As in many other countries in Asia, the US$ is parallel accepted as legal tender to the Cambodian Riel. Freely translated the word Riel means small fish. The little fish, just a few inches long like anchovies lives in great quantities in the Mekong River and in the Tonle Sap Lake. For a few small fish you get a bowl of rice.
Till today the currency enjoys no confidence, which doesn’t really contribute to the stability of the country. The US$ however is inflation-safe and provides also a greater attraction to foreign investment. One argument, which destroys the effort to dispose the US$ and to make the Riel stronger.
Frequent exchange between Cambodian Riel and US$
The relationship between US$ and Riel is 1 to 4, means for one US$ you get 4000 Riel. Because there are no US cents in circulation it becomes like normal, that everything for tourists at least cost one US$. If for some reason giving change of 50 cents for example is needed, it will be easily replaced with 2000 Riel. Cambodians are used to change between the currencies back and forward. And after a few days you get used to it as a tourist too.
Riel banknotes are available in denominations of 50 to 50,000 Riel, where 50 Riel is converted to 0.0125 US cents and 50,000 Riel makes US$12.50. The denominations in detail with the illustrations on the front and back are:
50 Riel: Temple Prasat – Dam
100 Riel: Monument to Independence in Phnom Penh – School
500 riel: Angkor Wat – Kampong Cham bridge leading across the Mekong River
Riel 1000 : Southern gateway to the temple Bayon – Port of Kampong Saom
2000 Riel: Temple of Preah Vihear Temple on the border with Thailand – Angkor Wat and fieldwork
5000 Riel: King Norodom Sihanouk – Bridge of Kampong Kdei in Siem Reap province
10.000 Riel: King Norodom Sihanouk – The Royal Palace
20.000 Riel: The reigning King Norodom Sihamoni – Angkor Wat and the four faces of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
50.000 Riel: King Norodom Sihanouk – Angkor Wat
Riel can not be converted back home – but it can be a little joy to give
If at the end of your journey you still have Riel left and you don’t need to take them home as a souvenir, you can make locals happy.
There are many way to do that:: The always friendly waitress in your favorite restaurant, the attentive tuk-tuk driver, who somehow always manages unobtrusively to reside exactly where you want to be picked up. The prudent staff at the hotel or guest house. The street vendor with his daily friendly greeting, even if you haven’t bought something from him. They all will thank you from their heart.
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