What is the Cambodian Currency?
The Cambodian currency is called Riel.
However, most Cambodians use US dollars as well as their owncurrency. Even the littlest shops quote prices in USdollars.1 US dollar is equal to 4,000 Riels (orvery close to it, click to see the current currency exchangerate). This was the case during our trip, and apparently thiswas the case in the 1980s.
50 Riels of Cambodian currency
Clickimage to see closeup and more
pictures of Cambodian money
But now, due to price increases, some biggershops have increased the Riel’s exchange rate, making itsomethinglike 4,200 Riel to 1 US dollar.This is for bigger shops only. The smaller ones still hold the same4,000 Riel to 1 US dollar rate, probably because it’s easierto countthe change with a round number.In border cities, merchants will also acceptthe Thai Baht in addition to the US dollar.
The Riel is still widely used though, especially in remote andnon-touristy areas, but sellers in thecityare well stocked with both currencies. When you shop you can askfor the change in dollars. If they don’t have enough dollars, or ifyourchange is something like $0.50, well, then Riel it is (they don’t useUS coins).On an interesting note, even the ATMs in Siem Reapspit out money in US dollar denominations. I just foundthat fascinating.
The Cambodian Riel in the Past
When you have conversations with the Khmers, you’ll keep onhearingthem say that Cambodian money is worth very little, or even that it’sworthless. The Cambodian people’s notion of the ‘worthless’ Riel seemstocome from the fact that not so long ago, during the civil war, the Rielreally was worthless. During the Pol Pot regime,the use of money was abolished and you could see Riel on the streetwith nobody caring to pick the money up. There were no shops and nobuyingor selling activities. Only work. When the regime ended, the government had to reintroduce Rielinto theeconomy as the currency of Cambodia.
Cambodian People and Banks
On another interesting note, our tour guide also said thatCambodian people do not trust banks. They keep their money themselves (under the mattress?), andsave for big money purchases. They don’t ask the banks forcredit.Everything, including houses, motorbikes, and bicycles, must be paid incash. Can you imagine? Again, this distrust probably originated backto the Pol Pot regime. When the economy is shot, banks are crippled,the Cambodian currency depreciates, and the people’s money is gone.
Here are thenotes that you’ll see mostoften when in Cambodia.
Clickimage to see
Cambodian money close up.
All images courtesy of TourismCambodia.
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