Don’t let Cambodia’s monsoon season (currently being rebranded green season) of May to October put you off visiting, because the rains only pour for a few hours and this is the best time to visit. Prices are low, crowds less, and the country is a bounty of lush green. Here are the best things to do.
Monsoon season equates to low season in Cambodia, and this means fewer crowds to battle when navigating Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. Of course, you’re not going to get the iconic temples all to yourself but the volume of people exploring the site is considerably less, making for a much more comfortable experience. The heavy rainfall also injects life into the temple complexes, with the ancient monuments sitting amongst a forest of rich green. Just remember to bring a rain coat with you.
When the signs of rain sweep in–you usually have about 30 minutes from when the sky turns an ominous grey and the winds pick up before the rain starts to pour–it’s time to chill. Cambodia is studded with spas, vastly ranging in quality and price, so head indoors and indulge in a massage, spa treatment, manicure or whatever me-time therapy takes your fancy.
Whether you’re in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Battambang or Kampot, there are an increasing number of independent galleries and studios opening their doors to showcase the rising tide of contemporary artists across the country. Take shelter from the rain, which usually only lasts about an hour before the blue skies return, and get your culture fix at the same time.
If you haven’t witnessed a tropical storm then, wow, what a spectacle. During the day, the sky plunges into dark and crackles and groans like the earth is about to end, the wind whips up and then the rain hammers down. The night is the best time to watch a thunderstorm, with the bolts of lightning piercing the sky. Head to a rooftop bar, seek some shelter and watch nature perform before your eyes.
When the rain starts to fall, kill some time snapping up souvenirs at the country’s many markets. But be warned, put on your finest haggling hat because you will be expected to bargain hard. In Cambodia, markets form a major part of daily life, with them serving as the equivalent of a western supermarket. Here, you can buy everything from meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, to clothes, motorbike parts, household goods, art, bootleg DVDs and electrical items.
When the skies start to cloud over, spend some time inside taking a cooking class. There are several that operate in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang and Kampot, with signature dishes such as fish amok, spring rolls and Khmer curries taught throughout a morning or afternoon–a great skill to take home and impress friends with.
Phnom Penh boasts several multiplex cinemas screening many of the latest Cambodian, Asian and Hollywood hits. But you can get that back at home, right? Instead, head to one of the independent cinemas found in the capital, where a mix of documentaries, feature films, foreign films and documentaries are screened throughout the day and night. An all-day ticket is $3.50 at The Flix, with Meta House screening a free movie every evening.
Floating villages dot the outskirts of the Tonle Sap Lake, where communities live out their lives on the water. Monsoon season is the best time to visit, when the water in the lake rises tenfold in some parts. There are several boat tours that wind through the villages, as well as community-based tourism opportunities at the floating villages of Kampong Phluk and Kampong Khleang. These include homestays and fishing trips.
If you’re visiting Siem Reap or Battambang, then stay dry under the big top and enjoy a performance by Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Fear not, because there isn’t an animal in sight. Instead, the troupes are from Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO that offers a range of artistic courses, including circus, to underprivileged youngsters. The shows use a range of circus skills to retell Khmer folk tales.
While there are exceptions to the rule, the heavy rains generally tend to fall later on in the day. This means more often than not, monsoon season mornings bring with them blue skies and sunshine, so if you want to engage in outdoor activities, this is the best time to do it. Set the alarm early and make good use of the clear weather.