If you should ever go to Cambodia you will find yourself using the riel as this is their chosen currency and has been for some years now. However as you will soon learn you will also see the US dollar is used in the country. This is as a direct result of a peacekeeping process that took place in the Nineties.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
The riel is subdivided into 100 sen, while one tenth of a riel is known as a kak. There are just four coins used for the currency, and these are the 50, 100, 200 and 500 riels coins. Aside from this there are plenty of banknotes. The ones that are used most are the 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 riels notes. The 50 riels and 100,000 riels notes are legal tender but are not often used at all.
It should be remembered though that US dollars are regularly used in the country. Quite often people use US dollar banknotes but revert to the riel coins as US coins aren’t in circulation. This can be rather confusing, especially if you are visiting and trying to get the hang of two currencies at once – at least one of which is going to be completely new to you.
From past to present – the history of the riel
The riel was originally in use in the country between 1953 and 1975, but Cambodia was then subjected to rule under the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1980. The original riel was abolished under their rule during that period of time and Cambodia essentially had no money at all at this time.
Once power was wrestled from the Khmer Rouge in 1980 the country adopted the riel once more. It was essentially the same currency but it had a different value relating to other currencies when compared to the original one.
How to get hold of the Cambodian riel
Obviously the main thing you may want to do is to take some US dollars with you into Cambodia as you can use them as legal tender there. In fact you will see prices in both riels and dollars, which can actually help you figure out what something costs. You’re more likely to be familiar with dollars than riels, after all. Be prepared though as depending on which store you use you might receive dollars back in change or riels. You just never know! If you are given riels you will receive them back in accordance with the accepted exchange rate against the US dollar. You will probably find the exchange rates are tipped towards the seller, in much the same way as it works in bureaux de change depending on whether you are buying or selling goods.
One thing to be aware of is that as US coins aren’t used in the country, any coinage that needs to be given back to you as change will come in the form of riels. Any banknotes could well be in dollars.
It is a good idea to use traveller’s cheques too when you go to Cambodia as this country is still quite amenable to exchanging them. Another option is to get cash from cash machines, but do be aware that some charge quite steeply if you have a foreign bank card. Debit cards are not as steep in terms of charges as credit cards are, so it might be worth taking one of each so you have more than one option. You can also use cards to make payment for some items, but this won’t apply in all stores. It all depends on the area you go to and how big the store is.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Cambodian riel
All you have to do here is to check this on a currency converter site online. You could also use an app if you wish. Just enter your own currency as the starting currency and then add the Cambodian riel as the one you want to convert it into. You can also check the latest exchange rate between the riel and the US dollar as this can be useful to know before you go.
Cambodia has an embassy in London that is called the Royal Embassy of Cambodia. If you wish to visit the website for the embassy you can find it at http://www.cambodianembassy.org.uk/. There is information on visas here among other things.
Travelling safely with the Cambodian riel
At the time of writing the Foreign Office in the UK was advising against travelling to some parts of the country. These parts were limited to certain areas of the country in the far north by the border. However it is imperative that you check the latest information and recommendations on travel prior to going there yourself.
Cambodia is generally a much safer place than it has been in the past. Unfortunately it is still not without some problems which is why you must check the latest travel advice wherever in the country you are going. Protests and politically charged scenes still take place for various reasons and you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of one of them.
While violent crime doesn’t occur too often with regard to tourists, pickpockets and other petty criminals do see tourists as an easy target. You should be particularly careful with your belongings and never leave any bags or other items unattended, or you might find they disappear rather quickly. Bag snatching is also quite common, so hook your bag round your neck rather than just over your shoulder or it might be gone very quickly indeed. Split up your cash and store it in different pockets and places, and don’t carry around more than you absolutely have to. A money belt is a particularly good idea in this country so bear that in mind too. The more you can do to protect yourself the less likely it is that you will be targeted.
Check your hotel upon arrival and see if there is a safe you can use. Your valuables can be stored here whenever you don’t need them, including your passport. It doesn’t hurt to carry a photocopy of your passport with you in case you need to prove who you are. Don’t be put off from visiting some of the best places the country has to offer, but do understand that pickpockets love an easy target and many tourists provide that target for them. That’s why you should minimise the risks as much as you can.
Where to spend your riel in Cambodia – and what to spend them on
Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia and shares its borders with three other countries. These are Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Its south western border looks out onto the Gulf of Thailand.
You may well have heard of Phnom Penh and this is actually the capital of the country. It is quite a lovely city, located in the south of the country, and has plenty of French influences dotted among its architecture. Perhaps not surprisingly the city is one of the highlights for many tourists wanting to visit Cambodia. People have lived here since the 1300s but it didn’t become the capital city until the 19th century.
No visit to Phnom Penh is complete without having seen the Buddhist Temple called Wat Phnom. This is more than 600 years old and is more than 25 metres in height. It has been through several renovations and rebuilds since it was created but it is quite something to see. There are statues lining the main stairway, not to mention others elsewhere in the complex.
As you might well expect the city has memorials to the genocide that took place during the years the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. Most notable is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It is a sobering experience but one that tells us the horrors that went on during that time should never be forgotten.
Elsewhere in the country there are other monuments and well-known sights that tourists tend to flock to as well. One great example is called Angkor Wat. This is a temple that holds the title of the largest monument devoted to religious purposes in the whole world. The current building started to be built in the 12th century so you can imagine the history that is here. Perhaps not surprisingly UNESCO has designated Angkor Wat and the larger site of Angkor itself as a World Heritage Site. This should help protect and preserve the site for the future.
Elsewhere you can see Angkor Thom, which (if possible) is arguably even more spectacular. This is a city that dates from the 12th century – indeed this was the time when it would have been thriving and very successful. Much of it – an enormous amount in fact – is still in great condition today and it is quite an experience to see various roads, gates and other structures standing in the 21st century. The entire complex covers a total of three square kilometres. A huge wall encloses the entire city and this is protected by a moat. It is a remarkable site and you will feel as though you have been taken back in time when you pay a visit. It isn’t hard to imagine what life might have been like here in centuries gone by.
While Cambodia’s recent history has been tragic and horrific in many ways, it has a lot to offer as a country and as a tourist destination. It may not be somewhere you have thought of visiting in the past, but if you do consider going there you should make sure you include visits to some of the best sights the country has to offer. With centuries old places such as Angkor Thom on offer, it is hard to see why you would ever resist seeing them, isn’t it?