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Sitting at home on a cold, wet drizzly day while pondering where to pursue adventures abroad, it may seem obvious that you wouldn’t want to go to Cambodia, or Siem Reap, at the height of the rainy season, but actually it’s not nearly as bad as people imagine. In fact, it can be the best time of year to be here, mainly because everyone else has decided to stay away – which means that your drinks orders will be poured much more quickly. Or, if you insist on being cultural about this, then it’s certainly easier to enjoy the temples when the amassed crowds are considerably less massive.
But what about all that rain? Well, it’s not as bad as you’d think considering a whole six-month period is named after it; most of the time anyway (more on that below). The rainy season normally runs from June to November though weather patterns have been so random lately that I’m sure we’ll soon be expecting snow. It comes hot on the tails of what I affectionately call the “just please let me die season” that usually runs from April to June, though this year this phase seems to have started some time back in February. Oh joy. This is when temperatures regularly soar, soar up into the 40s causing me to whinge incessantly, flop, flail, and worry about drowning in vast pools of my own perspiration and self-pity. It’s not pretty.
It gets better during the rainy season – though of course, all things are relative and it might not seem that way if you’ve just hopped off a plane from somewhere where bikinis are whipped out and dusted off when (if) temperatures reach the low teens. But before I came here, I assumed that the rainy season meant that it would rain all day and all night every single day, because I can sometimes be a bit silly like that.
What it really, normally, means is that the day starts off reasonably cool, if humid, then gets progressively hotter and stickier until some point in the mid-afternoon, when homicidal thoughts are beginning to creep in, you finally feel the first flickers of a faint breeze. Hooray! This is your cue to go find some place you won’t mind being stuck in for an hour, and you’ve got about 20 minutes to do it. In the meantime, the grim grey clouds cooking up on the horizon are moving towards you, and the breeze will start to get stronger. The first burst of lightning is your five-minute bell, and will be followed by low thundery grumbles. The trees start to strain against the growing power of the wind and by now you should be ensconced in your chosen shelter, with your first drink ordered, ready to enjoy the show.
The show is normally one hour or so of the weather doing a bit of showing off. Lakes of rain are dumped, spectacular lightning cracks open the sky and thunder that can sometimes sound like firing an elephant gun right beside your ear roars. Sometimes, it really is right beside your ear and lightning deaths in Cambodia continue to be a huge problem, mainly for field-workers. The wind kicks in but is not usually sufficient to do damage, though I got hit by a flying branch from a tree a couple of weeks ago which was a little less than fun so keep an eye out.
If you’re still out and about, cheap, plastic condom-like raincoats help, and usually cost about riel 2,000 from streetside shop stalls where you can see them hanging up. They weigh nothing and take up very little space in your bag and are often a better option than carrying around a clunky umbrella. Putting them on without ripping the thin sides though is sometimes an art.
And then it just ends, usually after about an hour, and the transformation is blissful. The temperature has dropped, everything sparkles, the light is lovely and the air feels softer and less humid. It’s jump in the air and click your heels time. If that’s your thing.
It’s not always like that though. September and October last year saw horrific flooding all across Cambodia that killed hundreds and displaced thousands and families are still struggling with the consequences. This kind of disaster at this time of year is not unprecedented; 2002 was just as bad. And in 2010 we also had Typhoon Ketsana which left us wading up to our knees for a week. And who knows what this or any other year will bring. It’s the Year of the Dragon, which is supposed to bring rain …
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 4th June, 2015.