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Money and shopping matters

Lao currency and exchange rates

The Kip is the official currency of the Lao PDR and the following bank notes are currently in circulation: 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 kip.

The best currencies to use when exchanging money are US Dollars, Euros and Thai Baht. You can exchange your currency at the bank, airport, or at a foreign currency exchange office.

Prices for goods and services in the Lao PDR are required by law to be quoted in Lao kips, However, higher priced items may still be quoted in Thai baht for Thai products or US dollars such as for vehicles or room rentals. Baht or US dollars are accepted in payment virtually everywhere, as well as the Lao kip equivalent. There is a small 'black' or 'grey' currency market in Laos used by local traders, but the exchange rate difference is negligible except for large transactions. 

Banks in Laos

Lao banking centers around three all- or partly-government-owned banks: the Lao Development Bank (LDB), the Bank for Agricultural Development and the Lao Bank for Foreign Trade (BCEL – Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao). BCEL is also the main commercial bank with its headquarters on Pangkam Road near the Mekong River.

BCEL has branches in 12 Lao provinces and also has internet banking, but there is a $10 signup fee plus $7.50 per month (60,000 kip) to subscribe to the online service. They also offer a gold trading service for account holders; bank visit or fax required for transactions. Foreigners need a valid visa.

There are also several joint-venture/government banks including Lao Viet Bank and Joint Development Bank (JDB). ANZ (Australia & New Zealand Banking Group) now fully owns ANZ Laos, formerly ANZ Vientiane Commercial Bank (ANZV/ANZVCB). Most banks are near the Morning Market in Lane Xang Avenue and the street nearby, while BCEL is near the Mekong on Pangkham Road.

Credit Cards

Major credit cards – Visa, MasterCard are accepted at tourist hotels, restaurants and some shops in the main cities; some take American Express, JCB and Diners Club. Cash advances on credit cards may be obtained at bank branches and exchange booths if not accepted at ATMs. If you Pay by credit card in shops and restaurants and some hotels usually incurs a 3% or more surcharges. 

ATMs

Laos has several banks with international ATMs including ANZ Laos, JDB, BCEL, BFL and PSV which accept PLUS and CIRRUS network cards for VISA, MasterCard, and possibly JCB, Discovery and Diners Club. In 2011 BCEL ATMs added China UnionPay cards. There are many ATMs in and around Vientiane now, including the Friendship Bridge. BCEL has machines in other provinces including Luang Prabang (also JDB), Pakse where ANZ also has ATMs and Vang Vieng. Phongsavanh (PSB) is in Vientiane and some other provinces. As power supply and phone/data connections can be unreliable outside Vientiane, it's always advisable to carry some cash and possibly travellers checks. Credit card cash advances can be obtained in other provinces from bank branches and exchange kiosks. 

Laos Bank International ATM Transactions, Limits and Fees

ATMs dispense local currency (kips) in denominations between 10,000 and 100,000; the 100,000 Lao kip note is now in general circulation with transaction amounts, fees and daily limits varying between banks. There is an 8 million kip daily maximum imposed by the Lao ATM network. At 2012 exchange rates this is about $1,000, €780 or £650 per day.

Transaction limits and fees: ANZL allows up to 2 million kip ($250) per transaction with a 40,000 kip ($5) fee and an 8 million kip daily maximum. BCEL and PSV offer 1 million kip per transaction for a 20,000 kip fee; up to 2 million per day. JDB charges 30,000 kip per 1 million kip ($125) transaction, with a 4 million kip per day international card maximum.

Note that your own bank or card issuer may charge extra for foreign transactions too. Check before you leave home to get the best ATM card for use abroad. Some overseas banks refund local bank ATM charges. 

Shopping in Laos

Markets are also an important part of Laos’s landscape and a must-see itinerary for any traveller. Walking around them and browsing the colorful wares is a great way to understand a slice of the local life.

From woodcarving, pottery and lamps and books made of mulberry papers to gold and silver jewellery, ethnic handicrafts and local herbs, spices and delicacies, Laos has a multitude of products to offer so make sure there’s room in your luggage

Vientiane is an excellent destination for those interested in picking up elaborate handicrafts and Vientiane is the best place to do so. Hill tribe silk, arts, crafts, home-furnishings, jewelry and couture-quality textiles are all readily available within the city. There are quite a few markets taking place around Vientiane where fresh produce, as well as crafts and ornaments, can be picked up. The city’s main shopping streets are Samsenthai and Setthathirat, around the Nam Phu Fountain area and the Morning Market/Talat Sao Mall, where you can find the best deals on local silks.

Visitors should note that any antique items that have been purchased in another country must be declared at customs upon arrival in Laos.

Handicrafts

Textiles, basketry, silver, woodcarvings and hand-made paper are some of the most popular handicrafts in Laos. Lao weavers are known for producing intricate fabrics in home-spun silk and cotton, most notably, complex mutmee (ikot) patterns based on folklore and natural themes. Some of the best weavers come from the Tai ethnic groups in Houaphan Province. If you are planning a visit to Luang Prabang and are interested in weaving, don't miss Ban Phanom or the night market in the center of town.

When visiting one of the country's charming villages, be sure to ask to see local crafts being produced using traditional technologies. Purchasing a handicraft directly from artisans that use natural, traditional production methods supports both local economies and the survival of indigenous knowledge. If you are unable to make it out to the villages, there are handicraft shops in almost every provincial capital selling distinct local product.

Art, Crafts and Antiques

Samsenthai, Panggkam and Setthathirat streets are the places to shop for the most varied choice and prices for crafts, antiques and art. Here, hill-tribe and Thai Tribal crafts are plentiful. Be sure to check out Kanchana Boutique on Chanta Khumman Street where there's an extensive range of Laos silk and crafts. The owner of T’Shop Lai Galerie is dedicated to providing fair trade products for those interested in both modern and traditional art in a range of media, furniture and interesting handicrafts. 

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