money called the ‘kip,’ and they sure use a lot of it. Like
Russia, before its re-denomination in 1998, there are thousands of kip to
the dollar, 7,600 to be exact.
When I first went to the exchange booth with the $50 I
wanted to change, I was in shock by what I was given. I received a stack,
and I mean an eight inch high stack too, of bills. I didn’t know what to
do with all that money. I’d walked to the bank without my daypack, or even
a plastic packet, so I was hesitant to just walk down the street with both
hands full of cash.
Just then, I saw a Lao emerge from the main bank
building with a packet full of kip. A filled-to-the-top packet, almost
overflowing with bills, that he casually waltzed down the street with. If
he wasn’t scared with that much, I sure wasn’t gonna fret over $50 in kip.
When I arrived back at the hotel, I gave the
receptionist half the stack, without even trying to count out 225,000 in
2,000 kip notes. She proceeded to count the money in a peculiar way. Since
it was unrealistic to try and count per note, she bundled the money by
counting out ten notes, folding the tenth note around the other nine. This
way she had a stack of countable 20,000 kip bundles when she was done.
As I spent the money, I got quicker with the
denominations, but I still felt odd when asked for 5,000 kip for a beer.
After the 6 to 25 per dollar of Russia,
and the ridiculous 8 to the dollar of China, a 7,600 took some getting
used to. Luckily, unlike Turkey’s rip-off
culture, Lao’s would
embarrassingly correct me if I overpaid them. I also wizened up and the
next time I changed money, I asked for the kip in 5,000 notes, making my
bundle more manageable.
By the time I left, I was tossing the kip around like
candy, enjoying the cheap Lao economy, and happily supporting such a kind
people. The day I left, I gave my remaining kip to a random upcountry
villager waiting for her flight to the provinces. It wasn’t much, and
definitely had no value outside of this ‘People’s’ Democratic