Dollars or Riel?

One of the actions of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot was to abolish money, specifically the Khmer riel, the national currency. Partly because of that and partly because of inefficient handling of monetary policy after the Khmer Rouge were defeated, the riel never regained the trust and acceptance of the Khmer people. When a new post-Khmer Rouge government was established, the US dollar became the central currency in use in Cambodia, and it has remained as a fully legal currency until now. Transactions can take place in either the Cambodian riel or US dollars, and they are freely interchangeable.

Now, however, mostly for reasons of national pride, but also to give the central bank more control over the national currency, the government is encouraging de-dollarization and increased use of the riel. Recently to support use of riel, the government has discouraged the use of US $5 and $1 notes. After a period in which they could be exchanged for riel at no cost, the government has allowed banks to charge a fee to accept the $5 and $1 bills to create a disincentive for using the smaller US bills although they still remain legal.

That measure has had its intended effect. The majority of $5 and $1 bills previously in circulation for small transactions has disappeared. A typical transaction today is paid only with riel, or if a larger US dollar note is used, any change under $10 will be returned in riel. For example, if a person offers a $50 bill to buy an $11 book, the buyer will receive in change a $20 bill, a $10 bill, and the equivalent of $9 in riel. Smaller amounts of riel paper notes are also given because the Cambodian monetary system has no coins.

These smaller U.S. bills are increasingly going out of circulation in Cambodia although they are still legal tender for all transactions.
These are the smaller Cambodian riel notes that are replacing the smaller US notes. The general exchange rate is approximately 4000 riel = US $1.00. I.e., the 1000 riel note above is the equivalent of US $0.25.
These larger riel notes are being used more also as more purchases are transacted in riel. The 10,000 riel note would be the equivalent of US$2.50. There is also a 20,000 riel note and a 50,000 riel note but they are used less commonly.

Three-wheeler high tech

Young men with a vehicle in any country like to try and customize it, make it stand out. It’s the same in Cambodia with the “new” three-wheel tuk-tuks. This man has added a totally non-functional spoiler even though the vehicle’s top speed is about 25 or 30 MPH.

This modification really surprised me–adding an LCD display on top of the three-wheeler. The video he is showing is a Public Service Announcement about COVID-19. If you notice in the lower right hand corner, there is a sign language interpreter from the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme making the message accessible for deaf people.

The Cambodian Cyclist

This is a photograph of the quintessential Cambodian bicycle rider–riding serenely, even gracefully along a city street, sit stiffly erect, pedaling oh so slowly. I can’t do it. I can’t ride that slowly, nor can I ride in the near middle of the lane. I have to stay over near the curb to let faster traffic pass me on the left.

It’s wood…and more

This is a doctor’s waiting room. Note the heavy wooden furniture! This furniture is the goal of every business operation. Acquiring the 100-pound chairs on the left means you have arrived. You are the real thing, whatever your business is, be it a dentist office, a car wash, a bank, a metal fabrication shop, whatever. The Cambodian culture is obsessed with luxury woods that bestow respect and esteem upon their owners.