A short history of Cambodia’s currency: riel

Currency, whether in the form of precious stones and metals or banknotes, is always a game-changer in a nation’s economic history because it gives a universal store of value that is accepted by both citizens and traders.

Cambodia is no different. Despite the healthy riel as the national currency today, the oldest civilisation has a long history of currencies, filled with ups and downs.

According to historical records, the Khmer people used to trade rice, corn, and beans for fish, cows, buffalo, or even farms and houses. Archaeological evidence, on the other hand, shows that the Khmer people minted coins for transactional purposes hundreds of years ago.

Historians claim that the uniface coins with images of animals, plants, and symbols, which are largely found in the ancient city of Angkor Borei district, Takeo province, were the first coins to be issued in the Kingdom’s history.

The earliest Khmer currency units known to historians are the sleung, nem, and kahabanak, according to literature.

According to Professor Sambo Manara, a well-known historian, Khmer currencies in the form of coins did not enter formal circulation until the 15th century under King Korn.

He claims “According to local historical documents, King Korn was the first monarch to issue Khmer coins depicting a Naga and circulate them and it was during this period that the term “Riel” was first used.”

It is said to be derived from the name of a Mekong River fish called riĕl (“small fish” in Khmer).

Today, the Cambodian riel (code: KHR) is country’s currency. There were two separate riels, the first of which was issued from 1953 and 1975. Between 1975 and 1980, there was no monetary system in place.

Since March 20, 1980, a second currency, also known as “riel,” has been in circulation. Citizens have been using the riel alongside the US dollar at the well-known rate of 4,000 KHR/USD for retail payments since the 1990s.

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