When people told us that Phnom Penh gets really hot in March and April, I thought, “So what, its always hot in Cambodia?”. But now we understand what they were talking about. Its May, and the rains are starting to return to the city – washing away 5 months of thick red dust and soot that clicks to cars, covers trees, and leaves all your white clothes slightly orange.
By April the temperature regularly hit 38 degrees, and according to the RealFeel app on my phone (which measure temperature, humidity, wind, barometric pressure and a bunch of other things) the weather feel like 45 degrees everyday.
Having experienced a fair few 45 degree days growing up, I gotta say I agree. As far as I can tell, the weather in Cambodia is broken into three distinct “seasons” – cool and dry, scorching hot and dry, and then 6 or 7 months of hot and wet. Its often swelteringly hot during the monsoon (May through to November), but relief brought by the regular torrential downpours offers relief not just for you body, but also for your mind. During these months, it might be sweltering by lunch, but you can often look forward to clouds building and a storm rolling in. After even a few minutes of rain, the city is washed clean, and while the heat returns when the clouds dissipate, its enough of a break to make things seem ok.
December and January are the best months of the year. The monsoon rains have ended and the temperature is as low as its going to get all year. The locals call this “winter”, but we had ten days in January that were actually really nice. Riding to work in the morning and the air was noticeably cooler than any other time in the year.
From the end of January, the temperature starts to rise, and rains are more likely to be monthly, rather than daily.
By March, the temperature is starting be noticeably hotter than you’d like, and by April to city collectively sweats. Even the most hardened Khmer people, who often stay at sweaty expats with a mixture of confusion and humour, can be seen breaking a sweat and cursing the baking sun.
So, what do you do?
Head to the coast
The gorgeous, lush-green countryside of rice fields and palm trees has turned brown and dry, but if you don’t mind the dusty roads then get out of town and head for the coast. At least here there are breezes that sweep onshore and bring a little respite. Sihanoukville – with its white beaches and tranquil blue water is the obvious choice for most – but Kep is our favourite place to escape the heat of the city.
Phnom Penh is full of dust, concrete and bitumen, with most gardens hidden behind private fences. But there are many lush oasis’s around the city to be found. A whole world of hotel pools and tranquil gardens can be enjoyed even if you don’t stay there. Often it just requires spending $5 at the hotel restaurant or bar. Our favorite spot is poolside at the 252 – great pool, usually pretty quiet, lovely garden and cabanas. There are signs around saying the cabanas are just for hotel guests, but so long as you are paying for lunch of a few drinks, the staff dont mind at all.
Here’s a great list of pools that you can access around the city: http://www.travelfish.org/blogs/cambodia/2012/05/09/swimming-in-phnom-penh/
Take it easy:
Stop running around like a madman in heat. Shopping centres and movie theaters are your friends. The coldest place I’ve come across in Cambodia is inside the cinema in Sorya Shopping centre. It’s ridiculous – dont even think about seeing a movie in a t-shirt and shorts, no matter what the weather is like outside. Its the perfect place to forget about the oven outside.
The Flicks community movie house is an even better option. Playing a far more interesting selection of movies than the big guys (unless you like supernatural thrillers and kids films), the flicks has opened ended tickets. Meaning you can spend a whole day having your own movie marathon for $3.50. Plus you can enjoy a few cold beers whilst there.
Hydrate (that means Coconuts!):
When the temperature pushes into the high 30s, humidity soars and there is not even a like of breeze, its hard to drink enough water to keep up with your water loss. This is where coconuts come. Nature’s best source of electrolytes (or so I’m told), cold, young coconuts, full to the brim of delicious coconut water, are sold be cart-push street vendors around the city. A young coconut holds a deceptively large amount of liquid. Its gotta be the best way to refresh. If you cant grab a coconut and water isn’t doing the trick, most corner stores sell Royal D (a powdered electrolyte mix) along with many canned or bottled beverages that do the same thing.
Act like a local
We’ve always thought the 2-hour lunch break we get at work is pretty over-the-top, but the hot season shows why its so important. In the hottest part of the day, most of our office can be found sleeping outside or on a couch. Not many people are trying to do much in the worst of the day’s heat. So take a not from the local, and conserve your energy.