Although many people will tell you not to visit Phnom Penh during the rainy season, it’s actually not as bad you might think. Granted, May through October is called “monsoon season”, with rain coming more days than not in October, but the early months aren’t too bad. This year we are just getting into the swing of rainy season, with some torrential downpours over the last few weeks, but it’s still pretty nice out.
The thing to remember is that in rainy season, although it may rain often, it doesn’t rain for long. Most showers last around 30 minutes, and are easy to wait out. Huddling under awnings or jumping into coffee shops is a fact of life at this time of year, so make the most of it and chat up some old ladies while you wait for the weather to clear.
On the upside, rainy season means temperate weather (compared to hot season, anyway) and very few tourists. If you are moving onward to destinations like Sihanoukville and Siem Reap you’ll be happy to miss the crowds that show up for the cool, dry season.
What to wear
Don’t brother bringing an umbrella — when it rains in Phnom Penh it’s almost always a windy rain that will turn your umbrella inside out. Even fancy raincoats are less useful than than the bright plastic ponchos sold on all of the street corners for 2,000 riel, or $0.50. They are compact enough to keep in a purse or backpack and provide pretty good protection from the downpours. Wear flip flops. Phnom Penh has a tendency to flood when it rains and if you are wearing real shoes you will inevitably wander into a puddle up to your ankles. When it rains I often wear flip flops for the journey and change into shoes once I arrive.
Most visitors get around town by tuk tuk or moto. Motos are not advisable in the rain because, well, you’ll get wet. Most tuk tuks have ingenious rain-covers that they bring out for the inclement weather, but they do tend to charge slightly more when it’s raining. Remember that some roads, particularly those leading out of town, are often unpaved or sort-of paved, and may have puddles for a full day after a big rain. This is another reason to not ride a moto (to add to my long list). Taxis are often the same price or only slightly higher than tuk tuks, so when it rains, consider calling one.
If you’re using a backpack, get a rain cover for it and keep it on when you are travelling. When everyone else’s bag comes off the luggage carousel at the airport soaking wet and yours is spanking dry, you’ll thank me. Use plastic bags to keep your passport, wallet, electronics, whatever/everything dry — things have the tendency to get damp here at this time of year. And remember to remain calm and stay dry (or have fun getting wet!)
By Lina Goldberg
Last updated on 25th August, 2011.