What to do in Phnom Penh when it's raining

What we say: 3.5 stars

Every guide book will tell you that rainy season in Cambodia doesn’t mean torrential downpours from June to October and, indeed, that’s true. Most days, the sun will be shining until the clouds empty at lunchtime or late afternoon, and in the first couple of months of the season it doesn’t even rain every day. But that’s not to say that Cambodia can’t pull off a grey, drizzly day that reminds you of a wet Sunday in northern Europe. So what can you do in Phnom Penh if you’ve pulled back the curtains only to find the clouds ganging up on your day?

Be prepared.

Be prepared.

Fortunately, Phnom Penh is used to its weather — blistering rays of sun and belting cloudbursts mean that there’s plenty of attractions undercover. Follow our tips for visiting during rainy season and choose a destination from the suggestions below. If the street outside your hotel has turned into a ankle-deep river, your tuk tuk driver will be happy to ride right up to the door to keep your toes dry. Well, dry-ish.

The National Museum provides a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours and is predominantly roofed for your comfort. If you haven’t visited Angkor Wat yet, this is the perfect time to do some homework. Hire a guide to talk you through the giant statues and linga to get the most of the exhibits and take your time over the personal artefacts like theatrical costumes, smoking pipes, elephant bells and kitchen appliances.

Not the best time to visit the market.

Not the best time to visit the market.

For bookworms, the National Library is an often overlooked treat. What could be better than getting lost in a book while the weather does its thing outside? The building is better preserved than the contents of the bookshelves, but the hush of readers on the long wooden tables and the beautiful carved filing cabinets will take you straight back to colonial times. Dive into the shelves and there are some treasures to be found in the eclectic assortment of reading material. A personal favourite is the monthly newsletters (“bulletin mensuel“) from former king Norodom Sihanouk, which include details of his activities, favourite recipes, musical scores and images of Cambodia past.

In the rain, architecture is best viewed internally.

In the rain, architecture is best viewed internally.

If you want to delve a little more into Cambodia’s history, the Bophana Centre has a fascinating searchable archive of audiovisual files from 1863 until the present day. Discover revolutionary songs, life under the French Protectorate, radio programmes and films of the former king’s state visits. There’s also more than 10,000 photographs showing traditional Cambodian rural life, old images of Angkor Wat and Khmer culture. The Centre hosts exhibitions and regular film screenings exploring a particular aspect from the archives — check their website for listings.

One of the pleasures of big cities when travelling is the opportunity to catch up on the latest movies. Phnom Penh now boasts two multiplex cinemas, as well as a community movie house. And if it’s coming down cats and dogs outside, you won’t be feeling guilty that you should be at the Royal Palace or taking an architecture tour instead. By happy coincidence, the big screens are located in big shopping malls, giving you another dry diversion …

National Museum
Corner of Street 178 and Street 13, Phnom Penh
Open 08:00-17:00 daily, with last entry at 16:30. Entry fee is $3 for foreigners, with children under 5 free.

National Library
Street 92, Phnom Penh
Open 8:00-11:00, 14:00-17:00 Monday-Friday

Bophana Centre
64 Street 200, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 992174

Last updated: 19th September, 2014

About the author:
Abigail has been stoned by villagers in India, become an honorary Kenyan tribeswoman, sweet talked border guards and had close encounters with black mambas. Her motto is: “Live to tell the tale.”
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