Before I start writing about Laos, I need to air a pet peeve. There are quite a few blogs online claiming to be the experts in travel and, in this case, state what money to take into Laos. All the articles that we read stated that US Dollars and Thai Baht are widely accepted, and that you need a selection of Baht, Dollars, and Kip to pay for things in Laos. In addition, there are some ATM’s in the major cities, but not many outside of that.
Unless you eat exclusively in western restaurants and stay in upmarket hotels, then that currency information is bullshit. You only need Kip. Nothing else. In fact, even in Vientiane, we found it quite amusing seeing people try to pay for things in Baht or Dollars only to be told that Kip was the only currency accepted. We even noticed a lot more “No Dollars” and “No Baht” signs than we did when we were there 5 years ago. And as for ATM’s…they are everywhere. There are more in Laos than the large city that we live in in China! We even saw huge amounts of them in smaller places that we visited.
So if you go to Laos, either just take money out of an ATM or, if you have USD or Baht with you, just exchange it at one of the many exchange booths around town. In Vientiane at least, the rates were almost exactly the market rate. In fact, we exchanged money from Baht to Kip twice…the first time it cost, as a percentage, 0.003%. The second time we actually got higher than the market rate. So not only could we pay for things in the local currency, but we could buy anything anywhere, and pay the correct price instead of being given bad rates. (For example, at the time 1 Baht was 264.2 Kip. We exchanged that for 264.1 Kip. The M Stop convenience store offered an exchange rate of 255.) You may even find, as we did, that even though some hotels quote the price in USD, if you ask to pay in Kip then it is cheaper.
I confess that some of this annoyance stems from my love of currency. I always try to keep some notes from every country we visit, as it’s a great souvenir. At the end of the day, “cash is king,” and to have something used by everyone in a country is more special to me than some trinket. ~ it’s also easier to carry when we’re visiting several counties in one trip! More often than not the artwork and design of a country’s banknotes give a great representation of the country, its culture, and what it holds important. Laos Kip has some beautiful designs and artwork on its notes, which deserves more than a cursory glance. Not quite as beautiful as my favourite Sri Lankan Rupees, but not far off.