At the border we changed 5 thousand Baht (Thai currency equivalent to 100 Euros) into Kip (Lao currency). The result was shocking. I was handed a stack of bills that did not fit in my wallet. The exchange form stated that I now had over 1 million Kip. Money, it is said, is power; however, I felt more uneasy than powerful. The bulge in my money-belt was daunting.
I’ve since warmed up to the Kip. A coffee shake, for example, costs 3 to 5 thousand Kip. A large grilled fish, served with plates of fresh herbs and vegetables —like the one I ate last night— cost around 30,000 kip. A pitcher of Beer Lao cost 10,000 kip, (that’s under 80 cents). The stack has been decreasing in size.
It’s standard in Thailand and Laos to bargain in the markets. If you are a foreigner, this bargaining is usually done via a calculator; the seller types in a cost, you smile, shake your head and type in a counter offer. The game continues until both sides are happy. I’ve discovered that the best deals are made when I joke around, laugh, or even do little jigs.
Yesterday, I thought I had scored big when the calculating finally stopped at 60 for a “Rolex”. Like earlier bargaining that day, I assumed we were dropping the final ‘000’ due to lazy fingers. Actually, we were both making assumptions; the watch seller thought I knew that watch purchases were made in US dollars. When I handed her 60,000 kip (around 4.70 Euros) she stared in disbelief. It was a very nice watch.
This is how we discovered the three-tire currency system. Although the Kip is the only true legal tender, Thai baht and US dollars are used for expensive items.
Final story on the money front:
We had a bit of panic today when we read in our Lonely Planet that there were no ATMs in Laos. How were we going to get more money? My first thought was my Mastercard, but on closer inspection we saw that it expired this month. My second idea was to wire money from my Dutch bank account. Luckily, when we arrived at the bank we were greeted by a sign announcing their newly installed ATM.
Oh technology, I am truly your grateful slave.