Temperatures in Cambodia hit record lows Thursday, dipping to 16 degrees Celsius in Phnom Penh and 7 degrees in the northeast, the lowest in 27 years of recorded history, officials said.
Seth Vannareth, director of meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, said the cold snap began Jan 30 and is expected to last through Sunday, thanks to a high pressure front from Siberia that has put a chill on Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and northern Thailand.
“Please take a coat with you,” Seth Vannareth said. “It is also windy.”
Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri and Preah Vihear provinces in the northeast, Banteay Meanchey in the northwest, and mountainous regions across the country have suffered the most extreme temperatures, with lows of 7 to 13 degrees, far below seasonal norms of 17 to 20 degrees.
Temperatures in the floodplains that encompass Phnom Penh and Kandal, Kompong Speu and Svay Rieng provinces, which usually hover around 22 degrees this time of year, have been 15 to 17 degrees.
This being the tropics, it is not the absolute temperature that is cause for concern. It is the relative dip that can leave people unprepared.
Prisoners in Mondolkiri province complained about a strange new sensation in their arms and legs: numbness, said Ang Kimleng, the director of Mondolkiri provincial prison.
“I’m quite concerned,” he said, adding that many inmates were having trouble sleeping because of the cold.
Krang Sarath, a Phnong chief in Mondolkiri, said people had been drinking small cups of fish sauce, gathering around fires, and keeping hot coals under their beds to stay warm.
Nha Rang Chan, the deputy governor of Mondolkiri, said the chill was far less problematic these days because more people wear clothes.
“It’s not like the past, when they wore only a piece of cloth,” he said.
Uy Sam Ath, director of the disaster management unit of the Cambodian Red Cross, said there have been no requests for blankets or reports of increased illnesses.
But Tuy Puthea, a medical assistant at Mith Samlanh/Friends, an NGO that helps street children, said the incidence of colds, coughs and headaches had increased about 50 percent among the children he cares for.
Ly Sophat, the director of Mith Samlanh, said that on Friday the organization will distribute clothes and blankets at six Phnom Penh locations: Wat Botum, the Electricite du Cambodge office near Wat Phnom, the Tonle Bassac Theater area, the Olympic Stadium, and Wat Saravorn.
Extra layers to keep warm won’t arrive a moment too soon for people like Un Sophal, 42, a homeless woman, who on Thursday sat in the park across from the National Assembly with her legs wrapped in a flowered blanket. Two days ago, she acquired a dirty pink sweater. Before that, she’d been trying to keep herself warm with a mosquito net. “It wasn’t warm at all,” she said.
Nearby, Seth Rom, 13, said he had put on all his clothes at once—two button-up shirts and one dirty pair of pants.
“It’s too cold to take a shower,” he said. “Too cold to fall asleep.”
Of course, what’s chilly to one can be hot to another.
One young couple, in town from Amsterdam for a few days, laughed when told of the record lows.
“For us, this is summer,” said Mark van Derwerff, 30.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren.)