Riel vs. Dollar: Money in Cambodia and Travel Costs

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

In Cambodia, the official currency is the Cambodian riel (KHR, 1$ = ~ 4000KHR as of the summer of 2011). However, you won’t have much trouble with local currency, as most of the tourist services and goods in the country can be bought with US dollars. It is important to note that this is not a form of black market; it’s rather how Cambodians have adapted to the flow of tourists to their country.

Managing Money in Cambodia

There are four solutions for you to manage money and pay in Cambodia:

  1. ATMs – available in cities, towns and border-crossing posts. Beware taxes, which can be pretty high, depending on your issuing bank and type of card.
  2. Travel cheques encashment is possible, but this service is not very well developed (main cities only).
  3. Paying with credit or debit card is limited to expensive places and services.
  4. Paying cash is the easiest way to get around in Cambodia.

Basic Travel Costs

General information

If you’re on a budget, $10 a day is enough for the basics. However, we advise you to go just a bit higher: for approximately $25 a day you can see most of the attractions, have fun, enjoy yourself getting a massage, eat well, and sleep in a comfortable bed. It’s very important to keep an eye on what you spend on; otherwise you may face unexpected expenses. Keep in mind that the Phnom Penh area and the Northwest are pricier than the South Coast and the eastern part of the country. During the main season (from November to February) prices are generally one and a half higher than in extra season.

Accommodation

Accommodation ranges from $3 a night to roughly $300 or more. In other words, Cambodia is a country of extremes. You can choose a common dorm for backpackers (and you can find reasonable solutions for $3-$5 a night), basic comfort with breakfast and air-con (from $10 up), or rooms featuring hot tubs with lotus petals for steep prices.

Fees

Transport inside the country is not expensive and you can bargain with the taxi driver. On the other side, the entrance fees are quite high (e.g. $20 to enter Angkor). Renting a bike (~$2 a day), a remorque (~$15 a day) or a car (~$35 a day) is a good solution, because it will give you control.

Food

With as little as $2, you can eat a reasonable snack on the street. Enter in a café, and you’ll be charged with $4-$5 for a sandwich. A decent lunch is around $10; an exotic dinner can be $25 or more. Much more! Keep in mind that Cambodians feed their tourists well. So, unless you really like to eat, these numbers are accurate.
Mango season

Extra services

There are many and extremely contextual. A standard massage, for example, is around $5, but it can get much more expensive, depending on your location, the masseur/masseuse, company, time of day, season, etc. It’s good to stick to basic services and try to find the context where a specific service would be implicit. Such actions can reduce your costs to a significant degree.

Negotiate

Negotiation and bargaining are common in Cambodia and there’s only one rule to follow: don’t overdo it. You can safely negotiate the price of exotic fruits in the market, or the costs for a trip to a local village. But you shouldn’t go below 70% of the original price. If you get in the situation where you feel you’re being ripped off, try to avoid any confrontation and do not get argumentative. Tipping should range between 7 and 10% of the service.