Phnom Penh Cyclical Flood Patterns

To understand the severity and effects of the flooding that occurs on a seasonal basis, below are a few diagrams drawn from historical maps that indicate the movement and patterns of the floods. Understandably, the movement of the water levels vary from wet to dry seasons (fig. 2), and with a natural occurrence like this, the people there have no option but to acclimate to it. This sort of reciprocity is thus, seen clearly in the traditional Khmer architectural form, where most dwellings are lifted up on stilts appropriately so that the change in water levels do not damage the structural integrity of the architecture. With a tradition like this, after French colonial rule, the New Khmer Architecture movement preserves this style, as seen in a lot of Vann Molyvann’s projects for the new Phnom Penh urban landscape. His merge of modernist styles of brute concrete with the gentle Khmer architecture demonstrates a climactic sensitivity that spans throughout the city.

Fig.1 – The Mekong River begins in the hills of Tibet and flows down through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and into the South China Sea. River is shown in black, the areas in blue indicate the flood plain and tributaries.
Fig. 2 – Left: Map of a typical Tonlé Sap Flood Surge. Right: Map of the 2011 floods redrawn by author from a United Nations Map
Fig. 3 – Kampong Khleang a floating and stilted village on the Tonlé Sap Lake during dry season. These villages are dependent upon the Tonlé Sap flood surge for food production, primarily fishing and agriculture. (Shelby Doyle)


  1. Doyle, Shelby Elizabeth. “City of Water: Architecture, Urbanism and the Floods of Phnom Penh.” 2012. Accessed December 15, 2018.

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