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Laos, December 23, 1999

Lao Money Comes in Bag or Bucket Size

The Lao kip can be used as wallpaper

The kip that bought this was for a new airport runway

Good use for a ton of kip
Laos uses 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 Republic.

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