Siem Reap

/ Money

Don't bother changing for riels. You'll get what you need in change. The US dollar is the de facto currency in Cambodia and most prices are quoted in dollars. Thai baht can be spent here but the rates are generally not favorable. Most of the Khmer-businesses give okay rates on baht, but many western-owned establishments especially of the bar and restaurant variety offer atrocious rates of 40 and even 45 to 50 baht to the dollar. If you have baht, you would do better to change some in town rather than try to spend it as you go.

The best place to change money is at any of the number of money changers scattered around town. There is always a concentration around the markets. Rip-offs are rare. More common currencies (Japanese yen, euros, Aussie dollars, Brit pounds, Thai baht) usually pose no difficulties, though rates may vary slightly from changer to changer and a little bargaining is sometimes necessary. However, the more obscure the currency is, the less likely the money changer will know the actual rate nor be willing to offer a fair rate as it may be more difficult for them to reconvert the notes later. It's also been my experience that the money changers will offer a better rate than the hotels regardless of what currency you're changing. Banks are generally not in the currency changing business here and don't be surprised if they send you out to a street money changer if you try.

ATMs that accept international cards and dispense US dollars are all over the place, there are several in the Old Market area and several more scattered about town. Alternatively, the old-fashioned system of getting cash off a Visa or Master Card via a bank remains an option - and this can be done at any number of local banks with rates at around 2% or $5, whichever is greater. There is also a Western Union near the intersection of Sivatha and Route 6 next to the old police station.

For what it's worth, which isn't much, the riel exchanges at about 4,200 riels to one US dollar. The currency in non-convertible and any riels you leave the country with will become souvenirs.

Condition of money - For Cambodian riels you will see some bills so worn and torn you might have trouble figuring out what denomination it is. US dollars, however, are a different story. Though in general the acceptance of overly worn money isn't as problematic as it used to be (don't know why, really), in general, the higher the denomination of the bill, the more condition matters with rips in particular the biggest barrier to passing off a bill. For US $50s and $100s you'd do well to make sure all your bills are prisitne and new. $20s can be a bit ugly, but shouldn't have any rips, a minor rip in a $10 probably won't keep you from spending it but a big rip will. $1s and $5s nobody cares for the condition, but watch for large rips.

Also becoming problematic are what they call "small portrait" bills. This is the older US currency design where the portraits are smaller (mid 1990s I believe is when they were replaced?). 5s and 10s are spendable without too much fuss, 20s can be a little difficult to spend and 50s and 100s can be quite difficult to spend as quite a few businesses will flat out not accept them and two of the three counterfeits I have seen, or bills I was 90% sure were counterfeits, were "small portrait" notes.

Why so difficult to spend worn or torn bills? Two reasons. One of course, is improved counterfeiting technologies. As banks are scrutinizing money much more carefully than before, a lot of businesses are becoming much more careful about the money they accept. The second reason is that as the US dollar is not an official currency there is no central bank to clear out old bills so as they become excessively worn they eventually become worthless.

The best course of action is to see that your US dollars are new and crisp. Then everyone will be happy to accept them.

If you are receiving money from a bank or money changer, check every bill and don't be shy to turn one back if you don't like the appearance of it. And don't assume because you got cash from an ATM that the notes are fine. Knowing that residents will hand back questionable bills, banks often put their dodgiest money in the ATMs thereby dumping them on tourists who might not know any better.