Natural Disasters in Cambodia: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future

Cambodia, located at a considerable distance from Europe, may seem like a distant and almost fictional land, known primarily for its magnificent temples like Angkor Wat. Yet, it is a real country with its own unique charm, intricacies, and challenges. As the influx of tourists to Cambodia grows, it becomes essential for them to be aware of potential natural disasters or catastrophes. While natural disasters can be unpredictable, being informed about potential risks allows for better preparation.

Climatic Features of Cambodia

Situated in Southeast Asia with access to the sea, Cambodia’s coastal areas along the Gulf of Thailand share similarities with those of neighboring Thailand. The country boasts a modest coastline of around 400 kilometers, adorned with numerous small bays and approximately 50 tiny islands that captivate tourists.

Unlike Thailand, Cambodia’s terrain is less intricate. The majority of the country consists of lowlands intersected by flowing rivers, with small mountains in the north and south, characterized by gentle slopes adorned with forests. Understanding these geographical features is crucial for gauging associated dangers.

The Mekong, Cambodia’s largest river, traverses the kingdom from north to south before reaching Vietnam, forming an extensive delta. The Mekong basin encompasses most of Cambodia’s rivers, including the largest freshwater lake in Indochina, Tonle Sap.

Cambodia experiences a tropical monsoon climate with consistent temperatures around +25 degrees Celsius throughout the year. However, the country witnesses distinct dry and wet seasons.

The wet season, influenced by southwest monsoons from the Indian Ocean, spans from May to October, while the dry season, replacing these with northeast monsoons, lasts from the end of October to March. March marks the onset of scorching heat, intensifying through April and May, making it potentially perilous for tourists unaccustomed to such conditions.

Potential hazards in Cambodia

1. Seismic Activity: Low in intensity. The country lacks active tectonic zones, but such zones exist in the Gulf of Thailand and the mountainous areas of Thailand near Cambodia.

2. Highlands: The low and gentle forested mountains pose minimal threats, with low risks of landslides, rockfalls, and mudslides. Additionally, there are no snow avalanches in this region.

3. Forest Cover: With over 50% of the country covered in forests, Cambodia experiences several hundred cases of natural fires annually, potentially endangering small villages and groups of tourists.

4. Sea Coast: Annual occurrences of hurricanes and storms, although not as strong as the typhoons in neighboring Vietnam and the Philippines. The geography of the kingdom provides a reasonable level of protection from cyclones.

5. Heavy Rainfall: Causes short-term flooding during the wet season. Lake Tonle Sap, for instance, experiences a fivefold increase in area during the rainy season. While these overflows are regular and expected by the locals, they are prepared for in advance and even utilized, for example, for fishing.

The Importance of Studying the History of Natural Disasters

Understanding the history of natural disasters is crucial information to acquire before embarking on a journey to your chosen destination. Familiarity with potential hazards not only aids in selecting the right location but also allows you to plan your visit during a time and season when the risk of finding yourself in the epicenter of a natural disaster is minimal.

For instance, if you are aware that the summer months often bring prolonged rains and flooding, you can opt for a different time to explore the country. Simultaneously, summer might be an ideal season for surfers.

In this article, we will delve into a chronology of natural disasters that have transpired in Cambodia over the years.


Cambodia is situated on a tranquil part of the Eurasian lithospheric plate, distant from the borders with the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates. Consequently, the tectonic environment in the kingdom remains calm. On average, there is approximately one earthquake per year, typically of such weak magnitude that the average person might not even notice it.

Over the past century, only four earthquakes with a magnitude exceeding 3 points have been recorded in the country. However, their maximum strength did not reach 5 points, resulting in the absence of any devastating consequences.


Камбоджа затопленные дома

Among natural disasters, floods stand out as the most perilous for both Cambodia’s population and visiting tourists. They occur annually during the rainy season, with variations in their intensity. Floods typically peak in early fall.

October 2020

Prolonged rainfall led to severe floods that impacted a significant portion of the kingdom’s territory. The flood zone encompassed 130 thousand houses and 350 thousand hectares of agricultural land. Nearly 50 thousand people were compelled to evacuate from the affected areas, resulting in 40 fatalities.

September 2013

Затопленный Пномпень

The cyclones during that fall proved exceptionally powerful, unleashing intense rainfall across the entire Indochina region. Cambodia bore the brunt of massive floods, submerging almost a third of its territory. Hundreds of people were displaced from their homes, and even the renowned temple of Angkor Wat suffered damage. The aftermath included 104 casualties, with the total economic damage estimated at 1 billion dollars.

September-October 2011

This period witnessed robust southwestern cyclones that triggered extensive flooding throughout Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, central regions, including the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, were severely affected. Nearly 200,000 houses and 500,000 hectares of rice fields were submerged, resulting in a total damage estimate of 160 million dollars and 250 casualties.

Storms and Hurricanes

Наводнение в Камбодже

Cambodia experiences the occurrence of robust hurricanes, which, although not uncommon, pose a significant threat. They can manifest at any time of the year, with a concentration in March, a period unusually hot even for this tropical country. Approximately 20–30 hurricanes are documented annually, with around half of them transpiring in March-April. The northwestern regions of the kingdom are particularly vulnerable to this disaster.

Spring 2013

Several potent hurricanes struck in the spring of 2013, affecting three provinces. The impact was severe, resulting in the destruction of 400 houses, while an additional 1,500 suffered significant damage. Throughout the year, 16 casualties were reported due to falling objects, trees, and lightning strikes.

Tropical Cyclones (Typhoons)

Tropical cyclones, known as typhoons in the region, frequently reach Cambodia in a considerably weakened state after unleashing their full force on the Philippines and Vietnam. In 2012, Tropical Storm Pahar caused substantial damage in South Vietnam, but in Cambodia, it manifested with only rain and a slight increase in winds.

As a precautionary measure, coastal authorities typically enforce swimming and sailing restrictions on yachts before the approach of cyclones or storms.

Forest Fires

Лесной пожар в Камбодже

The conclusion of the dry season in Cambodia, typically in February-March, heralds a perilous situation. The weather turns scorching, causing the forests to significantly dry out and leading to frequent forest fires. Disturbingly, the incidence of fires in Cambodia surpasses the combined total of neighboring countries.

February 2018

A stark example occurred in February 2018 when Cambodia witnessed a staggering 1,800 recorded fires, predominantly concentrated in the northern regions of the country. These fires engulfed extensive areas of tropical forests.

The severity of these fires is attributed not only to adverse weather conditions but also to human activities. Local residents often ignite fires to clear land for new fields, hunters use fire to corral game, and farmers dispose of crop residues in bonfires.

Despite efforts by authorities to combat arsonists, these endeavors encounter significant challenges, and the unfortunate consequence is the loss of lives in fires on an annual basis.


For tourists contemplating a journey to Cambodia, understanding the natural disaster landscape is crucial for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Floods: The most formidable threat to tourists in Cambodia is posed by floods. Characterized by high intensity and rapid water rise, the consequences of floods can be catastrophic. However, the peak flood season aligns with summer, which coincides with the low tourist season. Hence, for mass tourism, floods do not present a significant danger.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes: The probability of earthquakes is negligible in Cambodia, as the country rests on a quiet part of the Eurasian lithospheric plate. Furthermore, there are no active tectonic zones or volcanoes in the region, providing a reassuring environment for travelers.

Seasonal Storms and Hurricanes: While Cambodia experiences about 20-30 hurricanes annually, these storms are typically weakened by the time they reach the kingdom. This attenuation occurs after interactions with Indonesian islands or the shores of Vietnam. Authorities often take precautionary measures by restricting activities like swimming and sailing when storms approach.

Forest Fires: The threat of forest fires for tourists is minimal. The majority of fires occur in northern Cambodia, particularly during the end of the dry season. These fires are often a result of a combination of weather conditions and human activities such as land clearing, hunting, and crop residue disposal.

Best Time to Visit: To optimize safety and enjoyment, the best time to visit Cambodia is from November to February. During this period, precipitation decreases, and rivers return to their regular flow. However, for surfing enthusiasts, the summer months from June to September offer ideal conditions.

In summary, armed with knowledge about Cambodia’s natural disaster history, tourists can make informed decisions, choosing the right time and taking necessary precautions for a memorable and secure visit to this vibrant Southeast Asian nation.

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