Cambodia is a place where more than their local currency, it is the US Dollars that rules.
Coming out of the Phnom Penh airport, there are several kiosks, the first one is a Currency Exchange. We wanted to change a USD 100 to Khmer Riel (KHR). To my surprise, the counter girl asked, “Are you sure?”,
I gave her a look on that stupid question and said “Of course”.
But we were utter idiots.
Why? Read on.
While planning a trip abroad, one of the first things most of us do is to arrange for foreign exchange in terms of US dollar (mostly) or EUROS or GBP etc, among others. The idea being USD is more freely convertible in a foreign country.
We did the same. Bought USD. The plan was to convert a small bit to Khmer Riels at Phnom Penh airport so as to survive first couple of days in Phnom Penh and then manage later.
As the case always is, the exchange rate at the Currency Exchange kiosk was very poor. USD 100 = KHR 390,000. Couldn’t do anything about it so focused on what we had.
Happy to have negotiated the first hurdle, we went to the one that said Taxi on one side and Tuk Tuk on the other. The prices were written and no chance for over charging. Then we realized that prices were in USD. No mention of how much it would be in KHR. We made the journey in relative silence. In the end I asked the driver how much in Riels. He said he preferred USD and that I must pay “7 dolah”.
Whoa! A distance of less than 10 KMs was $7 !
Later we went to a super market to pick up some snacks and beverages and offered to pay in dollar. (Not much option as all prices were tagged in USD ONLY). The cash girl returned a few dollars and a few Riels. I asked why and pat, the explanation. Any change under a dollar is dealt with in Riels and that too in whatever exchange rate the supermarket wants (1 USD – 4200 Riels).
Outside generally it is 1 USD to 4000 Riels. E.g. a tuk tuk driver demands “one-haph” meaning one and a half dollar, you can either pay 6000 Riels, or 2 USD for which he will return 2000 Riels.
Anyway, you can’t get much for 500 Riels which is slightly over a dime. Even half litre mineral water will cost you 2000 Riels.
Everywhere in Cambodia USD is freely accepted. I would like to add ‘unofficially’. I don’t know the story behind such behaviour but I am sure there must be a reason for the country to systematically undermine its own currency.
At the moment US Dollar Rules.
Tip 1 – Do not convert your US dollars into local currency at the airport in Cambodia. You can manage with dollars.
Tip 2 – Old US dollar notes are NOT accepted anywhere. On the contrary, even torn Riel can exchange hands.
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