UPDATED: July 2016

Have you been to Cambodia or other parts of South East Asia during monsoon? Would you return during the wet season? We’d love to hear about your experiences and your thoughts on our myths about monsoon in Cambodia.


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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

14 thoughts on “The Myths About Monsoon in Cambodia”

  1. I think I’m one of those people who think that it’s always hot in asia. Last month I went to Bangkok and was surprised that it not only rained a lot, but was pretty cool.
    I really do need to take your advice and do some research before I go.

  2. I spent over 2 months in Siem Reap last year and there was a raining season there. it was not that bad as locals and people described, but the rain completely paralyzed the traffic and it was difficult to get from work to our apartment. Tourists didn’t give up though and they were exploring the Angkor Wat temples as usual.

  3. Yes, Bangkok has a short spell of cool weather in December-January. We’ve also experienced lovely cool ‘winter’ evenings there, but also had some sweaty, sticky days too. It’s always funny seeing Thais dress up in their winter woollies – any excuse for the girls to slip on some knee-high boots. It was the same in Dubai – sometimes they’d even throw on a coat! It wasn’t *that* cold.

    But, yes, good idea to do a bit of research. I can’t imagine it’s much fun arriving in Hanoi in singlets and shorts in the middle of what can be a very chilly winter.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Great advice – the more I travel, the more I realize how inaccurate or flat-out WRONG so much info is online. Even when it comes to things like getting visas. Thanks for the nuanced specifics!

  5. Hi Agness, yes, it’s mainly Siem Reap that I’m writing about above.
    And, yes, definitely a rainy season. It sounds like you weren’t here for the worst of it, which can occur at different times each year. This year mainly in October and early November when the city flooded badly.
    I think it’s great to see travellers battling the water to get to the temples. I guess I would too if I only had 2-3 days holiday.
    Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Hi Rashad, it’s so true. I think a lot of copying or ‘sharing’ of information goes on. When I searched for certain phrases on this subject I found the same information across dozens of sites. There is a lot of incorrect info out there, but mostly it’s just very generalized, which is never helpful.

    Re visas, yes, there’s a lot of incorrect information online. There’s a common complaint by travel bloggers who visit Cambodia, who always seem to think they’re being scammed, about the cost of visas at the border and most will say that the fee is $20 or $25, depending on the mood of the immigration guys or whether they have added a bribe or not. In fact, $25 is the Tourist Visa, and $20 is the Ordinary (Business) Visa aimed at people coming here to work/do business, slightly reduced as it’s assumed they’re visiting regularly. That visa is the one that can be extended by a month or even a year to allow multiple-entries – not the Tourist Visa.

    And visas should only be obtained at Immigration offices at borders not the dodgy ‘travel agents’ that try to sell them for anything up to $38 each.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  7. I love traveling in SE Asia during the wet season. There are smaller crowds, cheaper rooms and the weather is cooler. I love the changing light and lack of glare – wonderful for photography.

  8. Hoping for an answer even though the post is old. I don’t mind rain and find the heavy down pours charming. However, how is the wind? Is it stormy in July? I really want to go to the islands but if it’s stormy and massive waves I don’t want to waste my time travelling to sihanoukville or the islands. Thank you in advance!

  9. Hi Ann, we live in Cambodia, so we update all our posts on an as-needs basis :)

    Traditionally, there’s been very little wind in July – it mainly gets windy in September and October, the end of the monsoon. However, Cambodia is feeling the effects of climate change and it was blowing a gale for a day in March in Siem Reap, which was very unseasonal. I just checked Sihanoukville’s weather out of interest and there are thunderstorms, which is also unseasonal. In the Australian tropics we call this time of year ‘the build-up’ (to the monsoon) – there can be late afternoon ‘dry’ storms, so slate grey skies and lightening, but no rain. However, it seems to be raining already and we’ve had some rain in Siem Reap. For the locals it’s far preferable to last year when there was a 7-month drought.

    July can be one of the wettest months of the monsoon, however, so if you were hoping to lie on a beach and work on your tan, July can be risky. I say can be because last year July was fairly dry. The rain won’t bother you as much in Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh, where it’s simply part of the experience, and there are things to do indoors and out, but you might not appreciate it on the coast.

    Enjoy your time in Cambodia and don’t hesitate to come back to us with other questions. Do browse our stories under ‘Cambodia’ – we put a lot of effort into the posts and update them frequently. Thanks for dropping by!

  10. Hi Ann,

    I am planning to visit Cambodia sometime in mid-June. Does it rain heavily over there, during that time of the year? I love traveling during the monsoons but it’d be great if I could get respite from heavy showers. Do let me know. Thank you.

    Shivom Oza
    Mumbai, India

  11. Hi Shivom – we don’t have an ‘Ann’ here – just Lara and Terence :) It never rains ALL DAY, but sometimes it seems like it is raining ALL NIGHT! The rain is so unpredictable these days. Last June it was wonderful weather with not much rain and beautiful blue skies, so it’s just hard to tell. I would recommend taking the risk. There is something about the light in June – especially after rain – it is just gorgeous. So much clearer than in March/April for instance when we get the smoke from burning off in Northern Thailand blow over. Do browse the Siem Reap section of our site and let us know if you have other questions.

  12. Hi Lara,

    Probably setting the standard for “last-minute” here, but my husband and I are thinking of going to Cambodia this August 2018 for 10 days with our 15 year old daughter as our schedules have opened up. I’ve read several of your wonderful posts recommending a trip during the monsoon season, but would like your opinion on whether we should really risk this as the one thing we love to do is hike a country’s national parks and wildlife watch. I’ve read that we’d be covered in leeches (a definite deterrent for my daughter!) On the other hand, it does sound so much more beautiful that we would actually see the flora that we wanted to see. Appreciate any advice you can give.

  13. Hi Nancy, the record holders for latest “last minute” bookings are the couples (several) who email me from Bangkok airport, about to board their flights to Siem Reap, to book my itineraries :)

    The weather is unpredictable, as I say above… I’m currently hosting an 8-day Cambodia Culinary Tour and we’ve had gorgeous blue skies every day. Check out my Facebook page or Instagram account for pics. But hiking in national parks is altogether different to visiting temples, markets, villages, towns, and cities as we do, where there’s always somewhere to shelter if/when it rains.

    But hiking trails can get very muddy and slippery and sliding down a muddy slope isn’t much fun. Nor are leeches! The weather is different all over the country too. Terence messaged me to say it’s been raining heavily in Siem Reap, but we’ve had clear skies here in Battambang, three hours away.

    I’d recommend contacting the guides/tour operators you’re planning to use for your hiking tours and getting their advice. Otherwise, save the national parks for another trip and focus on the temples, villages, towns, etc.

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