Rainy Season in Cambodia

I was fully aware of the fact that I’d arriving in Cambodia during rainy season. It didn’t put me off one bit, afterall I each season has something different, something unique to offer that can only be experienced in that particular season. But the main reason I was headed for Cambodia in the rainy season was that it was the right time for me to go. It just so happened that September fell within the rainy season and knowing I would stay for a while would allow me to experience this country during both rainy season and dry season.

Heavy Rainfall During Cambodian Rainy Season
You Get to Experience Heavy Rainfall A Lot During Cambodian Rainy Season

While rainy season in Cambodia extends from June to October, I have done my homework prior to leaving Canada and checked out the rainfall (precipitation) stats and damn – historically the month of September gets pounded by more rain than any other month of the year in Cambodia. I’ve traced down some expats who have been living in Cambodia for a few years on the internet and asked them about rainy season and September and sure enough, I had it confirmed by being told that it rains every day. Rains every day? Boy… that’s a whole lotta rain!

It still bothered me not. I have not lived in any country during rainy season so I saw this as an amazing opportunity to experience this natural phenomenon first hand. Afterall, locals have been going through rainy season every years for centuries and they’ve dealt with it fine, so why would I have any issue with a bit of rain, albeit it was gonna be more than just a bit. But when speaking of living in extreme weather conditions – I come from Alberta, Canada where winters last for 8 months each year and temperatures get below -40 Degrees Celsius. If I could live through that for years, rainy season can’t possibly irk me off.

Leaves of Cambodian Tropical Trees Are Covered in Rain Droplets During Rainy Season
Leaves of Cambodian Tropical Trees Are Covered in Rain Droplets During Rainy Season

Cambodia is located very close to the equator so temperatures are tropical year round. I was told by one of the expats that the coldest it ever gets here is 20 Degrees Celsius in winter. That’s what summer looks like in Canada. This simply meant that I had to make sure I have decent sandals to take with me as I would not get to wear any actual shoes, it would also mean that I should bring light, summer clothing and take it easy on long sleeve shirts and long pants. Rainy season or not, winter or summer, a visitor to Cambodia will be wearing summer clothes unless they want to walk around drenched in their own sweat.

Causes of Rainy Season in Cambodia

Extended research on rainy season in Cambodia provided answers to why monsoons repeat with such solid timing each year. To cut down on all the technical jargon and sum it up in a few simple sentences, the casues of the rainy season in Cambodia are:

  • Air pressure over central Asia drops in Summer. This drop in air pressure draws moisture that otherwise gathers above the seas over land. Cambodia is right in the way so the clouds full of moisture settle above the country for good few months – from June to September
  • As air pressure over central Asia rises with coming of colder months and winter, this pressure then pushes these rain cloud back above the seas and keeps them there. That’s why during the rest of the year Cambodia experienced dry season with very little rainfall

So it’s all in the air pressure. When the air pressure drops (that’s what happens in warmer time of year) it attracts moist clouds from above the seas. When the air pressure rises (happens in colder months of the year), the clouds get pushed away. That’s the whole magic behind clockwork like monsoon cycles Cambodia gets exposed to each year. It is commonly known and referred to as the rainy season.

Barb Wire in Siem Reap Collects Moisture During Rainy Season in Cambodia
Barb Wire in Siem Reap Collects Moisture During Rainy Season in Cambodia

Arriving in Siem Ream Amidst Rainy Season

I was rather encouraged seeing how sunny and cloudless the weather was in South Korea. Knowing that South Korea is an adjacent part of the same continent on which Cambodia is located, it gave me hopes that perhaps I would find the same sunny weather in Siem Ream when I arrive. I hopped on a plane in Seoul, tired from previous long flight I nodded off and when I woke up shortly before landing, I noticed rain drops landing on that small circular window I had right next to me (yes, I scored the window seat). All my hopes for sunny weather were gone.

As we have landed in Siem Reap, it became even more obvious that it’s not just raining in Cambodia, it’s pouring like there’s no tomorrow. Our scheduled arrival time in Siem Reap was at 10.20pm and we got there on time. It was dark outside and rain was just gushing right down. Siem Reap international airport (REP) does not have those fancy movable walkways that connect directly to the door of the aircraft. We had to walk out of the plane and board the bus that was waiting outside. There were locals with umbrellas waiting to assist us with boarding without getting too wet which was fine and did the job, it simply showed me that I was foolish when I made associations between weather in South Korea and weather in Cambodia. The two are on the same continent, but are 5 hours away by plane from each other and are in different tropical zones. Rainy Season in Cambodia is for real and arrives as expected every year. No exceptions. I have expected it and here I was – I have made it to Cambodia. Woo hoo!

Young Cambodian Girl Rushes Under The Roof to Avoid Getting too Wet from the Rain
Young Cambodian Girl Rushes Under The Roof to Avoid Getting too Wet from the Rain

Flight from Seoul to Siem Reap

When I landed in Seoul, South Korea, it was the first time in my life I set foot on Asian soil. It was an exciting feeling. I have never been to Asia before so finally make it meant a great deal to me. The view of South Korea from the window of an airplane suggested that weather in this country was spectacular. It was virtually cloudless, other than some random tiny cloud here and there. I thought – if weather is this gorgeous in East Asia, surely it will be equally nice in South-East Asia, where I was heading to. But then again – I was well aware of the fact that September is the peak of the rainy season in Cambodia so I did not hold my breath. Seeing cloudless, sunny weather South Korea was enjoying left me a little bit encouraged.

Flight from Vancouver to Seoul took well over 10 hours. It was a long, long flight. Pacific Ocean is not a short distance to cover. Seeing the land below our plane delivered the feeling of landing soon which I’m sure every passenger aboard could not wait for. Good thing about South Korea is that once you have reached the east coast, the west coast where capital city Seoul is located is not far away. It also means that wherever in South Korea you are, you’re never too far from the beach. Having this narrow shape definitely has its advantages.

Incheon airport in Seoul is not very large. I was only transiting as my final destination was Siem Reap so I wasn’t hassled by Korean customs authorities and just followed the signs to connection flights. There wasn’t that much to do at Incheon, however connecting to their free WiFi internet was hassle free, unlike the crap experience in Vancouver. I was glad to have equipped myself with the universal power plug adapter which made its first use at Incheon. I only had a couple of hours to kill there and thanks to the internet, my time waiting for the Siem Reap flight flew by quickly. Before I knew it, the boarding was started. I have waited until everyone was in, have packed up my lap top and headed towards the gate to be the last person on board.

The plane wasn’t sold out solid, but I was the unlucky one to have been given the seat right next to two kids. Having just gone through near 11 hours on a plane, I really didn’t feel like being exposed to screaming kids for additional 5 hours. I felt tired and wanted to take a nap. I’ve asked the flight attendant if it was possible for me to sit elsewhere as I didn’t want to sit by the kids, but since this was the flight between Seoul and Siem Reap (aka none of the ports of call were English speaking), my words were not understood.

One person who did understand me was the father of those kids who was willing to aid me in re-seating myself. He however suggested that his daughters are well behaved and generally quiet. That was a bit encouraging, but I was really tired to risk it and it did prove a good idea. Well behaved or not, kids talk too loud and too much disturbing everyone around and while it’s sometimes bearable, it becomes excessively difficult if you’re exposed to it right after a long flight.

Luckily for me, I was able to increase the distance between me and the kids and even ended up taking a brief nap during the flight. Before I knew it, we were landing in my terminal destination for this trip – Siem Reap, Cambodia. And yes, it was pissing cats and dogs.

Unity Travel Agency in West Edmonton Mall

I don’t remember what I went to West Edmonton Mall – the largest shopping mall in North America for that weekend. I was already in the process of searching for flights to Asia from Edmonton and had a pretty good idea of what I should expect to pay should I decide to take that route, instead of going to the Caribbean. When I’m at West Edmonton Mall, I like to go to the Chinese supermarket called T&T where they always have this really great fast food style hot buffet. Food is great, prices are unbeatable and I love Chinese food so I never miss the opportunity to have munchies at T&T Supermarket when I’m at the West Edmonton Mall.

Photo: Chinatown in West Edmonton Mall Where T&T Supermarket Is Located
Photo: Chinatown in West Edmonton Mall Where T&T Supermarket Is Located

As I was walking out with my belly full after a nice snack, I popped in the travel agency that’s got the office right outside of the entrance to T&T. The agency is called Unity Travel and is obviously focused on primarily serving the Asian clientele. There were two ladies inside, both of Asian descent and most of their signs on the shop windows were written in Chinese characters. The location itself suggested that it’s Asian people living in Edmonton that they specialize in and as such – or so I thought – they specialize in flights to and from Asia. Wow, isn’t that precisely what I’ve been focused on lately?

I walked in Unity Travel despite my overall belief that dealing with travel agents is an obsolete and pricey way of buying travel packages. If you deal with an agent face to face, their commission will have to be included somewhere in the price you end up paying. This is often not the case when purchasing on line as the process is automated and can be done even outside of store hours. But since Unity Travel is so obviously all about Asia which is where I wanted to go, I walked in believing I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to ask to get a general idea on prices I could get through, and I was in the neighborhood so why not. I didn’t think I could get anything comparable to what I saw on line, but they wouldn’t kill me for asking, would they?

Photo: Unity Travel Office in West Edmonton Mall
Photo: Unity Travel Office in West Edmonton Mall

I talked to a fine lady whose name is Ivy and judging by the business card she handed me, she may be the owner of Unity Travel. I stuck out like a sore thumb because I’m Caucasian and I walked into a travel agency for Asian people but even though everyone stared, Ivy treated me with respect and answered all of my questions. I basically wanted to know how much a ticket from Edmonton to Bangkok would cost if I wanted to depart at the end of August, or beginning of September. I also asked Ivy to look up the same option with departure from Vancouver, as I already knew flying from Edmonton was gonna be significantly more expensive.

It was already the beginning of August when I visited Unity Travel. And I wanted to score a cheap ticket to Bangkok from Edmonton. I knew I was a dreamer, but the quote form Ivy got my instant attention. She said that if I were to fly on September 10th or later, I could get the Edmonton – Bangkok return ticket for $1,250 all in. My jaw dropped. This is about total cost I’d be looking at if I were to fly to the Dominican Republic at about the same time. With $800 being the base price but $300 in fees and taxes I’d be pretty damn close. But $800 was the cheapest ticket which departed at the end of September. End of August was in four digits. This sounded more than great to me. Afterall, Bangkok is more than three times as far as the Dominican Republic and it’s in Asia. The value for money was definitely there. That’s what I’d call a bargain plane ticket for high season. Ivy also mentioned that because we are already well into August and it’s the high season even for Asia bound flights, that if I wanted to fly before September 10th, it would be possible, but the ticket would be $200 more expensive.

The real breakthrough came when I asked Ivy – just out of curiosity – how much more I would have to pay if I were to buy a return ticket all the way to Siem Reap, Cambodia (a town right next to Angkor Archaeological Park that serves as a gateway to Angkor for all foreigners). I only asked for Edmonton to Bangkok ticket because I knew Bangkok is the nearest major international hub with lots of flights coming in every day. Because Bangkok is served by such a large number of carriers, I believed the price would be less expensive than flying to areas such as Siem Reap. My ultimate destination would still be Cambodia, but getting to Cambodia from Thailand didn’t seem like a big deal hence I asked for the ticket to Bangkok. But now that I knew how much it was to fly to Thailand, I also wanted to know how much extra it would be to go all the way to Cambodia as if it wasn’t going to be that much more, I might as well pay the extra money and be delivered all the way to my final intended destination.

Ivy said that I would be flying with Korean Air and would have to make transfer stops in Vancouver and Seoul. And because Korean Air has regular, daily flights to both Bangkok and Siem Reap from Seoul, the price would not change. So whether going all the way to Bangkok or to Siem Reap, it would still cost $1,250 total if departing on or after September 10th, or $1,450 if departing before September 10th.

Photo: West Edmonton Mall from the Inside
Photo: West Edmonton Mall from the Inside

These quotes were staggering for me. I didn’t even want to know how much a ticket would be from Vancouver at this point as quotes from Edmonton were more than reasonable. I expected some $3,000+ figures and even more for Cambodia, yet here I was with a quote I would have to pay to go to the Dominican Republic which I originally wanted to do. I left Unity Travel agency office with Ivy’s business card and quotes written on it. I am not an impulsive buyer so I needed a little time to have this settle in my head. Plus there was still a dilemma of whether to go after September 10th and save $200 or before, but pay more. I had to give it a good think-over and was gonna get back to Ivy with what I have decided in a day or two. It is quite possible that Ivy thought I was just a passerby, just someone curious but not really serious when I walked in their office. She treated me professionally but I still had that feeling that she didn’t expect much of me. Caucasian in an Asian travel agency… what the hell was I doing there anyway?

Photo: Sign on the Corner Marking West Edmonton Mall at Night
Photo: Sign on the Corner Marking West Edmonton Mall at Night

International Destination Flights from Edmonton

My plan to start off my worldwide travel in the Dominican Republic was falling apart. It seemed too risky to start myself off in a country I’ve never visited before but trying to score a reasonably priced ticket for the Caribbean in summer with departure from Edmonton got impossible. Edmonton is not a very good gateway for international travel in general. There are often great deals to various places from Toronto, Calgary which is only 3 hours from Edmonton is half decent oftentimes as well and Vancouver is the best when aiming for Asia. And Asia it was I started to speculate about more and more with each new day. Trickier or not, even though I’ve never been to any Asian country before and wanted to start off in a place I was familiar with, something was attracting me to Asia and taking my focus away from the Dominican Republic. The fact that the Dominican Republic was a familiar place suddenly seemed unattractive – I’ve already been there before.

I started to expand my horizons and instead of looking for cheap tickets to the Caribbean, I started focusing more on flights to Asia. There was a part of me that really wanted to go to Cambodia. If I were to pull a list of top 10 places I would definitely love to visit before I die out of my head, Angkor Wat would be right there on top of it. And while I did enjoy my last trip to the Dominican Republic, there was nothing in it that would make the top 10 list in any way. Based on this fact alone, I knew that going to Cambodia was inevitable for me. It was simply a “must visit place before I die” and a big dream I needed to make come true. So I kept snooping around to see what options I had to go to Cambodia instead of the Caribbean at the end of August.

Trouble is – islands in the Caribbean Sea count as the most popular sun getaways for many people in Canada so trips scheduled down south are frequent and when compared to other parts of the world, attractively priced. Asia on the other hand – being on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean and being so vastly different from North American counts as one of more expensive destinations for us in the Great White North. And my initial research confirmed all that. Then again, it’s a 6 hours long direct flight that can take me to the Dominican Republic, but it takes three planes and a total of 16 hours plane time to get me from Edmonton to Bangkok, which is the nearest big hub to Cambodia. Pacific Ocean is huge and I would have to go via Vancouver and Seoul to get to South East Asia where I was considering to end up.

Just as with most other international destinations, Edmonton was a bad starting point. Flights to Asia from Canada can be had for much cheaper if originating from Vancouver. So I started looking around for cheap ways to get me to Vancouver from Edmonton and then continue to Asia from there. Since Vancouver is much closer than Toronto and can be done in 1 day from Edmonton, I got back to looking for car sharing arrangements similar to those I have previously ditched when I wanted to fly to the Dominican Republic from the cities on the East Coast of Canada.