Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Millions in my pocket

As I noted in an earlier post, getting used to currency is a necessary early task as one travels from one country into another.

At the airport in Luang Prabang, we were able to exchange our remaining KIP into Vietnamese dong (VND), but were refused a receipt—never a good sign! As it turned out, the exchange rate was almost exactly the official rate though, and the handful of bills gave us an idea about what to expect as we flew to Hanoi.

An ATM at the very modern Hanoi airport spit out four 500,000 VND notes—the per transaction maximum, and roughly equivalent to C$120. Not a lot to count, so I put the 2 million VND into my pocket.

As usual, large denominations didn’t go far: dinner was 142,000; a beer 18,000—and our comfortable hotel room ~400,000 VND per night. We were determined not to be caught short when it came to leaving our Hoi An hotel after nine nights—plus we’d both had several custom shirts made—so we made a point to withdraw enough over several days to have several million VND between us.

Vietnamese banknotesAll Vietnamese banknotes feature the smiling face of Ho Chi Minh. Large denomination notes have a clear watermarked panel in different shapes for different bills as a feature to help thwart forgeries.

Unfortunately though, the 10,000 and 100,000 VND notes are quite similar. When we left Vietnam, our cash count and record of spending was off by ~190,000 VND. Apparently some Vietnamese are well experienced at noticing the difference: we decided we’d almost certainly given a couple of people a 100,000 note instead of a 10,000 note, and not realized that the change tendered was short.

Oh well… chalk it up as a C$11 lesson!