The unchanged Cambodian riel

Cambodian rielAs you might know, Cambodia is the only modern country that has experimented communism at its most radical way in the world between 1975 and 1979. Therefore, in that time was the only country that had not currency, because it was suspended by the regimen of Democratic Kampuchea leaded by the Khmer Rouge. According with witnesses of the time, during the last days of April 1975 thousand of bills were flying through the streets of empty Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge soldiers threw them from the banks. A society without market does not need currency at all. Then it came the end of the four-years-regime in 1979. The moneyless nation, under the occupation of a foreign power, had to used for several months the Vietnamese dong in the middle of a civil war.

The riel had to conquer again, but this time it had to be helped by another foreign currency: the American dollar, as an irony of history.

Riel has suffered a strong devaluation, but it remained stable since more than a decade (1 dollar = 4 thousand riels), while the opening of the economy in 1999 was almost dolarized. In consequence, Cambodia has two currencies along. Dollars are widely used and visitors do not need for the needed money exchange offices so important in Thailand or Vietnam.

In a certain way it helps tourism, investment and its participation in a global economy. At the same time it makes life more expensive and put the national economy at the risks of global financial crushes and the moves of the dollar. Dollarized societies attract also immigration from neighboring countries looking to be paid in dollars.

Living in Cambodia you get used to deal with both currencies. Of course, it seems easier to make transitions in dollars (less paper in your pockets if you use it like that), but transactions can become more expensive in dollars than in riels. For small buying in markets I would recommend the use of riels if you want to keep cents on your accounts. If you have to pay 5 thousand riels for anything and you have dollars, some cunny Cambodians could ask you simple for 2 dollars. If you do mathematics, then the prize increased 3 thousand riels more, just because you did not have 5 thousand riels in your pocket. Then, better have both currencies and let dollars for big deals like buying a car or a computer… Anybody is a money exchange cashier in Cambodia. 🙂


Tags: ,

About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: