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kja Nov 25th, 2019 10:19 PM

Cambodia in May?
If I understand correctly (and that is the question!), May is not the ideal time to visit Cambodia, but it doesn't sound like the worst time, either. Unfortunately, May is the month during which I can most readily travel, and I sincerely hope to visit a part of SE Asia on this trip if I can make that work. From what I've learned so far, Cambodia might be my best option, and it certainly is a place I hope to visit.

Context: Solo reasonably experienced female traveler. This would be my first trip to mainland SE Asia; I've been to Singapore and parts of Indonesia (Java and Bali) before. I hope to visit many parts of the area once I'm less tied to a May vacation. If absolutely necessary, I could, perhaps, shift my time for travel a month or so forward or back, but I'm averse to doing so without good reason, as doing so would mean facing some otherwise unnecessary and potentially unwelcome challenges at work.

Unfortunately, I do NOT deal well with humid heat. :( Even so, I've managed it in a few other locations, and at least some sources I've consulted make it sound like Cambodia isn't truly awful in May, at least in part because there are often cooling / clearing afternoon showers. Too, I've read it could be a good month for seeing the vegetation rebound after the dry season and -- perhaps most importantly -- to visit without the densest of tourist crowds. With more and more people thronging Angkor Wat, my inclination is to go sooner rather than later (meaning 2020 rather than delaying until a later year) and off-season rather than on, even if I end up complaining about the humidity every single minute.

If I go, I'll plan on a month; my preliminary research on Cambodia makes me believe that my challenge will be in limiting my wish list to a month, not figuring out how to fill that time. On the other hand, I don't think I can fly straight from the eastern U.S. to anywhere in Cambodia, and although I don't like "tasting" visits, I could imagine stopping somewhere for a few days en route in one or both directions. Suggestions are welcome!

Many thanks for any thoughts you care to share!

CaliforniaLady Nov 25th, 2019 10:57 PM

Here comes another of your wonderful May trips, kja. I went to Cambodia in October in 2012, so I know nothing about May travel there. I perhaps can answer some of your other questions, however.

Regarding flights, Bangkok is the leading candidate for how to fly into Cambodia, but you could come from the other direction as well, maybe Hanoi. I actually flew in from Vientiane, and out to Bangkok, so there are many possibilities.

I really enjoyed the sites around the city of Battambang. I can give you more details of what I did there, as well as contact information for my adorable tuk tuk driver, Bun, if you are interested. Try to time your visit to see the circus, where young people twist themselves into pretzels.

As usual, I know you'll develop a wonderful itinerary, as you always do.

lcuy Nov 25th, 2019 11:36 PM

I don't recall ever being in Cambodia in May. April is the month when all ex-pats take their vacations AWAY from the heat. May travel will depend on the arrival of the rain. I usually go Sept -Nov or January - mid March.

I prefer the fall, as the dust is gone, the temples are covered in moss and the rice fields are neon green. When it is raining, many tourists will give up on visiting the temples, so it is fun to splash around as long as you have good hiking sandals. The downside to the rainy season is that many areas have poor roads and they can be flooded or mudded too much for travel. In the dry months (November to mid-May), the dust is thick and the countryside is brown.

For comfort, I would definitely try for as late in May as possible, but for travel outside Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Battambang, you might do better to suck it up and go earlier in May

Seoul, Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have direct flights into Cambodia, and all are great cities in their own right (a bit less true for KL, but that's just me). I go to Cambodia once or twice every year, and often split my trip with Bangkok and Singapore bookending the time in Cambodia. Because I fly United, I often stop for a few days in Tokyo, but never have flown direct to Siem Reap or Phnom penh. Korean Air has great timing on their US to Cambodia flights. You get a very long daytime layover in Seoul, and the city has free tours for traveler's on those flights. Singapore does too, but I've never figured out how to do that on United partners without spending the night.

BDKR Nov 26th, 2019 12:51 AM

"With more and more people thronging Angkor Wat, my inclination is to go sooner rather than later (meaning 2020 rather than delaying until a later year) and off-season rather than on, even if I end up complaining about the humidity every single minute."

We're in 2019, not in 1999. Angkor is already hopelessly overcrowded since at least 15-20 years. If it was visited by 10,000 tourists in 1996 and 1 million in 2000, that was a huge difference how it must have felt for visitors. If it is visited by 20 million tourists in 2020 or 23 million in 2021 that doesn't make a noticable difference I'm afraid. Not to forget that the usual 80/20(some say 90/10) universal rule applies for Angkor too. 80 percent of visitors go to see only 20 percent of the site, leaving the rest relatively uncrowded. If you hate very hot weather you'd better go at a time when the weather is bit more friendly.

I would fly into Bangkok and spend some time in Thailand as well. Keep in mind that the Khmer Empire covered large parts of what is now Thailand and the country is full of Khmer ruins which may not be as impressive as Angkor, but are not nearly as crowded either.

crellston Nov 26th, 2019 07:38 AM

IME May is not a bad time to go to Cambodia. The crowds will be smaller at Angkor, although still quite busy when compared with years ago. Deferring your visit for a year will likely mean it will only get busier. Angkor Wat is a cash cow and the Cambodian government and big business are milking it to death!

May is on the cusp of the seasons and therein lies the dilemma, global warming has altered the coming and going of the monsoons in Asia to an extent that no one can predict with any degree of certainty, what the weather has in store. I would say however, that if humidity is a problem for you, then from May on, it is only going to get worse. That said the regular afternoon rains do bring relief and there is always the option of escaping to aircon. I don’t like humidity either, but do find that I get used to it after a few days or so.

Like CaliforniaLady, I really liked Battambang and it’s environs. Some photos and detail @ . Phonm Penh is one of my favourite cities in Asia. Also really liked Kampot , although I here it has been ruined by an invasion of expats - allegedly! Certainly don’t go down to Sihanoukville .

if you "moved your time forward or back a month" then April would mean bigger crowds at Angkor ( but not elsewhere) but June, more rain and greener landscapes plus possibly greater humidity.

We travelled over the border from Laos via Kratie which was very rewarding but not especially easy travelling. Probably better now.

If you are not fixed on Cambodia, then Vietnam or Laos or a combination thereof may prove attractive alternatives.

Based in Europe, I am no expert on flying from the US to Asia but I am aware that Emirates fly directly to Phnom Penh routing via Dubai which is an option worth investigating.

thursdaysd Nov 26th, 2019 08:19 AM

My visits to Cambodia were both in December, so I can't help with May. That said, I thought it was plenty hot and humid in December. If we are talking about a delay of a year or two I would be inclined to go somewhere else, but if it will be longer I might at least tackle Siem Reap. No reason you have to spend the whole month in Cambodia, though. For my first visit to Cambodia see: Wilhelm's Words -- Travels Round Asia 2002

I am not a fan of Bangkok, and there are other gateway cities. I used Kuala Lumpur on one trip, using Air Malaysia.

HappyTrvlr Nov 26th, 2019 11:39 AM

kja- We were in Cambodia in early to mid October , hot and humid. It still ranks as one of my favourite trips and no one suffers in humidity more than I do.
Asia is my favourite destination and I have wonderful memories of visiting Cambodia although it did tug at my heartstrings.
We flew to Siem Reap from Hanoi where we'd spent some time. I recall landing at night and smelling the flower scented air upon arrival, beautiful.

kja Nov 26th, 2019 06:15 PM

Thank you, one and all! I haven't reached a decision, but you've succeeded in giving me some much appreciated food for thought. :) I know I'll be returning to this thread as I move forward with my deliberations. Some initial thoughts:

@ CaliforniaLady: I have had some wonderful May trips, haven't I? I am well aware of how fortunate I feel to have had those experiences ... how sweet of you to acknowledge them and to respond with such welcome and complimentary words! Battambang is definitely on my list of priorities, and I most certainly would love to know more about your experience there and about your tuk tuk driver. Up to you whether to share it now or wait until I've made a decision about whether to make Cambodia my 2020 trip; for now, rest assured that seeing pretzel-shaped humans will be on my agenda if at all possible. :tu:

@ lcuy: Uh oh, I hadn't thought about the effect of rain on roads. :td: Silly me! I would not let a bit of rain stop me from getting out and about, and I would far rather see greening scenery to dry brown landscapes, but I hadn't considered rutted roads or muddy floodwaters. The idea of planning a route that puts cities and countryside in different segments of my time is worth thinking through. And thanks for the comments on airport cities -- very helpful!

@ BDKR: I am well aware that the Khmer Empire covered much of mainland SE Asia, and when I am ready to spend a month in Thailand, I will almost certainly visit some of the Khmer ruins there. I also know that there are many Khmer ruins in Cambodia, some of which are apparently not yet overrun by tourists and will be part of my itinerary whenever I go.

@ crellston: You've nailed my understanding, and my difficulty, perfectly! While I might have wished to have been mistaken, I appreciate the confirmation -- I think. :unsure: I'm glad you enjoyed Battambang, am pleasantly surprised that you list Phnom Penh as a favorite, will prioritize Kampot over Sihanoukville, and look forward to studying your blog as I move forward. (The trip from Laos via Kratie must have been interesting!)

@ thursdaysd: Thanks for the link to your report on Cambodia! I admit that it's a bit daunting to hear you say that you thought it hot and humid in December. :( I have a decidedly strong preference to keep my trips more or less country-specific, particularly when I can think a month in a specific country would suit my interests well, but I have considered some alternatives for this trip and will continue giving those options some thought. Interesting that you mention Kuala Lumpur as a stopover -- it's one of the few places in the region that has never called to me, which could make it perfect for just a day or two, although I suspect it simply proves I don't know enough about it.

@ HappyTrvlr: What a wonderful memory! Thanks for sharing it. :star: It's very helpful to know that someone else who suffers with humidity still found a trip to Cambodia a favorite.

Further thoughts or considerations are, of course, welcome!

HappyTrvlr Nov 26th, 2019 08:26 PM

kja, I was advised by friends to wear loose, flowing clothes and that helped a lot in the humidity.
Read up on Pol Pot before you arrive, horrific. Our young guides had not been told about this history.
And when you are in the planning stage, I have a few restaurant recommendations for you.
Flights- we flew out of Bangkok, more international flights at better prices. We spent five night there too.

crellston Nov 26th, 2019 08:37 PM

KJa, I find this tour operator website provides a useful and reasonably accurate for month to month synopsis of the weather around SE Asia.

Also, last time there we stayed at th Seven Candles Guesthoue round by the renowned Ponheary Ly for the benefit of underprivileged kids, of which there are a huge number in Cambodia. It is a great place to stay, run in a good cause. They do offer quality guiding / tour options albeit at slightly higher prices. They also run trips to Koh Ker, a much less visited option than The main temples of Angkor. Lots of useful stuff on their website.

The trip from Laos was indeed interesting we came from Si Phan Don (4000 islands) in the Mekong and the trip involved boat.tuk tuk, boat, bus, tuk tuk and much hanging around to say nothing of arguments with border guards re their "overtime fee" for working weekends - i wouldn't have minded paying the usual bribe but it wasn’t even a weekend!! If antiquity is your primary interest on this trip then Wat Phu in southern Laos May warrant consideration. Unrestored, it pre dates Angkor by some time. Probably only worth the effort if either visiting Kratie or other parts of Laos.

kja Nov 26th, 2019 09:29 PM

@ HappyTrvlr:
.....Loose, flowing clothes for sure!
.....I'm reasonably well informed about Pol Pot and the Killing Fields, and know that when I go to Cambodia, I want to make an effort to pay homage to the many who suffered through that time. Thanks for making sure I knew about it.

@ crellston:
.....Having seen your recommendation of the selectiveasia website on other threads, I've spent a fair amount of time with it in the past few weeks -- thanks so much for making sure Fodorites know of that wonderful resource! I've found it quite helpful for various preliminary questions, and am sure I will continue to find it useful as I proceed with my research.
.....Good to know you support the Ponheary Ly Foundation, particularly because I find it difficult to weed through various foundations to know which are reputable. I'll look into options for staying at the Seven Candles Guesthouse and for working with them for tours of Angkor Wat, Koh Ker, and other sites. (BTW, I still think fondly of the Ninos Hotel Meloc, where I stayed in Cusco upon your recommendation, and am glad that many family members and friends have scarves made there.)
.....That does sound like quite a journey! But honestly, if you'd argued with those guards long enough, it would eventually have become a weekend. ;)
.....I'm sure I'd enjoy Wat Phu, but expect to visit Laos on a different trip. And FWIW, I have a strong interest in antiquities, but always plan my trips to maximize the diversity of my experiences, so I'll be seeking a mix of antiquities and nature and architecture (traditional and Colonial) and the arts (including performing arts) and foods and traditional crafts and.... I don't think I'll run short of options!

BDKR Nov 27th, 2019 01:08 AM

Nothing compares to a Holiday in Cambodia! :-)

HappyTrvlr Nov 27th, 2019 12:47 PM

kja, it was shocking that the young guides did not know about that atrocities. One had heard something, asked his parents and they started crying so he didnít ask again. Another bought a book in the Genocide Museum gift shop and thus learned the truth.
While standing at the Killing Fields, a woman next to me said she was a Holocaust Survivor. She showed such strength being there to honor the victims.

kja Nov 27th, 2019 04:48 PM

@ BDKR: Even if I were a person who watched online videos (I'm not), I can't imagine clicking on a video entitled "Dead Kennedys -- Holiday [anywhere]." That's unspeakably crass, IMO.

@ HappyTrvlr: Such moving memories! Thanks for sharing them.

crellston Nov 27th, 2019 07:11 PM

Kja - for traditional crafts, I would check out Artisans Angkor in Siem Reap. Superb traditional handicrafts esp. the lacquerware, the quality of which is far superior to anything I could find elsewhere. Again, it is run in a excellent cause.

Re the Khmer Rouge era, many younger Cambodians we met simply want to move on and forget about their tragic past and are more concerned about their current problems, police and government corruption, police brutality, child poverty & trafficking etc.
I found the most enlightening experience was to hire a tuk Tuk driver for a few days to take us around PP. He was in his 50s and so was very young in the KR era but did share the memories he did have. We got to know him over the days and took us home to meet his extended family and explained in some detail the economics of being a tuk tuk driver, which served to make me angry listening to rich backpacker kids beating down drivers to get the lowest possible fare. The police would frequently demand money from tuk tuk drivers and were not above waving guns in there faces if they did not comply. It was a great, if heartrending way to learn about modern cambodia and I can perhaps see why many would want to focus on the future rather than the past.

Both Tuol Sleng and Choueng Ek are very much worthwhile places to visit. Do read "First they Killed my Father" by Loung Ung for context.

kja Nov 27th, 2019 09:08 PM

@ crellston:
.....Thanks for recommending a source for traditional crafts that serves an excellent cause!

.....And thanks for sharing your experience with the tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh. It sounds like your interactions with him greatly enriched your experience of Cambodia. It would seem to me that the past and the present and the future can each be places of refuge or places of pain or places of pleasure (and perhaps a bit of each), and people, as individuals, find ways to position themselves with regard to those times -- sometimes well, sometimes not so much.

CaliforniaLady Nov 30th, 2019 09:27 PM

kja, Here is the contact information for my Battambang tuk tuk driver, Bun.

I noticed that his website has gone fancy, so I imagine he is charging more than the $20 I paid for a fourteen hour day in 2012. And yes, I did give him a generous tip. I sent him a list of what I wanted to see, and one of the sites is called the "wooden house." Basically, an older lady lives there whose husband and three children were killed by Pol Pot. I used my high school French to communicate with her, it was all so very sad. We also visited the Killing Caves, which contains a bunch of skulls of people who were thrown down a hill, if they were viewed as a threat to the regime. Before you go, you must read, "First They Killed My Father." On a lighter note, Bun took me to a fish paste factory, a sticky rice vendor, and many other sites. We ended the day with the circus, which only occurs twice a week, so plan your visit accordingly.

On my second day in Battambang, I went on an extensive walking tour of the city. I actually found two walking tours online, and I combined them, hence it took several hours. I went to a school, and I ended up chatting with the Monk who was the equivalent of the principal. I asked him if he was the Big Cheese of the school, and we had a fun time while he tried to understand what I meant.

On that trip, I flew Cathay from Los Angeles, stopping en route in Hong Kong, and I landed in Hanoi. I left from Bangkok, and also flew into Hong Kong en route to Los Angeles. I think you would enjoy both cities. The puppet show in Hanoi was amazing, and I went on a day trip to Ayutthaya from Bangkok. So, there are many possibilities for you.

kja Dec 1st, 2019 03:07 PM

@ CaliforniaLady: How awesome of you to provide all these details! Thank you so much. :) I haven't committed to Cambodia yet, but am leaning in that direction, and whether it's this trip or a later one, I'll be sure to take your experience into consideration. :star:

kja Dec 29th, 2019 04:04 PM

I'm nearly ready to commit to spending May +/- in Cambodia, and am excited! As I plot out an itinerary, thoughts about how the following holidays might affect my experience (for better or worse) would be welcome:
  • Labor Day (May 1)
  • King Sihamoni's Birthday (May 13 - 15)
  • Visak Bochea (May 18)
  • National Day of Remembrance (May 20)
  • Royal Ploughing Ceremony (May 22)
  • International Chidren's Day (June 1)

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