Cambodia destination guide

Best time to visit Cambodia

Cambodia, like its neighbours, is influenced by the tropical mainland South East Asian monsoon and has two distinct seasons: the rainy season from May to October, with most rain falling in September and October and the dry season from November to April.

The dry hot season arrives in March and brings with it humid high temperatures (35°C) which last until May or early June when the seasons begin to change and rain arrives. From June, the rainy season is characterised by heavy afternoon rain showers which come to a head in September and October, the months that receive the most rain. The rainy season nourishes Cambodia’s rural life and livelihood as the countries massive inland lake, Tonle Sap, actually influences the directional flow of the Mekong in the rainy season. The coolest months of the year are from October to December. (24°C-26°C)

The Cambodian water festival in October is a lively affair with 3 days of dragon boat racing taking place in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and the Buddhist New Year in April sees families24°C-26°C. gathering at temples to celebrate. Although both are spectacular events, several restaurants and shops are closed meaning slight disruptions may occur in your travel plans. Visitors should be warned that roads in the north-eastern region can become flooded during the rains. Travel in these areas should be avoided during the peak of the wet seasons.

When to go

The best time to experience Cambodia’s splendid tropical beauty and world heritage temples and ruins are in the cool dry months between November and January. Cambodia’s low season in the rainy months between May and October can also be a nice time to go as prices are lower and there are fewer travellers; not to mention the forest and canals near Angkor Wat are full and brimming with life, however, be wary of flooding in the rural areas. The hot season may be too hot for some, however, the splendid and jovial atmosphere of Khmer New Year or Cambodia’s version of Theravada Buddhist New Year in April aren’t to be missed.

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Best time to go

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh experiences two distinct seasons – rainy and dry – and is further divided into hot and cool. Annual average temperatures are hot year-round at 28 to 33°C. During the cool dry season from November to January, cooler temperatures in Phnom Penh range from 21 to 32°C. February to May are the hottest months with temperatures up to 40°C and humidity is at its highest.
From May to September, the rainy season brings heavy afternoon showers with occasional flash floods.
The best (and the peak season) time to visit Phnom Penh is in December and January when temperatures are balmy with little or no rainfall.

 

 

 

 

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
21.9℃ 23℃ 24.1℃ 25℃ 25.3℃ 25℃ 24.7℃ 24.6℃ 24.3℃ 23.8℃ 22.7℃ 21.7℃
 Average maximum temperature
31.5℃ 32.8℃ 34.9℃ 34.9℃ 34.3℃ 33.5℃ 32.5℃ 32.5℃ 32.3℃ 31.1℃ 29.9℃ 30.1℃
 Average hours of sunshine
9 9 9 8 7 6 6 6 5 7 8 9
 Average rainfall in mm
25.5 11.5 58 101 111 17 196 172 248 319 135 80

Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples

Siem Reap is driest with clear blue skies from November to March. This is also the coolest time of the year with average temperatures of 30C in the day and 20 in the night. This is one of the best time of the year for visiting Angkor at sunset, walking tours, adventure activities, visiting waterfalls, visiting floating villages on Tonle Sap where the water is full following the rainy season. The countryside is lush with vibrant paddy fields
From the end of March to May, temperatures rises gradually to 40C in the day and 30C at night with high levels of humidity. April and May are also the beginning of the rainy season. Expect afternoon showers and occasional storms. Most rain falls in August, September and October and occasional flash flooding.

 

 

 

 

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
19.7℃ 20.8℃ 26.1℃ 25.1℃ 25.4℃ 24.8℃ 25℃ 25℃ 24℃ 23.9℃ 22.4℃ 20.3℃
 Average maximum temperature
32℃ 33℃ 34℃ 35℃ 35℃ 33℃ 32℃ 32℃ 32℃ 31℃ 30℃ 31℃
 Average hours of sunshine
9 9 8 8 7 6 6 5 5 7 8 9
 Average rainfall in mm
0.7 3.5 28 61 176 221 236 151 276 248 81 10

Sihanoukville and the offshore islands

Sihanoukville is a year-round holiday destination. The dry season from November to April is the best time to visit Sihanoukville, but is also the most crowded and prices are higher.
Humidity is at extreme levels during the months of March and April with October and December offering cooler temperatures.
Although the rainy season which lasts from May to October is not the peak time for the beaches and offshore islands, this is the best season for hotel bargains and fewer crowds.

 

 

 

 

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
23℃ 24℃ 25℃ 25℃ 26℃ 25℃ 25℃ 25℃ 25℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃
 Average maximum temperature
31℃ 31℃ 32℃ 32℃ 31℃ 30℃ 29℃ 30℃ 30℃ 31℃ 31℃ 31℃
 Average hours of sunshine
9 8 8 8 7 6 5 5 5 6 8 9
 Average rainfall in mm
93 53 164 432 250 436 647 574 316 522 338 84

General travel tips

Currency

The currency of Cambodia is the Riel. However, for tourists, the real currency of Cambodia is the US dollar. Riel is useful mainly for tipping and small purchases. It is also advisable to carry only US dollars, as visitors are not supposed to take Riel into or out of the country. All foreign currency should be declared on arrival. Keep all exchange slips in case you need to submit these on departure.

Clothing

Comfortable lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for travelling in Cambodia. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat and umbrella are a good idea in the rainy season and the umbrella can also offer useful shade from the sun.

Shoes (and socks) must be removed before entering any religious building or private home.

Electricity

Cambodia uses 220V, and a mixture of flat 2-pin, round 2-pin or 3 pin plugs. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor. Power outages happen occasionally but most hotels have their own generator.

Eating and Drinking

Khmer food is usually spicy and has a high proportion of fish. Fish combined with rice forms the basis of the Cambodian diet. Local specialities include curries, soups, and many varieties of dishes prepared with beef, pork, poultry, and seafood, which is abundant in the rivers and the Gulf of Thailand. Chinese, Thai, and Indian dishes are also common in Cambodia as well as a variety of Western cuisines, which can be found in the capital and areas frequented by tourists.

Etiquette

In Cambodian culture, it is unseemly to show too much emotion so avoid losing your temper over problems and delays.

You should always take your shoes off when entering a temple or when visiting private houses.

You should never touch anybody’s head intentionally as it is regarded as a particularly holy part of the body.

Accordingly, the feet are literally the lowest part of the body so do not point your feet at anybody or at a Buddha image.

Sensitivity to politically related subjects in conversation is advisable.

It is polite to ask permission before taking photographs of Cambodians, particularly monks.

Health

We strongly recommend having a good health insurance and carrying a good first aid kit.

No vaccination is officially required by the authorities, but immunisation against cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, polio, and Japanese encephalitis is advised.

Rabies is present, so you are advised to avoid dogs and other animals that may bite as a precaution.

Language

Cambodia's national language is called Khmer and unlike the other languages of the region is not a tonal language. The written script originated in southern India. As in other former French colonies, the educated older generation often speaks good French while the younger generation prefers English. Outside the major centres of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Battambang and the South Coast, most people speak only Khmer but it is usually no problem to find somebody who can speak some English.

Malaria

Although the main tourist areas of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are not malarial, malarial drugs are essential for tourists travelling deeper into provincial Cambodia. The best protection against malaria is to avoid being bitten in the first place; make sure to bring mosquito repellent. Check with your physician about taking a course of antimalarials.

People

Cambodia has a total of approximately 12 million people, 90 percent of whom are Khmers. The Khmer are believed to have lived in the region from about the 2nd century AD and have been influenced over the centuries by the powerful Indian and Javanese kingdoms.

Other ethnic backgrounds include Chinese, Vietnamese, Chams and hill tribes called Khmer Loeu that live in the forested mountain zones, mainly in the north-east. Traditionally they were semi-nomadic and practised slash and burn agriculture. In recent years increasing numbers have turned to settled agriculture and adopted many of the customs of the lowland Khmer.

Religion

Cambodian religions are strongly influenced by early Indian and Chinese cultures. As early as the beginning of the Christian era, most Funan people were followers of Brahmanism (a forerunner of Hinduism). Theravada Buddhism entered the country in the 13th century and was reintroduced as the national religion in 1989.

Today almost 90 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist and the faith has a large influence on everyday life. At some point during their lives, most Cambodian males spend some time in a monastery, and almost every village has a Buddhist temple around which village life centres. Cambodian Buddhism appears an easy going faith and tolerates the ancestor and territorial spirit worship that is widely practised.

Safety

Despite its turbulent history, Cambodia is a safe country to visit. All tourist areas have been cleared of landmines with a comparatively small portion remaining in the more remote areas. As a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact and a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags.

Shopping

Cambodian handicrafts include silks, woodcarvings, rattan weavings, handmade papers and the krama, the traditional Cambodian scarf. Phnom Penh and Siem Reap’s local markets are the best places for shopping and there are also dozens of charity-run shops throughout the country where you can shop for a cause. Ask your guide for more information.

Time

Cambodia is GMT + 7 and does not operate a daylight-saving system.

Tipping

Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in a country where the average annual income is incredibly low compared to Western standards. It is customary to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel porters should also be tipped. Do not let a guide talk you into tipping more than you plan to. It is totally up to you who you tip, when and how much and should be based on service received.

Transportation

Boats

The most popular route is between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. On an express boat, this takes four to seven hours. Additionally, fast boats may be taken to Kampong Cham depending on season and demand.

Cruises are available from Phnom Penh to Saigon via Chao Doc border crossing. The scenery throughout these journeys is breath-taking and it is an increasingly popular means of entering the Kingdom from Vietnam.

Visa

Most nationalities require a visa to enter Cambodia. There are three methods of applying for a visa from Cambodia: applying through a Cambodian Embassy, applying for an e-visa and applying for visa on arrival.