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Written by SeenThat on 28 Apr, 2008
I arrived at Savannakhet after having crossed the border from Cambodia and having travelled on an ice truck for a day or so. The thick layer of dust covering me protected me from the merciless Mekong sun.It was neither my first nor my last trip…Read More
I arrived at Savannakhet after having crossed the border from Cambodia and having travelled on an ice truck for a day or so. The thick layer of dust covering me protected me from the merciless Mekong sun.It was neither my first nor my last trip in Laos and I felt confident enough to travel around with minimal amounts of local money. However, having entered the country the day before, I had almost no kips – the Laotian money. Exchanging money was imperative in order to reach Vientiane. While walking along the main street a bank appeared in front of me. It looked like a temple; it was the only building above the street level with impressive steps leading to the heightened entrance. An armed guard kept the door.Dusty and happy, I passed through the guard and feeling like Rotschild put fifteen dollars in small bills in front of a smiling clerk. I added no words; I have learned than in such remote locations the less a traveller speaks in a foreign language the better. My intentions – to exchange fifteen dollars into kips - were obvious.Still smiling, the clerk showed me the current exchange rate on a big sign hanging on the wall. That day it was 10475 kip for one dollar. That meant I was to receive 157125 kip; however, any amount of money below 500 kip is insignificant. The general practice is to round the sum downwards. I would have been happy receiving 157000 kip.Accordingly, she began laboriously counting small denomination notes. After a while I had 157000 kip in a solid brick of money. My hands were attempting to pick up the package, when she suddenly said in an imperative tone unfit of such a delicate creature:"Sit!"She didn’t explain. I was sure she couldn’t explain in English. I had all the money I expected to get, but she spoke in an imperative tone and an armed guard kept the door. I sat down at the nearest coach. Still behind the counter, she entered a side room.Minutes passed by, and nothing happened. The guard was by the door, the clerk was missing.Suddenly I remembered the notes I gave were very old. One of them had black spots on it and it was difficult to see it was worth a whole dollar. Maybe – like in Myanmar - they accept here only new, crispy notes? Was I regarded now as a regime enemy due to my attempt to corrupt their spotless monetary system?It didn’t make sense – I already got the local money – but otherwise, where did she go? Wasn’t she making an urgent call to the police, explaining them my dollar note was dirty? The guard was looking at me.There was no escape. I resigned myself to my dark destiny and waited patiently.Minutes passed. Why did I come to Laos at all?Suddenly she returned from the side door. Smiling, she called me. She had something in her right hand.With shaking knees I approached the counter. There, she gave me three notes: one worth a hundred kip, another of twenty and the third one showing the infinitesimal sum of five kip; for thirty minutes I had been trapped in the mythological Laotian kindness. Close