Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - From metal to paper: The revolution of the Khmer currency

From metal to paper: The revolution of the Khmer currency

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The ‘Sleung’ coin was used in Cambodia from the 15th-18th centuries. Moeun Nhean

From metal to paper: The revolution of the Khmer currency

Based on the narration of “The History and The Usage of Khmer Currency” in Post Supplements’ first Financial Quarterly Review, the habit of coin usage has been passed down from Khmer ancestors to the reign of King Ang Doung, who ruled Cambodia between 1848 and 1860 before the arrival of the French Protectorate of Cambodia in the middle of 1860.

In the beginning of the French Protectorate, Cambodians were still using metal coins until the French manufactured and printed currency notes for Indochina, comprising Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, signalling the beginning of Cambodia’s usage of the joint currency.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The historic ‘doung’ coin. Moeun Nhean

It would be a century-long wait before Cambodians could finally repossess its right to using its own separate national currency. This occurred after the Kingdom gained independence from France in 1953, and after the National Bank of Cambodia was founded.

What made Khmer people go from using their traditional metal coins to using currency notes?

Sambo Manara, a history professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said that in the Ang Doung era, the government could still manage Cambodia’s economy despite the country’s vulnerability to attacks from neighbouring countries.

Manara continued to explain, “Concrete evidences include a region called ‘Pum Kleang Prak’ (coin warehouse village) in the capital of Odong that left behind a metal casting mold, from which researchers are subsequently concluding that the area was where the mint to make the coins was located. These coins were made of various types of metals.”

“It is known that some coins were made from valuable metals such as silver and gold, while neighbouring countries only used regular metals like zinc and copper,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Referred to as the ‘snoke’. Moeun Nhean

When the French colonized Indochina, they were aware that Cambodia had the most valuable currency in the region because of the precious metals used.

Manara also explained that primarily, the French definitely wanted to procure the coins in order to turn them into other valuable items. Secondly, the French government was having a hard time managing the economy in the region because the three countries, despite being under the same colonization, followed their individual economy structures and currency. As such, the French had to find a formula that made the three countries use a joint currency.

“In this case, with or without our consent, they already wanted to take advantage of us by collecting our original currency,” Manara said.

“Third, when the new currency in the region was made, we had to trade our old currency with the new one. While this was convenient for spending or doing business locally or with the French, Cambodians also wanted to show off this modern way of trading based on the Western ideology because in that period, both the King and the people were trying to establish a good relationship with the West,” he went on.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Royal University of Law and Economics director Seng Bunthouen. Photo supplied

Manara explained, “When the French first printed paper money in the Indochina region, they used the currency called ‘piastre’, and they included three currencies for each country; Riel for Cambodia, Dong for Vietnam and Kip for Laos.”

Back then, one piastre was the equivalent of one riel, one dong, and one kip.

“Therefore, the authority in each country in the Indochina region agreed on that.”

Manara also added that, “Valuing Western currency has been deeply ingrained into the Cambodian society since the protectorate of France, and has continued until today. Now, if we look at how the public spends in market places, we can see the popularity of the U.S dollar, a way for people to show off their overflowing wealth that overtakes the national Cambodian Riel.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Professor Sambo Manara. FACEBOOK

Agreeing with Manara’s observations, Seng Bunthouen, director of Royal University of Law and Economics, said that the evolution from metallic currency to international note currency has always been the sign of a prosperous economy since the end of World War I. Even though some countries still use coins, this is only practised within the respective countries.

Bunthouen said, “Using a note currency is convenient because it does not take up a lot of space, is lightweight and is easy for business trades.” He also added, “We can imagine how big our coin pouch has to be if we were like our ancestors who used regular “snoke”, “sleung” and “doung” coins – would we be able to carry as much money around with us?”

The evolution of currency is a rapid, ever-changing process “that includes the present, wherein for even more convenience and security, the world has started to use credit cards and ATM cards on top of currency notes,” said Bunthouen.

In regards to the birth of the Khmer Riel, both historians and economists conclude that Cambodia started to use the Riel exclusively after gaining independence from France in 1953.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia’s first printed paper money, seen above, was called ‘piastre’. DOCUMENT

Manara stated that, “The instance Cambodia gained independence from France, King Norodom Sihanouk’s government tried to establish a strong economy structure by printing currency notes from the National Bank of Cambodia for the first time in 1954.”

“After, that was the period where Cambodians revolutionized the Khmer Riel by themselves by proudly distributing and using this currency as widely as possible,” he noted.

“During the independence until the 1970s, Cambodians seemed to no longer give any value to the Western currency because our economy in that time had potential growth both locally and internationally. It was at that time that the world thought highly of Cambodia.”


  • Five-year-old Hanuman dances his way into hearts of Cambodia

    A young talent from a new-established settlement has emerged, captivating the online world with his mesmerising performances of the traditional Cambodian monkey dance. Roeun Kakada is a five-year-old prodigy who has taken the social media sphere by storm with his exceptional dance skills and dedication

  • Fresh Covid warnings as Thai hospital fills

    A senior health official reminds the public to remain vigilant, as neighbouring countries experience an increase in Covid-19 cases, with the latest surge appearing to be a result of the Omicron XBB.1.5 sub-variant. Or Vandine, secretary of state and spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health,

  • Honda shutters Siem Reap football club

    Japanese football legend Keisuke Honda, the owner of Siem Reap football club Soltilo Angkor FC, has been forced to shut the club down, after it failed to attract sponsorship for the upcoming season. Honda, the former manager of the Cambodia men's national football team, said

  • Hun Sen warns of regional tensions

    ASIA is becoming a dangerous geopolitical hotspot, with several countries announcing that they intend to send naval vessels towards Southeast Asia and on to the South China Sea, warned Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Heated geopolitical issues can easily escalate, namely to war. I am not

  • PM declares ASEAN Para Games open

    The 12th ASEAN Para Games officially kicked off on the evening of June 3 at Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, with a spectacular opening ceremony featuring fireworks and performances by some of the Kingdom’s most accomplished talents. Tens of thousands of sports fans

  • Waterway job still pending for Kampot tourism port’s opening

    The search is still on for a contractor to expand and deepen the Kampot International Tourism Port’s waterway and deliver additional enhancements allowing safe access for larger vessels, nearly a year after the main construction work on the 4.25ha site was completed on June 30, 2022.