Both the Cambodian riel (KHR) and the US dollar (USD) are official currencies, with the riel being utilized mostly for minor transactions (i.e. less than US$1). US coins are not accepted. Most ATMs only accept US dollars, but some accept both currencies.
The Cambodian Central Bank keeps the riel pegged to the dollar at approximately 3,800-4,200 riel. 4,000 riel per dollar is often used in everyday trade. So one dollar and 2,000 riel, or 6,000 riel, equals US$1.50. Riel notes may go as high as 100,000 riel (US$25), although the most frequent denomination is 10,000 riel (US$2.50). Outside of Cambodia, Riel are only valuable as mementos. They will not be exchanged.
Thai Baht is widely accepted near the Thai border (for example, Battambang, Koh Kong, and Poipet), although locals use an unfavorable 40 baht to the dollar as a rule of thumb. Rather of spending baht, try to exchange them at a bank or money changer, since banks and money changers will give you a far higher rate.
Banks sometimes act as Western Union money transfer agents.
In every city, Baht and other major currencies (Euros, Sterling, etc.) may be readily swapped. If you want to save money, shop around; there is no hard and fast rule about which banks or money changers will give the lowest rates.
Except for US$1 bills, which change hands often, torn or outdated foreign currency notes may be difficult to exchange. Cambodian banks will refuse to accept US$2 banknotes and notes that lack the security strip. It is customary to refuse defective notes; nevertheless, merchants may attempt to take advantage of visitors’ naiveté and try to get rid of them. Simply grin and return them.
Cards & ATMs
ATMs are becoming widely available outside of major cities. They usually accept Maestro, Cirrus, Plus, and VISA cards. Credit card cash advances may also be available.
VISA and JCB credit cards are the most commonly accepted; MasterCard and American Express cards are also becoming more widely accepted.
ATMs offer US cash in amounts ranging from $10 to $100. If you get banknotes in bad condition (particularly US$50 or US$100) from an ATM that is directly connected to a bank, attempt to change them there right away since they may be difficult to convert later.
ATMs in Cambodia only take 4-digit PINs. If your PIN has more than four numbers, it’s better to change it at home before you need cash and are out of luck.
Traveller’s cheques, like credit cards, are accepted at significant commercial facilities such as big hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, and souvenir stores; American Express (in USD) is the most frequently accepted. However, reasonable rates are generally only available in banks in Cambodia’s major cities, while guesthouses in popular tourist locations may provide comparable services at exorbitant prices. The standard charge for cashing traveler’s checks is 2% with a US$2 minimum.
In Cambodia, you can get away with bargaining on almost everything. Restaurants, outdoor food booths, and even rates for guesthouses are available. The Khmer are famously silent until they reach a breaking point. They don’t lose face, but they do lose their cool. There are, however, a few guidelines:
- Many goods, particularly those not targeted at visitors, have set prices, and although you can obtain a small reduction if you ask, you won’t be able to acquire anything substantially lower than this. The pricing of products are often painted on the walls of many marketplaces (in Khmer).
- In Cambodia, since eating out is not very popular among the locals, restaurants cater nearly exclusively to tourists and are somewhat more costly than in neighboring nations. In Siem Reap, however, it is occasionally, if not usually, feasible to negotiate with street food sellers about the amount of a meal, complimentary side dish, and get a 20-30% discount.
- The US dollar is commonly used in Cambodia, however if there is no coin circulation, you will wind up with a lot of Cambodian riels if the price you pay is not an integer. This allows for short-changing, which is especially common in Siem Reap’s food shops. For example, if you offer US$1 for a bottle of water, the staff should return the quantity of riel equal to US$0.40, however they may retain part of them. Typically, the amount of money scammed is little. Simply be fast with mental arithmetic.
- Group bargaining is more effective. Having two additional friends will make convincing Cambodians to provide a discount much easier: one can play bad cop, the other good cop.
- Request a meeting with the manager/owner (this applies to guesthouse and restaurants). If you attempt to bargain at a restaurant or guesthouse, the staff will usually claim that the supervisor must be present. If this is the case, just ask to talk with him or request that the staff speak with him. You’d be amazed how simple it is to negotiate down after you talk with the boss; many times, he doesn’t want to be bothered and will give you the reduction.
- Never pay the asking price for anything near the Angkor temples. Books, mementos, art, water, and food are all examples of this. During the off-season, food vendors near the temples will offer a different menu; request it. You can even haggle on top of it. It’s important to note that bargaining is considerably more difficult at the food booths near Angkor Wat, particularly at the breakfast eateries across the street.
- Try not to bargain too hard with the motobike drivers and tuk-tuk drivers that operate near your hotel. Most are truthful, but if you are seen as a good client, they will take more care of your safety. Some will opt to obtain the money from you in another manner, such by mugging you. If you don’t agree on a fee before your trip, you may end up in a very awkward position.
- If bargaining isn’t your thing, the simplest method to get a decent deal at a market is to pick up an item, inquire how much it is, appear disappointed, and start walking away. Since you move away, the price typically drops, as sellers are reluctant to go below this second price.
Siem Reap is the simplest location to negotiate; Phnom Penh may be a bit more difficult, but it’s still worth a shot. Simply be kind and persistent.