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Most travelers who visit Cambodia will do so between November and March. Seasons in Cambodia are split into wet and dry but the country is warm all year-round. The off-season is May through October and prices will be lower, but for a reason.
The cool-season is November through February. During this time the country is relatively cool and dry, making this the ideal time to travel. If you plan to travel during the cool-season make sure to book ahead of time, as this will be the busiest time of year.
The hot-season is March through May and travelers should expect increased humidity and heat, but decreased crowds and prices. Rainy-season is June through October and during this time monsoon rains engulf the country almost every afternoon, turning it into a lush green rainforest.
Do not let the word ‘cool’ mislead you. November to February is considered the cool season but ‘cool’ is all relative in Cambodia and temperatures almost never drop below 20 ˚C (70 ˚F). During these months the country experiences weather most conducive for traveling, with sunny skies and manageable temperatures.
It can still get hot during the day and average humidity is higher than you would expect, so leave your winter jacket at home. Some local businesses only open during this season, because it is when most tourism occurs.
On November 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Cambodia celebrates one of its most important festivals, the Water Festival. Across the country there are huge, carnival-like celebrations. The largest are near Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh.
To celebrate the festival there are traditional boat races that are both thrilling and fun to watch. The festival celebrates the strange natural phenomenon of the river’s current changing direction, with over 400 boats competing in races and fireworks. The whole country buzzes with energy during this time.
The Water Festival occurs at the same time as the Buddhist Moon Festival during which Cambodian Buddhists pray for and celebrate the harvest season. Due to the timing these festivals are occasionally referred to as one, the Water and Moon Festival, but they are celebrated differently.
If you are in town during the Moon Festival you will have opportunity to watch Buddhists celebrate by burning incense, chanting, and praying.
In addition, you can try an interesting amok dish made from fruit, vegetables, and fish. This dish is unique to both Cambodia and the Moon Festival, and will delight your taste buds.
During the hot season (March through May) temperatures can exceed 29 ˚C (85 ˚F) with 75% humidity during the day. During this time many locals will travel abroad or spend most of their time trying to beat the heat.
Although the heat and humidity can feel oppressive do not let this stop you from seeing some of the interesting events that happen during this time.
Khmer New Year
On April 14th, 15th, and 16th the country erupts in celebration of the Khmer New Year. This holiday is based on the solar calendar and each of its three days is celebrated differently.
First Day–Maha Songkran
On the first day of the New Year families will clean out their houses and light numerous candles around statues of Buddha. In the traditional worldview, this was the day the world was created, and it is celebrated with feasting and fireworks.
Second Day – Vanabot
If you are in Cambodia on Vanabot you will see lines of families going to monasteries to pray. This is also the day when locals exchange gifts. As a foreign tourist, this can be an exciting day to travel and watch locals participate in their traditional holiday celebrations.
Third Day – Leang Saka
On the third day of the celebrations people clean statues with scented water, burn incense, and of course enjoy lots of food. See if a local will show you their traditional statue-washing practices.
Head to a beach to cool off
If you are traveling to Cambodia to soak up some sun and get sand between your toes then the dry season is the time for you to travel. Kep, Sihanoukville and Ko Kong feature some of the cleanest and most relaxing beaches.
During the dry season getting to the beach areas from the larger cities such as Phnom Penh can become a challenge, as the roads alternate between dry and pitted, and wet and muddy. You are recommended to take a private car for an air-conditioned and expedient way to reach these beautiful beaches.
The Wet Season (June-October) can sound like a daunting time to travel, especially upon learning that it has been known to rain up to 51cm (20 inches) at a time. Cambodian rainstorms, however, are short and predictable, and often help to lower the humidity and temperature.
Storms are most common in the early afternoon and you might even find them enjoyable, if you have an umbrella and a rain jacket.
Upon arriving in the country, you are recommended to buy a cheap pair of shoes (you can find a pair for next to nothing) and plan to throw them away just before your flight home. The rain and mud typically combine to create a sole-destroying (but hopefully happy) experience.
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