Posted by: Simon & Becci | November 19, 2013

I need a dollar

Last Saturday I bought a bottle of water at the market. “That costs 3 riel” the seller told me. I gave her $1 US. She gave me 1000 riel in change. Confused?

Whilst in the UK and many other countries most transactions are now done via credit card, debit card, direct debit or the internet, here in Cambodia its all about cold hard cash. The official national currency is the Khmer Riel which only comes in paper bank note form, so many people in the country have never used or even seen a coin.


However, about 20 years ago the UN peacekeeping forces also introduced the US dollar into circulation, and the widespread use of dollars continues today. ATMs dispense both currencies, sellers accept either at an exchange rate of roughly 4000 riel = $1 US and after a couple of years of living here the system no longer seems strange. In informal Khmer, 1000 riel is referred to as “1 riel” hence the bizarre conversation above at the market.

A few banks now offer credit cards but the number of stores that accept these remain very low, which means that everyone’s wallet is stuffed full of a variety of multi-coloured notes, or “monopoly money” as my Dad lovingly described it when he visited.


The latest craze across Phnom Penh for spending your riel are a series “2500 riel” shops which have suddenly sprung up across the city. These are the equivalent of the UK pound shop and sell a wide variety of discounted and end of line products for the equivalent of 62 US cents or 38 British pence. Definitely the place to find a bargain although harder to engage in the national pastime of negotiating. I’m not sure that “2500 riel! No! Too expensive” will go down very well there!


If 2500 riel is too expensive, why not try the 2400 riel shop….

However, if you have 2500 riel to spend in Phnom Penh, my top tip is to use it to get your moto cleaned. This price buys you a 15 minute, comprehensive, hands-on wash and leaves your moto sparkling.


Step 1 – jet wash



Step 2 – hand wash by two guys (including use of a toothbrush for hard to reach parts!)



Step 3 – rinse and polish



Step 4 – enjoy your clean moto!

Sadly your moto returns to its previously filthy state within a few minutes of driving on Phnom Penh’s roads…..

p.s. Title of this blog post is dedicated to the team from Jubilee Church Coventry who visited Phnom Penh back in April 2012.



  1. My bike would certainly benefit from such a comprehensive wash and polish!! Good idea for an old toothbrush–although Simon, your cast offs wouldn’t be of much use!
    Please note the bottles of fuel on the rack in the background of the picture in Step 1. Hmm–Health and Safety and all that!!

  2. Hi, Simon and Becci. This is most interesting about Cambodian culture. Thank you sharing this information. Not that I’m ever likely to be going on a motorbike anywhere in the world. 🙂

  3. 38 pence to employ 4 people. wow. The hand car wash next door to my house is struggling for business, I’ll see if he thinks that decreasing his prices from £5 to 38 pence would increase his custom. I don’t think he’ll be able to employ 3 others as well though.
    James Wright

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: