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The Train To Nowhere, Notes Of The Second Riel: 5 Kak (Cambodia, 1979)-Article

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

This small Cambodian banknote represents the 3rd denomination of the Second Riel (Seventh Issue, Series 1979). The Second Riel was introduced 1 April 1980, during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Which was in response to the Cambodian (Democratic Kampuchea) invasion of Vietnam. Beginning the drawn out Cambodian–Vietnamese War (1978-1989).

The Vietnamese successful counter-attack lead to the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge government. And the establishment of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989). Notably the Second Riel was technically preceded by the Democratic Kampuchea Riel (Series 1975). Which were withdrawn and destroyed, due to the Khmer Rouge abolishing the concept of currency.


The observe features and illustration of a passenger train. The train is a French built SNCF CC 70000, riding along the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville line. As the Khmer Rouge disabled this colonial-era railway, this image is meant to be aspirational. Unfortunately Cambodian railway services were not fully reestablished until 2019. Roughly 30 years after this note's issue.

At the center-right, the Emblem of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1981). Notably this short-lived Coat of Arms was replaced by a more elaborate design (1981-1989). Which again was replaced by another design, representing the transitional State of Cambodia. It was eventually replaced by the pre-revolutionary Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Cambodia (1953-1970/1993-20xx).

The majority of the observe text is printed Khmer script and numerals. The header reads "សាធារណរដ្ឋប្រជាមានិតកម្ពុជា", translated as the "PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KAMPUCHEA". Above the footer is additional text it reads, "ប្រាំកាក់" or "Five Kak". While the footer itself lists the note's "1979" print date.

To the left of the note's illustration is the Coat of Arms of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. Below this Coat of Arms one of the note's serial numbers. It reads "កអ 9890285", roughly translated as "KO 989028". Notably the Khmer alphabet does not directly translate to Latin/standard script.

Moving toward the ornate border, we see an art style reminiscent of Khmer stonework. The lower-left and lower-right corners list the the notes value. The corners simply read "๐.๕" or "0.5" Riel, representing the note's 5 Kak value. It should be noted Kak is a fractional denomination, equal to 1/10th Riel.


The reverse depicts traditional fisherman casting nets, at Lake Tonle Sap. This illustration is somewhat reminiscent of the observe art, of the earlier 50 Riels note. Tonlé Sap, commonly translated as the “Great Lake”, is the largest fresh water lake, in Indochina. The lake is of great cultural importance to the Khmer people. (For more information visit: "Tonlé Sap, The Great Lake Of Indochina")

Unlike the observe the reverse frame features both Khmer (๐.๕) and standard numerals (0.5). The upper corners lists the note's "5 Kak" value in numeric form. While lower-left of the illustration repeats the same value, in Khmer script (ប្រាំកាក់).

The reverse border is highly ornate, with floral imagery. This style is based on traditional Khmer stonework. Featuring precise geometric cuts and thick rounded edges. This art style was nearly lost due to Khmer Rouge rule. As they associated Buddhist-inspired artwork to be linked to classism and feudalism.

Second Riel (Series 1979) Gallery

(Gallery will be updated, as new banknotes are databased)


Additional Notes

  • The note's dimensions are 115 x 58 mm or 4.52 x 2.28 in, smaller than a US Dollar.

  • The preferable method to preserve this note are side-opening sleeves, cut to size.

  • The Second Riel uses the ISO code is KHR and "" as its symbol.

  • The Second Riel was sub-divided into 10 Kak/100 Sen, before rising inflation made these denominations obsolete.

  • Since the 1990s the US Dollar has been used as an accepted currency, in Cambodian retail.

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