Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What can you buy for a US Dollar anymore?

Well, not much, where it's printed. But if you're in Cambodia, quite a lot! You see, Cambodia uses primarily the US Dollar as currency, even though next door neighbor Thailand, for example, has its own currency system (Baht) as you would expect. $1 buys 2 hours at an internet cafe in Phnom Penh (but only 1 hour if the cafe has A/C. A single G.W. can also net you 8 1 liter bottles of water, believe it or not. If you're in the mood for fruit, you can easily get 2 full pineapples, perfectly cut to remove the hard core and those annoying fibrous dimples around the outside, for a single buck. To rent a 100cc Scooter (the primary mode of transportation for everyone) you'll need 3 of the smallest U.S. greenback, and to stay in a nice hotel room with TV, fridge, sometimes DVD player, and hot water, you'll need 8, 12 if you want to turn on the A/C (which is impossible to resist sometimes).

However, anything less than a dollar is guaranteed to be handled in an entirely different currency. oh no, you won't find quarters, dimes, or any coin, in fact, around here.~> read more

 While the official exchange rate isn't exact, everyone treats 1 USD as 4000 cambodian riel. Therefore, if you want to buy a Coca cola (a bit of a luxury around here, though beer can be the same price), you'll need 2 1000 riel bills to cover the $.50 price that may be marked in the cooler. You'll also find 500 riel bills quite commonly (worth 12.5 cents each), and even 100 riel bills, which are equivalent to 2.5 cents. these bills look like it cost well over 2.5 cents to print them, they are usually quite nice in contrast to some of the other denominations. Again, no coins at all, in fact, when we got into the more touristed town of Siem Reap, a restaurant tried to farm off a quarter on us probably left by an american tourist to angkor wat. Fat chance, that quarter went straight into the tip.

The final complication is that the government is for some reason still printing 5000 and 10000 riel notes, though we haven't seen anything larger than that. These bills are 1.25 and 2.50 respectively. Also, since there isn't a reserve bank to exchange old USD notes as there is in the US, you have to be extremely careful not to accept a bill in change with even the slightest tear, even if the tear is sneakily taped, as we once had, because nobody will accept it. Older, distressed bills can face the same problem but are easier to spot.

Therefore, you might imagine that when you get a bill for 2.90, and you can pay it with:

two US dollars, three 1000 riel notes, one 500 riel note, and one 100 riel note

or, if you have the riel, it's better to use that, so:

one 10000 riel note (or 2 5000 notes), one 1000 riel note, one 500 riel note, and 1 100 riel note

but if you only have one 5000 riel note, it's:

one US dollar, one 5000 riel note, 2 1000 riel notes, one 500 riel note, and 1 100 riel note.

It can be a riel challenge to manage all of those bills!


Blogger gknaddison said...

The whole way I'm trying to figure out how to pronounce "riel" and I guess your joke explains it - doing change in foreign currencies always hurt my head.

9:03 AM  
Blogger jskalet said...

geez, it sounds like you'd need an HP 80000 Scientific Calculator to calculate how you should pay your bill using all currency choices!!! i'm glad you have to figure it out, not me!!

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Mommy Moore said...

I love it--paying any kind of bill in Cambodia is a "riel" challenge!!!! Great story! With your math brain, Tiffany, you are "riel-ly" working on overload!

11:36 PM  

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