The first time in a new country there’s the getting used to the new currency. What does it look like, which units are there, what is actually the value? It is, except of course for the Eurozone, part of getting used to local habits.
The Cambodian currency is called the riel. In riels, there are no coins, just paper money, which makes your wallet comfortably lightweight. The smallest notes have a value of 100 riel, the ones of 500, 1,000 and 2,000 are used a lot as well. There are also notes of 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 and rumour has it that there are even ones with a value of 50,000 riel. That the smaller denominations are used far more than the bigger ones is not because their value is so high. 100 riel is around 2.5 dollarcent, so 50,000 riel would be US$ 125. Cambodia is a cheap country to live in, but not that cheap that US$ 125 is a fortune. And no, it’s not possible to pay large amounts of money with plastic here, there are only a few businesses around that take one type of creditcard, so we use cash to pay for everything (but ATM’s are readily available and paying with your mobile is becoming a new trend). Point is that Cambodians have another way to pay large amounts of money. They don’t use their own currency, they use American dollars. Consequence of this is that everyone walks around with two kinds of money in his wallet.
Cambodia doesn’t have an officially fixed exchange rate between riel and dollar, but for ages now the rate has been stable enough, so everybody will calculate with a rate of 1$ for 4,000 riel. At the market prices will be stated in riel, but in most shops prices will be in dollars. Funny thing is, they use only the paper notes, not the coins, so when the amount you have to pay doesn’t count up to round figures, you’ll get your change in riel! Paying in a combination of dollars and riel is no problem either.
Cambodians are so much used to this, that they’re incredibly fast with calculating to and fro both currencies. I must admit that I still have to think how much of which currency I’m paying and whether I get the correct change. This dual system doesn’t make the adjustment to the local money any easier, but I’m getting there!