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Travel Guide > Asia > Laos

Laos Money & Shopping

  
 
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Money

The Lao currency is the kip, which is non-convertible (outside Laos), unstable and generally inflationary. As of March 2009, there are around 13,500 kip to the euro and 8500 kip (June 2010: 8,250 Kip) to the US dollar. Make sure that you get rid of all your kip before you leave the country (unless keeping a handful as a souvenir), since there will be no possibility to exchange it in other countries. The Vientiane airport for example will exchange your kip into dollars.

The largest note is only 50000 kip, the other notes in common circulation are 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000 and 20000 kip; withdrawing the maximum of 700,000 kip from an ATM (about US$70) could result in 70 notes of 10000 kip each. This makes carrying large quantities of kip quite inconvenient.

Accepted currencies

Fortunately, there is little need to do so, as US dollars are generally accepted (although typically at somewhat disadvantageous rates - about 5-10% less than the official rate is common), and Thai baht are also readily accepted in many areas near the border, notably Vientiane. For short visits to the main centres there's little point in exchanging kip, as changing them back is a hassle in Laos and impossible elsewhere.

Beware though, that in remote places only kip is accepted and no ATMs will be available, so plan ahead.

More touristy places and banks are also starting to accept Euro. So if you're from one of the euro countries, just bring some just in case. This could be cheaper than changing your euros into baht or US$ and then into kip.

ATM

There are now quite a few ATMs in Vientiane, and they have also appeared in other major cities including Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Savannekhet, Tha Khaek, Pakse and Luang Namtha. BCEL the largest bank, accepts both Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/Maestro, but surcharges of US$1-2 apply. Don't rely on ATMs outside Vientiane, since they're still rare and often unreliable — but if it doesn't work the first time, keep trying every few hours (they tend to get emptied in the course of the day, due to the huge numbers of notes withdrawn).

The use of both ATMs and credit cards in banks is subject to computer functionality, staff's computer skills, power cuts, telephone network breakdowns, National Day, etc etc. A few travellers have been forced out of the country prematurely as they couldn't withdraw funds to further their travels. Always bring cash as well. Changing money can be next to impossible outside major towns.

Banks

Banks give good rates, but seem to abide in morbid fear that a tourist might stumble upon them and change money. To avoid this unpleasant eventuality, they ensure that the banking hours are very restricted and that both Laos and European holidays are fully observed, with generous buffer days between the official holiday and resuming work.

Many shops start an hour's lunch break at noon, and some maintain the (now abolished) official French two-hour break. Nearly everything is closed on Sundays, except restaurants and many shops.

Costs

US$20 a day is a good rule of thumb, though it's possible to get by on less than US$10. A basic room with shared bathroom can be as little as US$2 in Vang Vieng or as much as US$8 in Vientiane or Luang Prabang. Meals are usually under US$5 for even the most elaborate Lao, Thai or Vietnamese dishes (western food is more expensive), and plain local dishes can cost less than US$1. A local bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng costs US$2.50; the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai costs US$20 for both days.

What to buy

Typical Lao dresses in cheap machine-made fabric can be made to order. Expect to pay around US$5 for the fabric and US$2 for labour. Handmade Lao silk is one of the most attractive things to buy. The Talat Sao (Morning Market) in Vientiane has dozens of small shops selling 100% handmade silk scarves or wall hangings from US$5 upwards depending on quality, intricacy of design and size.

Caution

Beware cheap synthetic fabrics sold as 'silk' imported from China and Vietnam. Be careful also of 'antique' silk. There is very little left but new fabric can be made to look old and worn. Still attractive, but don't pay more than US$30-50. In markets, always bargain: it is expected, but keep smiling.

Shops & Stores in Laos

Market Talat Sao - Morning Market
a large collection of indoor stalls selling, well, pretty much anything. There are two floors: the first floor sells mostly textiles, electronics, and watches; the second floor has clothing, gold, and jewelery. Depending on the product, you should negotiate, dis... more
in Vientiane
Shopping Mall Talat Sao Mall
Has 3 floors and is the first public building in Vientiane with an indoor parking. At weekends folks from the countryside come and marvel at the escalators (which, in one local magazine article, were referred to in English as "electricity ladders"), an... more
in Vientiane
 
General/Other Store Home Ideal
Large one stop shop for assorted products from stationery to housewares, clothing to luggage. Prices are fixed and reasonable.
in Vientiane
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store TShop Lai
Sells oils, shampoos, soaps, etc. made by ''Les Artisans Lao'' as well as honey and some nice handicrafts. ''Les Artisans Lao'' is a social venture allowing disadvantaged, uneducated and often marginalized people to receive an app... more
in Vientiane
 
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store Mixay Boutic
(yes, that's how they write it) in Thanon Nokeo Kumman (with a branch in Thanon Setthathirat) - they have some women weaving fabrics of the shop's own design on the premises, who you are welcome to watch. Beautiful wall hangings, not the cheapest in town... more
in Vientiane
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store Laha Boutique
Thanon Francois Ngin: naturally dyed textiles (mainly cotton) from the south (Savannakhet).
in Vientiane
 
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store Kanchana: the Beauty of Lao Silk
traditional Lao silk weavings, hand-woven fabrics, textiles and clothing using natural dyes. Just off Thanon Samsenthai on Thanon Chantha Kumman, the road to That Dam.
in Vientiane
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store Lao Textiles
Thanon Nokeo Kumman. Founded 1990 by an American woman (Carol Cassidy), who now employs some 40 artisans, this firm offers modern cotton weavings using traditional motifs and- some of their work has been exhibited in international museums. Prices reflect this bu... more
in Vientiane
 
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store The Art of Silk
Thanon Manthatulat, run by the Lao Women's Union. Silk and cotton weavings in both traditional and modern designs.
in Vientiane
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store Mulberries Lao Sericulture Company
Thanon Nokeo Kumman. The sales outlet of a not-for-profit organisation that operates in about five hundred villages in Northern Laos, seeking to create income generating opportunities. Naturally-dyed, handmade Lao silk products.
in Vientiane
 
These are just 10 of 25 Shops & Stores in Laos. Show more.




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