Everything’s A Dollar in Cambodia

We’re not the first to observe that Cambodia is kinda like a giant “Dollar Tree.” Seriously, everything here is $1 US. Ok, maybe not everything, but nearly everything. If it’s not $1, then it’s 2 for $1, or 3, or 4, or 10. And if it’s more than a dollar? It’s almost always some tidy sum like $2, or $5. In the very occasional instance that you might need change for some amount less than a dollar… well, you’ll be getting it in Cambodian Riel. The Cambodian currency exchanges at 4000 Riel to the dollar, and it’s all paper money, no coins. That is, no coins seem to be regularly used. It’s really kind of an interesting and surprising setup. I mean, the ATM’s actually dispense USD, and everything is priced in dollars. Not sure of the dynamics on a national level that have them using U.S. currency, but it sure makes for easy calculations of value.

The shopkeepers in the Angkor complex and the people touting souvenirs and drinks at the temple entries and exits are REALLY entertaining. They mostly use the same lines, but there’s really a lot of competition so occasionally they come out with stuff in English that is absolutely hilarious. Being able to distinguish yourself definitely will help with business, so I totally get it. Whether we’re interested in what they’re selling our not though, it can be pretty entertaining at times.

A few examples:

  • We’re coming around a nature trail that connects two temples and entering the back of the next complex (terrace of the leper king). Just as I start to complain a little about wanting to grab some water (we’re maybe 2 liters into the day) we see a group of three Cambodian ladies with coolers of water and drinks. Immediately, all three of them break into a dead run (maybe 30 yards or so) towards us shouting “Siiiiirrrrr You Wan Cole Drink… Siiirrrrr” They were frenzied, wow. And as a matter of fact, Hell Yes I’d like an ice cold 1.5 liter bottled water for $1! The middle lady was first on the “How much?” and as I go to pay, the lady on the right starts getting feisty and trying to take the sale. I’m sorry, the lady in the middle was the quickest, and I don’t need 4.5 liters of water. Martha chuckled a little as they were running and before they got to us, and she said one of them chuckled at this too. They have to know it’s a little funny.
  • One of the routines as your entering a place with only one exit is if you say “No thank you” repeatedly, they’ll end the conversation with a flat “Ok, later when you come back. I remember you.” Then of course as you exit, they ramp up the pressure with “Sir you promise” and stuff like that. One girl threw in a few other lines though: “Sir you buy my cold water. If you don’t buy you make me cry…. Have a good day.” Martha caught that middle line. Damn, way to slather on the guilt.
  • “Lady, you want a scarf?” …. “No.” …. “You need for proteck your face.” …. “No Thank You.” …. “Maybe the sun is too strong for you.” lol
  • And then there’s the little kids. They are good, really. Really, there’s tons of these kids and they’re all stuck selling the same junk: postcards, poor quality magnets, bamboo flutes, and bracelets. These kids at a temple today were selling postcards at 10 for $1, the going price.  They’d come up to you, very little kids and just start counting, one to ten, as they flipped through the cards. They didn’t ask anything they just said “Ten for $1” and started counting, first in English, then in Spanish, German, French, Chinese, and Japanese. And that was just when we stopped them. It was really good counting, but seriously, how many postcards do we need?
  • Most of the stuff they’re selling, we just flatly don’t want, simple as that. However, when the little kids come running up to you selling stuff, they seem to always treat it as an issue of cost. So, even if your only reply is “No” and “No thank you,” they just start bargaining down and keep going. The best example of this was a little girl that started following Martha and was sure she was gonna get her to buy some magnets. She came up and said “You buy magnet for $2?” and as Martha said no it just went down and down. “Ok, $1 for magnet”….. “Ok ok, two for $1″…. “Please lady, magnet two for $1″…. “ok…. four for $1″…. (that went on a while) “Ok you win lady, I give you ten for $1” Now, bear in mind that Martha is not saying anything through this as we’re heading over to our driver, and also bear in mind that the salesperson was a girl maybe five years old. Man, if you wanted to get those magnets, it just seems wrong to get ten for $1. They really prey on your guilt and they’re pretty good, that’s why all the sales people are elementary school kids.

So, today we had another full day of temple hopping. Again, I’ll try not to drag it out with boring descriptions, but we saw: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, and Prasat Kraban. After finishing up at the temples for the day, we stopped by a killing fields memorial in Siem Reap. A whole lot of human remains, many with visible mechanisms of death pretty visible on the skulls. Very sad, lots of pictures around the place. Really hard to believe it was so recent. At the end of the day, we watched the sunset over Angkor from Phnom Bakheng, a large temple complex on a hill. There were certainly interesting aspects at all the temples, but I can’t pretend to speak to all the nuanced differences, and even if I could that would be pretty boring. We took loads of pictures, used the tripod like crazy for HDR and timed shots, and I’m really pleased with many of the photos we came away with. It was a very full day. Honestly, it’s pretty tiring schlepping through temples all day and I totally get the whole “temple fatigue” thing. We have a three day pass that doesn’t have to be used consecutively, so we’re gonna change things up tomorrow before our third day of temples the next day. Here’s a few pics from today:

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

Ta Som

Siem Reap killing fields memorial
Siem Reap killing fields memorial
Sunset over Angkor
Sunset over Angkor

6 thoughts on “Everything’s A Dollar in Cambodia”

    1. Yes! Well, except when we went to the Central Market and they tried to tell us some fake prices! Then I didn’t feel rich. Lol

  1. You are right. 🙂 I do not remember how many $1 bottled water we bought for us and also for our tuktuk driver. But on our second day and for the rest of our tour (we stayed 4 days in Siem Reap), our tuktuk driver borrowed the cooler from the kitchen of the guest house where we stayed. He brought us to a convenient store where bought bottled water for only $0.75 a dozen. We also bought $0.65 worth of ice to fill up the cooler. We really saved a lot on cold water.

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